The “Original 33” from the Georgia General Assembly.

Today at the Georgia Capitol, the Legislative Black Caucus hosted a press conference to commemorate the “Original 33.”  This often-forgotten moment in Georgia history both highlights how much we have progressed while also reminding us that the foundation of our government has inherent flaws.  Trying to build a balanced and fair government on top of a cracked foundation is certain to lead to problems that are too deeply rooted to adequately fix.  This is why we must continue to discuss these parts of history so we can understand the source of our modern day dilemmas.

In September 1868, just after the Civil war ended, 33 legislators were expelled from the Georgia General Assembly solely because they were black.  The end of the slavery and the ability for black men to vote opened the door for elected officials of color.  This also marked the beginning of voting laws, black codes, and voter intimidation to prevent blacks, including those who were never enslaved, from getting political power.

When we discuss voting rights today, we cannot do it without considering events like the expulsion of the Original 33.  The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus is the largest black caucus in the United States.  You may ask, why do they need a caucus based on race?  I point you to the part of history where 33 African Americans were expelled because of the color of their skin.  I also suggest you take a look at all of Georgia’s constitutional officers throughout history and notice what is missing.

There is still a void throughout state politics and state offices where people of color and women are not employed at the levels where real decisions are made.  This does not presume mal-intent or automatic bias.  However, one does not know what one does not know.  Therefore, caucuses like the Legislative Black Caucus, the Rural Caucus, the Working Families Caucus, and the Women’s Caucus, are created to ensure there are legislators advocating for the concerns and needs of a particular group that may otherwise be overlooked.

The Legislative Black Caucus will host their annual GLBC Heritage Dinner on Thursday, February 22nd from 5pm – 8pm at the Georgia Freight Depot.  During this annual celebration they will continue to educate Georgians about the history of the Original 33.

Interesting Facts about the Original 33:

  • Black women could not vote but they were the center of the African American political activity by organizing in local churches
  • Due to the involvement of the church, 24 legislators were ministers.
  • Of the 33 expelled, originally 29 black representatives were removed. Four members, who were considered mulatto (that is they were less than 1/8 black) held their seat for an additional 10 days before being expelled.
  • Representative Henry McNeal Turner lobbied the federal government to reinstall the 33 legislators.
  • One quarter of the black legislators were killed, threatened, beaten, or jailed. This ultimately led to Democratic victories in 1870.

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