South Georgia’s ‘Quitman 10’ visited Macon’s historic Steward Chapel AME Church on Saturday, May 14th for a statewide rally in an effort to take a stand against vote suppression and voter intimidation.
The ‘Quitman 10’ from Brooks County told their story about their struggle to exercise their right to vote in rural south Georgia.
The American South has had a history of suppressing the African-American vote by introducing Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, literacy tests and forms of voter intimidation which brought forth the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
However, the perceived threat of African-Americans exercising their right to vote in a rural town, brought retribution from local authorities connected to Dixiecrat politics.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested ten Brooks County residents a few days before Christmas, mainly from the city of Quitman, a majority-African American city in South Georgia.
Brooks County has a 40% minority population, and the city of Quitman–the county seat– is approximately 70% African-American.
The Quitman 10 has maintained their innocence, and is ready to take their case to court.
The Quitman 10 consists of the following: Lula Smart, April Proctor, Kechia Harrison, Sandra Cody, Robert Dennard, Angela Bryant,Latashia Head, Nancy Dennard, Linda Troutman, and Elizabeth Thomas.
Democratic State Sen. Robert Brown of Macon has cited the Quitman 10 case as a reason why there must be increased attention to what’s happening in rural Georgia in regard to voter intimidation and vote suppression.
Additionally, the issue of voter apathy is also a problem in the African-American community and a consequence of sitting home on Election Day has helped to re-assert Republican dominance in the Peach state.
2012 is around the corner, so there is a renewed effort to get people registered and prepared to vote for the upcoming election cycle.
Sen. Brown and other black legislators want to encourage higher voter participation specifically in rural black communities.
In the city of Macon, a new organization called the Bibb County Voter Registration and Education League want to engage its citizens to participate in the electoral process.
In the Peach State, there are approximately six million voters. Currently, close to a million Georgia voters are eligible to vote, but haven’t registered thus far.
Organizers don’t have a set number or goal in regard to registering voters, but want to encourage them to register and be in a position to vote in future elections.
Some of the popular locations where the newly formed Voter Registration and Education League will hold drives will be churches, schools and scheduled public events which will held regularly as well.
Steward Chapel has been in existence for 146 years and has the distinction as the oldest African-American church in the city of Macon
This historic institution was established in 1865 following the Civil War and is named after the Rev. T.G. Steward. At one time, Steward AME had been part of a Methodist Episcopal congregation designated for slaves prior to 1865. The urging of Bishop Henry McNeil Turner provided inspiration for a new church to be formed, so former slaves had a church of their own which became the Steward Chapel AME.
During the American Civil War Henry McNeil Turner was appointed a Chaplain to one of the first Federal regiments of black troops (Company B of the First United States Colored Troops). Turner was the first of only 14 black Chaplains to be appointed during the Civil War. This appointment came directly from President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. He was also appointed by President Andrew Johnson to work with the Freedman’s Bureau in Georgia during Reconstruction.
In 2000, the U.S. Congress designated a Macon, Georgia post office in Turner’s honor.
Prior to the Bibb County Public Schools being established during Reconstruction in the early 1870’s, the Steward Chapel took the lead and started a school for children of freed slaves in 1865.
The Methodist Episcopal Church that Steward AME had broken apart from is now called the Mulberry United Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Macon.
Steward Chapel AME has a history of inviting dynamic speakers such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays of Morehouse and Mary McLeod Bethune.