Camilla, GA: Political Rally and Massacre

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Daniel Howard, a twenty-year-old African-American man, attended a political rally on September 19, 1868.  He was one of hundreds of African Americans to attend this rally.

You see, earlier that month Democrats (along with some Republicans) in the state’s legislature moved to remove ALL African-American lawmakers from office that had been recently elected, earlier that year.  They contended that African Americans were not given the express right to hold office and they, therefore, voted to unseat them.

This sent shockwaves throughout the country and it obviously frustrated many African Americans in Georgia.

Therefore, when a rally in Camilla, Georgia on September 19, 1868 was planned, it naturally garnered a lot of attention from local people near the area.

The plan was to leave from Albany and travel the 20 plus miles to Camilla to hold a rally there at the courthouse square.  Philip Joiner, one of the African-American lawmakers who was ousted from office, John Murphy (a white Republican candidate for elector), William Pierce (a white Republican congressional candidate) and Francis Putney (a white Republican land owner) were also in attendance as several of them were scheduled to give speeches.

As the progression of a few of them left Albany, others began to join the group as they got closer and closer to Camilla—until hundreds of people had joined them (almost all of whom were African American except for Murphy, Pierce and Putney).

When they got about five miles outside of Camilla, Daniel Howard saw a group of about twenty people headed to the rally and he, too, decided to join them.

Not long after Howard joined them, a man from town came riding up on a horse.  He was identified as James Johns.  He told the group that he was the courier on this road and that they couldn’t come into town with that music.

The organizers had hired a band and the bandwagon, with its musicians, were a part of the festivities.

Despite this warning from James Johns, the group moved on.  Some of the members of the group had shotguns with them, but they did not have them loaded or they were only loaded with birdshot.  They became very concerned that they would not be able to defend themselves if they were attacked.  William Pierce assured them that they would not have any trouble and that they should simply remain calm when they got into town.

The participants were then met by the sheriff and other members of the community.  The sheriff addressed John Murphy and told him that he couldn’t bring an army of men into town and that he might be breaking the law.  

Murphy told the sheriff that he was giving a public speech, just as he had done in others areas around the country, that they were NOT breaking the law and that they had a right to hold the political rally.  

When the group finally got into town, there were men standing in the doorways of the buildings as they came into the square.

William Pierce and Francis Putney headed to the courthouse to begin to prepare for the speeches.  The bandwagon followed, with many people around the wagon as it rolled into the courthouse square.  

Just as the bandwagon started heading up to the courthouse, the man who originally stopped them on the road, James Johns, came up to the wagon with a shotgun and fired directly into the wagon.  Immediately men who were standing inside of the doorways of the stores and other buildings started firing also into the bandwagon and into the crowd.

Daniel Howard was standing only about fifteen steps from James Johns, when Johns fired his shot.  Then bullets seemed to be flying from everywhere!  Daniel did not run, he decided to wait while everyone else was running away.  He saw men get onto horses and chase African Americans down, shooting them at almost point-blank range.

The townspeople, it appears, planned to attack.  They got into groups and got onto horses to chase people as they ran out of town.

They chased people for at least ten miles outside of town and shot them on the road as they came up to them.  They organized search parties and employed bloodhounds to scour the wooded areas for anybody who might be hiding.

One man hid in a swamp all night long, as he heard men around him shooting people.  He could hear the cries of people who were caught and pulled down by dogs and shot.

Several victims were shot repeatedly, while they lay on the ground.  This search went on all night, until at least 8:00 am the next morning, as men were still out searching for victims with horses and dogs at that time.

Daniel Howard did finally run out of the town square, when enough people had run out of the area and the townspeople chased them.

Daniel ran into a wooded area, but he was captured by townspeople.  He was struck over the head with the butt of a weapon and he was forced to go back into Camilla to pick up bodies.

He was told to take the wounded and put them into a wagon to transfer them back to Albany.  Some of the people he got were already dead.  There were also other groups picking up dead bodies and burying them.

Daniel was told that there were twelve other bodies down by a pond in a nearby plantation and that he was to go there to get them once he finished in the town. 

While with the men, Daniel overheard them saying that they had hoped to get the “niggers” to come into town without any weapons, then they had planned to surround them “to kill them all.”

Daniel Howard, however, escaped under the cover of darkness before he was forced to go get the additional bodies.

©️2018 Danita Smith, Red and Black Ink, LLC

 

References:

Affidavit of Daniel Howard: Albany, Georgia, 1868 Sept. 25.  http://dlg.galileo.usg.edu/camilla/cam039.php

“Letter: Freedman’s Bureau, Subdistrict Headquarters, Albany, Georgia, to Colonel John Randolph Lews, Atlanta, Georgia, 1868 September 20.”  Digital Library of Georgia, Featuring archival material from the United States National Archives and Records Administration.

Danita Smith