Freedom On Film - Civil Rights In Georgia The University of Georgia King Info Kennedy Info March Info Student Info
Home Lesson Plans Oral Histories Bibliographies Partners Contact Us
Partners IMLS Digital Library of Georgia Civil Rights Digital Library Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection The New Georgia Encyclopedia Unsung Foot Soldiers
Black Students Jailed for Protests

High school and college students help jam the city jail as protests over racial inequalites escalate.

Coretta Scott King Speaks Out on Nonviolence

Mrs. King speaks out on using nonviolence in schools to defuse conflicts, and discusses new movements for social justice.

White American Reporters on the Civil Rights Beat

Jim Whipkey and other white American journalists articulate divisions between African American and white communities.

Black Reporters on the Civil Rights Beat

African American reporters such as Lo Jenks, Monica Kaufman, and Deborah Roberts integrate television journalism and expose Georgia audiences to    post-Civil Rights Movement issues and ideas.

Stocking Strangler Killings Expose Racial Tensions

Unsolved serial killings in the heart of the city inspire fear and ignite long-simmering racial tensions among Columbusites.

Mill Workers' Social Issues

White working-class residents take leading roles in addressing poverty, education, and housing inequities.


The Chattachoochee River separates Columbus from Alabama’s eastern borders and fed the textile industry that thrived early on. Nestled just over one hundred miles southwest of Atlanta, Columbus is the largest city in Muscogee County.

From Horace King, supervisor of the building of Columbus’s Dillingham Bridge in 1832, to the installment of the city’s first black police—Freddie Brown, Paul Odom, Fred Spencer, and Clarence White—on January 1, 1951, the city has nurtured and shaped many pioneers in the struggle for the recognition of black civil rights. The city has also produced musical legends like Thomas “Blind Tom” Bethune, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, or the more recent Marilyn McCoo, a rhythm and blues singer. Fewer have heard about Eugene Bullard, the first African American aviator and the sole black pilot in the Great War, who also hailed from Columbus.

Columbus residents witnessed battles against Jim Crow first-hand. The close proximity of Fort Benning, an Army base ten miles south of Columbus, added fuel to arguments against segregation. During World War II, many noted the irony of the U.S.’s fight against racism and white supremacy abroad while the nation’s African American population faced open discrimination and violence at the hands of American citizens.

Not until President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948, three years after the end of WWII, would blacks and whites be legally sanctioned to fraternize openly on military bases. Although historians noted a decrease in racial tensions among military personnel during the Korean War, the first war after Executive Order 9981, most southern whites would work to circumvent the 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court ruling that called for the integration of public schools.

Columbusites proved no different. The wide range of activities aimed at countering black civil rights such as the formation of Citizen’s Councils, the use of violence, and the cooperation of local and state governments—now called massive resistance—played out in Columbus as it had in most of the cities and towns featured on the Freedom on Film web site.

The violence of massive resistance reached Dr. Thomas “Chief” Brewer, one star in Columbus’s battle for black civil rights, in 1956. In 1944, Brewer’s fundraising efforts proved integral to Primus King’s challenge to the all-white Democratic primary of the state. Their labors led two Georgia courts to rule in favor of the constitutional right of black enfranchisement. After the rulings, Brewer would increase African American representation in Columbus’s political affairs by organizing voter registration campaigns. In August 1951, Brewer campaigned for the hiring of black law enforcement officials. He also drew the ire of the white population, who remained resistant to social change.

Just two weeks after Autherine Lucy made headlines as the first African American admitted to the University of Alabama, and ten weeks into the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, Lucio Flowers killed Brewer, who worked as a medical doctor, in alleged self-defense. Few blacks actually believed that Brewer provoked Flowers. Rather they pointed to Brewer’s activism as the motive behind his murder. Brewer’s murder traumatized the black community and fed the flight of black professionals, including Brewer’s own family, from the city. Although it did stifle the Civil Rights Movement in Columbus, this tragedy did not end civil rights activism in the city, nor did it ease white resistance.

Black high-school and college students continued to stage protests against the racism of the city. In 1971, Coretta Scott King visited Ft. Benning and reaffirmed her commitment to nonviolent resistance after Columbus witnessed a less-than-harmonious week of school integration efforts. The 1977 conviction of a black man for a spree of murders in the posh, residentially segregated Wynnton Neighborhood, described in the Stocking Strangler story on the Freedom on Film Columbus pages, laid bare the racial anxieties that persisted in the city.

Since then, there has been increased black representation in the city’s political affairs:  Jerry Barnes now serves as a council member and residents have sent Sanford Bishop to Congress eight times. Still, racial inequalities persist. In an eight-part series on race relations in Columbus, journalist Richard Hyatt concluded by questioning levels of understanding, trust, and even fear among blacks and whites.

Suggested Resources (click here)

Writer: Christina L. Davis, Dept. of History, The University of Georgia

Editors and Researchers: Kamille Bostick, Christina L. Davis, Mary Boyce Hicks, Professor Barbara McCaskill, and the students of ENGL 4860 (Fall 2007).

Web Site Designer: William Weems  

Freedom on Film is not responsible for the content of external web sites.

Civil Rights Digital Library Initiative Digital Library of Georgia Site Map