SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Did you know that some of the first Black elected lawmakers in the nation were from the State of Georgia? After the Emancipation Proclamation, laws changed and Blacks were allowed to run for office.
In 1868, thirty-three freed African men won seats in the Georgia legislature. Six of them had ties to the Coastal Empire. Rep. William. A. Golden represented Liberty County. Chatham County had two representatives - Rep. James Ward Porter and Rep. James M. Simms. Sen. Aaron Alpeoria Bradley represented Bryan, Chatham and Effingham counties.
Henry Neal Turner represented Bibb County, but he was pastor of St. Phillip AME in Savannah. Rep. N. S. Houston represented Bryan County.
They are known as the “Original 33.” They were also “Frederick Douglass Republicans.” It was considered an all-inclusive political platform in the 1800′s based on the four life-empowering values of Douglass:
- Respect for the U.S. Constitution
- Respect for Life
- Belief in Limited Government
- Belief in Personal Responsibility
“The courage that they had to stand and be unified. They taught us how to do the first block vote. Because back then, in order for them to get anything done, they had to stick together. Fast forward these men come at a time when lynching was still legal. It was the inevitable and a regular thing of the time. They were framed for crimes they didn’t commit. Fourteen of them were lynched and killed. When they came into the House of Representatives, they were not allowed to serve,” explained Ga. State Rep. Carl Gilliard.
But that didn’t stop them. Instead, they marched in protest from Atlanta to Camilla- 175 miles.
“The citizens of Camilla were waiting for them. When they got there, fourteen citizens were shot and killed by the citizens of Camilla, Georgia. It is called the Camilla Massacre,” Rep. Gilliard said.
Even that tragedy didn’t stop them. A real standout during the movement, Rev. Henry Neal Turner, the pastor of Savannah’s St. Phillip AME, wrote a powerful letter.
“Henry Neal Turner was adamant that he was going to be treated equal. ‘They were not going to judge me by the color of my skin, but the content of my character. I am able and I am willing to serve and I have the right to serve,’” added Rep. Gilliard.
This battle to serve went all the way to the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land ruled in the black lawmakers’ favor. In the case of White versus Clements, those legislators were reinstated.
Through GA House Bill 48, Rep. Gilliard is pushing for the names of those courageous men to be recognized prominently in the state Capitol. He’s also hoping the communities they represented will also honor them so that these men will never be forgotten. If you think they are worthy, he’s asking you to contact the Georgia governor’s office and state lawmakers to ask them to support the bill.