The solemnity of the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination compelled me to revisit the history of civil rights in Liberty County. I wondered what our children know of this era.
And, I wondered about the necessity of the civil rights movement here in this county and what African Americans’ personal memories, feelings and experiences were regarding the long, dark, winding road to freedom, equality and justice that began with Reconstruction in 1865 and resounded with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In that regard, I think it would behoove us all to take a quick refresher course in American history. The passage of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution officially established full citizenship for African Americans, while the 15th Amendment granted them the right to vote.
During Reconstruction, in the first election after the Civil War held in 1868, African Americans were allowed to vote and 33 African American legislators were elected to the Georgia General Assembly, including two from the Liberty County area, Tunis G. Campbell and William A. Golding.
While the law allowed former slaves to vote, it did not make concessions for African Americans to hold office and the 33 men elected by the
General Assembly were expelled. A monument at the state capitol, “The Expelled Because of their Color,” is dedicated to those men.
What’s more, for more than 100 years whites imposed widespread barriers to citizenship that were grounded early on in prejudice and expressed in racial violence and segregation toward African Americans.
In the 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy vs. Ferguson, justices ruled the doctrine of “separate but equal” was constitutional. This certified the denial of African Americans’ rights as citizens of the United States through the segregation of public schools, public accommodations, and the systematic denial of their constitutional right to vote.
Voter registration tests throughout the South were deliberately designed to deny African Americans the right to vote, as were other collusions such as the grandfather clause, white primary, poll tax and literacy tests.
African Americans in Liberty County would not exercise their right to vote again until 1946 when Georgia’s white-only primary was overturned and the poll tax was removed.
At that moment, the Liberty County Citizen Council, formed by the Dorchester Cooperative Center, immediately coordinated a voter registration drive.
DCC’s director Claudius Turner, appointed by the American Missionary Association, reported that Liberty County made history as the first Georgia county in modern times to have registered more blacks than whites — 1,800 to 1,500. He submitted that a nonviolent revolution had begun to take place in Liberty County.
Up next: recollections by Liberty Countians who lived civil rights history.
Glass-Hill is a scholar, author and public historian, known for her research on the life of Liberty County native Susie Baker King Taylor. She is executive director of the Susie King Taylor Women’s Institute and Ecology Center in Midway. For more information about the National Civil Rights Trail visit https://civilrightstrail.com