(CNN) – Members of a federal labor union say were stunned by what they found displayed in a Georgia congressman’s office.
A biography of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was encased in glass, opened to a page full of racists statements, when the American Federation of Government Employees came to visit the office of Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson.
Ferguson is blaming his staff as the union’s president is calling on him to publicly apologize.
"I was very enraged," said Octavius Miller, one of the union representatives. "The first thought that came to my mind was to flip the bookcase over."
The book, “General Robert Edward Lee: Soldier, Citizen and Christian Patriot,” a biography of the Civil War general, was opened to a page highlighting the racist ideology of the time.
"Upon inspecting the items in the case, that's when we found out that the book had some quotes from Gen. Robert E. Lee that were very, very anti-African American," Miller said.
A quote on that page: “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and, I hope, will prepare and lead them to better things.”
"Me being a person of color, it was just disrespectful," Miller said.
Because of a scheduling conflict, Miller and his fellow union members were unable to meet with Ferguson, but a representative from the group later called the congressman’s office to complain about what they saw.
The next day, the congressman’s chief of staff called Miller to privately apologize and tell him the book had been removed.
In an interview with CNN, Ferguson blamed the book’s presence on his staff and said it did not represent his own views.
"I did not realize that the book was in the office,” Ferguson said. “The staff decorated the office when we moved in. It's not something that I ever remember seeing there. I certainly am as offended by the remarks in that book as anybody would be, and that's why it's no longer in the office."
But Ferguson acknowledged he had read parts of it before.
“There were parts of it that I found completely against my ideology and my belief system, and so no, I have not delved deep into that book, but I certainly have studied that subject in other ways,” Ferguson said. “It’s an important part of our American history, so that we can learn from it and not make the same mistakes.”
The union contends the placement of the book was no accident, and wants a formal public apology from the congressman, and not from a staff member.
"I think that we've already done that,” Ferguson said. “We spoke to the gentleman. I think we're good."
Ferguson serves as the Republican chief deputy whip. He was a dentist before being elected to Congress in 2016 to represent Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District.