The Camilla Massacre occurred in the wake of a political gathering in Mitchell County, Georgia that resulted in the deaths and injuries of numerous participants in the town courthouse square. During the early years of Reconstruction, thirty-three African American males, all Republicans, were elected to the Georgia State Assembly as a result of the Georgia Constitution of 1868.
They were among the country’s first African-American state legislators. Following the election, the white Democratic majority in the legislature plotted to expel all black and mixed-race legislators.
After that, on September 3, 1868, the Original 33 were ejected. Representative Philip Joiner of Southwest Georgia, one of the expelled members, planned a march and rally on the courthouse square in Mitchell County, about twenty-five miles distant, to protest the expulsion. On the morning of September 19, 1868, in Albany, Georgia, the march began.
With each passing town, more people joined the march, bringing the total number of men on the march to about 300, both black and white. They arrived in Camilla with guns and weapons, where they were welcomed by local sheriff Mumford S. Poore and a citizens committee. Even though it was common and legal to carry weapons at the time, Poore warned the participants that if they did not surrender their guns, they would be met with violence in the town square.
The marchers refused to stop and proceeded on to the courthouse plaza to hold a rally. Poore promptly deputized local whites who gathered before the marchers came and stationed themselves in town stores. As the marchers approached the square, they were met by gunfire from all sides. Although the participants fled into the wetlands outside of town, at least fifteen people were killed and another forty were injured.
Joiner was able to survive the attack and eventually testified before the Freedman’s Bureau. Over the next few weeks, white men from Camilla went over the countryside, beating and scaring black people that if they voted in the next election, they would be killed. Because of the intimidation, the Republican vote was drastically diminished, and none of the Original 33 were elected to the Georgia Assembly.
The Georgia Assembly’s Black Caucus honored the Original 33 with a statue depicting the ascent of African American legislators on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta in 1976. The sculptor John Riddle’s “Expelled Because of Their Color” monument contains an inscription on its base with the names of the thirty-three members, as well as the counties they represented.
They were: Representatives Philip Joiner (Dougherty), Malcolm Claiborn (Burke), Tunis Campell Jr. (McIntosh), Samuel Williams (Harris), John Warren (Burke), Abraham Smith (Muscogee), Alexander Stone (Jefferson), Alfred Richardson (Clarke), Robert Lumpkin (Macon), Peter O’Neil (Baldwin), George Linder (Laurens), James M. Simms (Chatham), Ulysses L. Houston (Bryan), William A. Golden (Liberty), Samuel Gardner (Warren), F.H. Fyall (Macon), Monday Floyd (Morgan), Madison Davis (Clarke), John T. Costin (Talbot), Romulus Moore (Columbia), Abram Colby (Greene), George H. Clower (Monroe), Edwin Belcher (Wilkes), Thomas A. Allen (Jasper), William Henry Harrison (Hancock), Thomas Beard (Richmond), William Guilford (Upson), Henry McNeil Turner (Bibb), James Ward Porter (Chatham) and Eli Barnes (Hancock), and State Senators Tunis Campell Sr. (McIntosh, Liberty and Tattnail) Aaron Alpeoria Bradley (Chatham, Bryan and Effingham) and George Wallace (Hancock, Baldwin and Washington).
The Camilla Massacre was formally commemorated by the citizens of Camilla in 1998, 130 years later.