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Tunis Campbell: A Georgia hero not honored at the Capitol

My recent story took a hard look at the men honored in Georgia Capitol’s collection of paintings and statues with an eye toward their record on race.

Not surprisingly, many of them harbored attitudes toward Georgia’s African-American citizens abhorrent to modern eyes. But almost as interesting as those honored in the Capitol collection are those not honored.

One notable for his absence is Tunis Campbell, a state senator, justice of the peace and vice president of the Georgia Republican Party during Reconstruction.

Tunis Campbell, a high-ranking Republican politician in Georgia during Reconstruction.

Tunis Campbell, a high-ranking Republican politician in Georgia during Reconstruction.

Following his service in the Freedmen’s Bureau, Campbell, a black, a New Jersey-born abolitionist and preacher, was elected to the Senate with two-thirds of the vote in his district in the first election where freed blacks were allowed to vote. He worked in the General Assembly for integrated juries, the abolition of debtors prison, and the integration of schools and public facilities.

Campbell won an important concession in the Senate to set aside money for Atlanta University, but that money instead ended up going to white students at the University of Georgia on orders from Gov. James M. Smith.

In 1868, acting on an accusation from former Gov. Joseph Brown that African-Americans were ineligible to hold office in Georgia, the white members of the General Assembly voted to expel Tunis and 32 other black lawmakers. A modest monument stands (ironically) outside the Capitol to those lawmakers expelled because of the color of their skin.

Tunis continued to serve as justice of the peace and earned more white animus by urging black agricultural workers not to sign unfavorable contracts white landowners.

Tunis was later charged with falsely imprisoning a white man by issuing a warrant for the man’s arrest. A white judge sentenced Campbell, then 64, to a year in a convict labor camp where he was leased to property owners along with other inmates. Following his sentence, he moved his family north. He died in 1891.

Read more about the complicated Capitol art collection here. And learn even more about individuals honored with statues and paintings by taking this poll that asks you whether you would keep them, remove them or keep them with additional information about their legacy.


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