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Campbell lost his sensate seat in 1872 in an election mired in fraud.

He continued to serve as a justice of the peace;

 
 

 

Marching to a Different Drummer

Unrecognized Heroes of American History

By Robin Kadison Berson

Tunis George Campbell

(1812-1891)

 

Born free in New Jersey, his father a blacksmith, Tunis George Campbell (1812-1891) was educated by Episcopalians in Babylon, New York and completed his education in 1830. Contrary to his teachers expectation, Tunis developed into an abolitionist and anti-colonialist. Also he gave up their religion and became an African Methodist, organizing churches in the slums of Brooklyn and Jersey City. He established a reputation as an excellent speaker. During this period Tunis made a living as a hotel steward and head waiter in new York and Boston and so effective he was at his profession he wrote a manual on hotel management, the first to be published in the United States.

Campbell was a leading speaker at a number of Negro conventions, including the anticolonization convention in New York in 1849; and the Colored National Convention in Rochester in 1853. But what Campbell is particularly remembered for his political leadership in Georgia among freedmen trying desperately to gain independency and self-sufficiency. 

According to Berson, "He was sent by the Department of War to South Carolina to work on the Port Royal Experiment, the first organized attempt to resettle displaced freedmen. . . . This was Campbell's first contact with Southern blacks. He listened to painful stories of past horrors and mistreatment, to budding hopes and dreams for the future."  In 1865 Campbell was appointed Freedmen Bureau Superintendent of the major islands off the coast of Georgia by General Rufus Saxton, military commander of Georgia. (See photo, far right)

By the end of the summer of 1865, General Saxton was fired by President Andrew Johnson, with the recommendation of David Tillson, a conservative Republican who was in charge of the Georgia Freedmens' Bureau, "for refusing to revoke the homestead grants he had made to freedmen."

Tillson, former Confederates, and other racists did not want the freedmen and especially Tunis G. Campbell to succeed in their experiment of self-government. There plot was to undermine and reverse the program  set in operation General William T. Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who had met with 20 of Savannah's black clergy on Jan. 12, 1865, to discuss how to help blacks make the transition from slavery to freedom. Sherman and Stanton mulled over the response and four days later Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15., promising all blacks 40 acres of Low Country property and a military mule. General Rufus Saxton, director of the South Carolina Freedmen's Bureau implemented the program, settling over 40,000 blacks on 40-acre tracts.

Clearly, Campbell represented an intolerable contradiction of everything Tillson expounded. he had to be removed. Tillson used federal troops to overwhelm the islands' inadequately armed militia. He invented charges of fiscal mismanagement against Campbell and summarily exiled him from the Sea Islands. With Campbell off the islands, Tillson turned with a vengeance to his program of forcing the freemen into labor contracts with white investors. The land grants to the freedmen were revoked; the land was either returned to its Confederate owners or leased to Northern entrepreneurs. Acreage the freedmen had planted in food crops was plowed under and replanted with cash crops like rice and cotton, thus further weakening the blacks' hopes for self-reliance and increasing their dependency on the white employers. Freedmen who protested against outrageously unfair contract stipulations and inflated prices at the white-run company stores, or who resisted signing the contracts, were arrested and punished. (Berson, 49)

Campbell regroup on the mainland at an abandoned plantation he purchased and was joined by a hundred people on the land to form the Belleville Farmers Association. For several years, this project was troubled by bad weather and poor harvests and inadequate support by private agencies. In 1867 nevertheless the Radical Republicans gained control of Congress and overpowered the conservative president Johnson and a number of Reconstruction acts were passed over veto.

The former Confederate states had to

--register all qualified voters, under federal supervision;

--elect delegates to rewrite the state constitution into compliance with the united States Constitution;

--elect new state legislatures;

--ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, which established full African-American citizenship.

Under these federal guidelines McIntosh County fall of 1867 elected Tunis Campbell, and along with 37 blacks among 170 delegates to the state constitutional convention. Campbell developed a voting bloc to propose and enact legislation favorable to freedmen, such as passing a bill eliminating imprisonment for debt.. With the new constitution Campbell and two other blacks were elected to the Georgia state senate. On 12 September 1868, Campbell and other blacks were expelled when white racist argued that "the right to vote did not imply the right to hold office" (Berson, 51).

In December 1869, in response to the steady rise of Ku Klux Klan terrorism, the United States Congress restored military rule in Georgia. The expelled legislators were reinstated, and for what remained of his term Campbell served on committees on education, the penal system, and the military. he introduced fifteen bills furthering black rights, most of which were unsuccessful. His great concerns were access to voting and education.

Campbell lost his sensate seat in 1872 in an election mired in fraud. He continued to serve as a justice of the peace; in that capacity he was most prominent defending the rights of black sailors on the ships docking in Darien, an active port. His vigilance on their behalf, and his willingness to fine and imprison the white ships' captains who abused them, incurred the wrath of local whites.

