The Camilla massacre took place in Camilla, Georgia, on Saturday, September 19, 1868. African Americans had been given the right to vote in Georgia's 1868 state constitution, which had passed in April, and in the months that followed, whites across the state used violence to combat their newfound political strength, often through the newly founded Ku Klux Klan. Georgia agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau recorded 336 cases of murder or assault with intent to kill against freedmen from January 1 through November 15.
|Date||September 19, 1868|
|Caused by||White peoples' anger over African Americans gaining the right to vote under the 1868 Georgia state constitution|
|Goals||Suppressing voting by African Americans|
|Casualties and losses|
|Reconstruction Era conflict|
The massacre followed the expulsion of the Original 33 black members of the Georgia General Assembly earlier that month. Among those expelled was southwest Georgia representative Philip Joiner. On September 19, Joiner led a twenty-five-mile march of several hundred blacks (freedmen), as well as a few whites, from Albany, Georgia, to Camilla, the Mitchell County seat, to attend a Republican political rally on the courthouse square. Estimates of the number of participants range from 150 to 300.
The local sheriff and "citizens committee" in the majority-white town warned the black and white activists that they would be met with violence, and demanded that they surrender their guns, even though carrying weapons was legal and customary at the time. The marchers refused to give up their guns and continued to the courthouse square, where a group of local whites, quickly deputized by the sheriff, fired upon them. This assault forced the Republicans and freedmen to retreat into the swamps as locals gave chase, killing an estimated nine to fifteen of the black rally participants while wounding forty others. "Whites proceeded through the countryside over the next two weeks, beating and warning Negroes that they would be killed if they tried to vote in the coming election." The Camilla Massacre was the culmination of smaller acts of anti-Black violence committed by white inhabitants that had plagued southwest Georgia since the end of the Civil War.: 1–2
"The Camilla Massacre remained part of southwest Georgia's hidden past until 1998, when Camilla residents publicly acknowledged the massacre for the first time and commemorated its victims."
- Jonathan M. Bryant (3 October 2002). "Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
- Formwalt, Lee W. (September 5, 2002). "Camilla Massacre". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on September 9, 2018. Retrieved September 9, 2018.
- Butler, Joshua (2012). 'Almost too Terrible to Believe': The Camilla, Georgia Race Riot and Massacre, September 1868. M.A. thesis, Valdosta State University. pp. 17–18.
- Johnson, Nicholas (2014). Negroes and The Gun: the black tradition of arms. Amherst, New York: Prometheus. pp. 90–92. ISBN 978-1-61614-839-3.
- "The Camilla Massacre". Today in Georgia History. Georgia Historical Society. 2011. Archived from the original on September 10, 2018. Retrieved September 9, 2018.
Lee W. Formwalt, Organization of American Historians
The Camilla Massacre, which took place on September 19, 1868, was one of the more violent episodes in Reconstruction Georgia. Two months earlier, Georgia had fulfilled the requirements of Congress’s Radical Reconstruction plan and been readmitted to the Union. Yet, in early September, the state legislature expelled twenty-eight newly elected members because they were at least one-eighth Black. Among those removed was southwest Georgia representative Philip Joiner. On September 19, Joiner, along with northerners Francis F. Putney and William P. Pierce, led a twenty-five-mile march of several hundred Blacks and a few whites from Albany to Camilla, the Mitchell County seat, to attend a Republican political rally.
Thomas Nast Cartoon
From Harper’s Weekly
Mitchell County whites, however, were determined that no Republican rally would occur. As marchers entered the courthouse square in Camilla, whites stationed in various storefronts opened fire, killing about a dozen and wounding possibly thirty others. As marchers returned to Albany, hostile whites assaulted them for several miles. News of the Camilla Massacre flashed over telegraph wires, and newspapers across the nation reported it. Republicans and Democrats used the massacre to fortify their positions on Reconstruction in the 1868 presidential campaign. The violence at Camilla intimidated some African Americans, who stayed home on election day. In other places, like Albany, white leaders committed fraud at the polls, deliberately misplacing many Black votes or changing them to Democratic ones. White Democrats, then the racial minority in southwest Georgia, carried the election.