Black History in Columbus, GA
February is dedicated to the celebration and education of the impact and victories of the African-American community. It is easy to allow this time of reflection to cause division as we think back on how divided we used to be and how hateful we were to someone just because they were a different color. However, this should be a time to recognize and celebrate the individuals who made such large sacrifices to create unity in our country and remember that we still need to continue to fight for that today. It is a time to remember that we are ONE nation, under GOD, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for ALL.
We have had many amazing individuals in the African-American community who were either from the Columbus, GA area or had a large impact on this area. I would like to take this time to share a little bit about a few of them with you and recognize their great accomplishments in our community, country and around the world.
Thomas Bethune – Musical Prodigy 1849-1908
Thomas Wiggins was born just outside of Columbus in 1849. He served as a slave on the Columbus, GA plantation of General James Bethune. Later in Thomas’ life he was called Thomas Bethune. He was born blind but was considered a musical prodigy. He was able to listen to an intricate composition and sit down at the piano to play what he had heard, often with out mistakes. Historians believe he started performing before audiences at age 8. Thomas later toured Europe during the civil war and is said to have performed before royalty. He returned to Columbus to perform on the stage of the Springer Opera House. Thomas spent his last years in New Jersey with a member of the Bethune family.
Horace King – Master Bridge Builder 1807-1887
Horace King was born into slavery in 1807 in South Carolina. He first came to Columbus, GA in 1832 while serving John Godwin who had been given a contract to build the Dillingham Bridge across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus to Phenix City. John Godwin petitioned for Horace’s freedom and Horace was granted freedom from slavery in 1846. He went on to build lattice bridges over the Chattahoochee, Flint, and Oconee Rivers. Defying all odds, Horace served in the post-civil war Alabama Legislature as a representative from Russell County. In his last days, Horace and his family moved to LaGrange, GA where he and his sons ran their construction firm.
“Laborer and legislator, his life was an astonishing symbolic bridge-a bridge not only between states, but between men. Like one of his stately town lattice bridges, Horace King’s life soars above the murky waters of historical limitations, of human bondage, and racial prejudice. He did not change the currents of social history, but he did transcend them and stands as a reminder of our common humanity, the potential of human spirit, the power of human respect.” - Dr William H. Green
Eugene Bullard – First African-American Combat Aviator 1894-1961
Eugene Bullard was born in Columbus, GA in 1894 and fled to Scotland to escape racial discrimination. He later went to Paris where he joined the French Foreign Legion during World War I and flew as a member of the Lafayette Flying Corps where he became the first African-American to fly in combat and was awarded fifteen French war medals. Following a spinal injury, Eugene moved to New York for medical care and remained there with his family for the remainder of his life.
Dr. Thomas Brewer – Civil Rights Activist 1894-1956
Thomas Brewer, originally from Saco, Alabama, moved to the Columbus, GA area in 1920 where he joined the medical community. He founded a chapter of the NAACP in Columbus in 1939. During his leadership, he designated Primus King to attempt to vote in the primary election in 1944 in Muscogee County and raised the funds to fight his case in court where they later won. After this success, Dr. Brewer initiated successful black voter registration drives in Columbus, campaigned for the hiring of black police officers, fought for equitable funding of black schools and later for the racial integration of public schools, and fought to integrate the golf course on Columbus’ South Commons. Dr. Thomas Brewer was killed by Lucio Flowers in 1956. Dr. Brewer’s death is still a matter of controversy. The authorities determined his death to be self defense; however, others speculate that it was murder.