Campbell had been a major irritant to the white power structure for years. they recognized his influence over McIntosh County African Americans, and they despised him for it. . . . .  Planters claimed That Campbell's opposition to contract labor and his constant advice to the freedmen cost the planters hundreds of thousands of dollars. By the mid-1870s the momentum of national politics was conservative again, and white "Redeemer" forces, dedicated to restoring the "'old order," were seizing power throughout the South (Berson, 51-52).

The former Confederates managed to marshal the means to destroy Campbell. Judge Henry Tompkins, a Confederate veteran sworn to destroy him. He indicted Campbell for falsely imprisoning white men (the abusive ship captains in Darien) and set the bail so high that blacks were not able to redeem Campbell, who was thus forced to serve one year of hard labor in Georgia's penal system.

Conditions in these camps were appalling, and the treatment accorded the men were brutal. In the late 1870s, convicts leased to one railroad company in South Carolina suffered a 45% annual death rate; the death rate across the South averaged between 16 and 25%.

There were some attempts at exposure and reform: in one such brave effort, a United States district judge examined the court records of one Georgia county for one month and disclosed that 149 people--almost all of them black--had been sentenced to a total of 19 years at leased labor for crimes no more serious than walking on the grass and spitting on the sidewalk. The maverick Southern reformer George Washington Cable published and lectured against convict leasing. But the system was too profitable for both the state and the contractor for reform to have a chance. In the mid-1889s Georgia's United States Senator, Joseph E. Brown, held a twenty-year lease on three hundred, "healthy" convicts, for which he paid the state the sum of seven cents per man per working day (Berson, 53).

Tunis Campbell entered that world in January of 1876 and the plantation owner who bought his contract paid the state of Georgia $8.75. Some religious led by Wesley J. Gaines, D.D. attempted to rescue Campbell:

 A petition was offered Conference by the writer to appeal to the Governor of Georgia, James M. Smith, to pardon Rev. Tunis G. Campbell. The facts of the case seemed to warrant an effort to obtain clemency. He was born near the close of the eighteenth century, and had been preaching as a minister of a sister church for nearly fifty years. He had also been a Senator from the Second District of Georgia. He was found guilty by the superior court of McIntosh county of mal-administering the law of the State while discharging the functions of Justice of the Peace, and sentenced to the penitentiary to hard labor. Knowing the severe treatment and hardships to which he would be subjected, and mindful of his service to God and man, as well as of his great age and feeble constitution, it seems but a matter of duty to beseech the Governor to extend his executive clemency. (Rt. Rev. Wesley J. Gaines, African Methodism in the South (1890)

The Right Reverend. Wesley J. Gaines was the Sixteenth Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Though some think that Campbell died in prison, according to Berson, he was released in January 1877 and moved to Washington, D.C. where he lobbied for federal protection of African American rights. He returned to Georgia briefly in 1882 for a Republican convention in Atlanta and visited McIntosh County and was received by the local colored population with "support and affection." Campbell never returned to Georgia and died in Boston 4 December 1891. According to Berson, Tunis Campbell was honored and remembered for decades by the people whose rights, hopes, and dreams he had so fearlessly worked to achieve.

Sources:

Bell, Malcolm, Jr. Major Butler's Legacy: Five Generations of A Slaveholding Family. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

Campbell, Tunis G. Sufferings of the Rev. T. G. Campbell and His Family in Georgia. Washington, D.C.: Enterprises, 1877.

Coulter, E. Merton "Tunis G. Campbell: Negro Reconstruction in Georgia." I--Georgia Historical Quarterly 51 (December, 1967): 401-424; II--Georgia Historical Quarterly 52 (March, 1968): 16-52.

Du Bois, W.E.B. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. Cleveland: World Publishing, Co., 1962 [1935].

Duncan, Russell. Freedom's Shore: Tunis Campbell and the Georgia Freedmen. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

Few, Jenel. "Black History Month feature: Living with or without 40 acres and a mule." Savannah Morning News. Web Posted, February 21, 2000 .

Franklin, John Hope. Reconstruction After the Civil War. Chicago: University of Chicago press, 1961.

Gaines, Wesley J.  "A SKETCH OF THREE YEARS [1875-1878]," Chapter IX of African Methodism in the South; OR TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF FREEDOM. WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY PROF. W. S. SCARBOROUGH, A. M., LL. D. ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Franklin Publishing House. 1890.

Novak, Daniel A. The Wheel of Servitude: Black Forced Labor After Slavery. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1978.

Perdue, Robert E. The Negro In Savannah, 1865-1900.

Sterling, Dorothy, ed. The Trouble They Seen: Black People Tell the Story of Reconstruction. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1976.

Carol E. Scott, "Joseph E. Brown: Businessman, Educator and Politician"

Source: Robin Kadison Berson. Marching to a Different Drummer. 1994

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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