Our Georgia History

Primus King
April 3, 1944 In Smith v. Allwright the U. S. Supreme Court holds that restrictions against blacks voting in primaries are unconstitutional.
  The Road to Integration
  Primus King
July 4, 1944 Rev. Primus King, enters the courthouse in Columbus, Georgia and attempts to vote in the "white only" Democratic primary. King was black.
  The Road to Integration
  Columbus, Georgia
  Primus King

When Ellis Arnell defeated Herman Talmadge in the governor's race for Georgia, advocates praised it as being a step in the right direction. By 1944, however, it seemed it was a very small step when Arnell condemned a step by the NAACP to enfranchise return Negro veterans, asserting "We in the South don't believe in social equality."

Georgia had been trying to disenfranchise black voters since the end of Reconstruction with the poll tax, literacy tests, and arbitrary registration processes. In the early 20th century the Democratic Party, which was the only party with serious representation, came up with idea of a whites only primary, guaranteeing that black voters would only be able to cast votes for white candidates. Since the primary was funded by the Georgia Democratic Party and was not a general election, the party could control access to the voting.

They thought this was true because of a 1935 Supreme Court ruling in Grovey v. Townsend that held that political parties were private organizations In Smith v. Allwright, on April 3, 1944, the U. S. Supreme Court expanded on its earlier decision, United States v. Classic, making it illegal to discriminate against any minority group by excluding them from a primary.

Atlanta's black community decided to test their ability to vote in the Democratic Primary in Atlanta. Led by the local NAACP and advised by Thurgood Marshall (who had argued Smith v. Allwright). In Columbus, Georgia, however, a second group decided to test the white primary. Thomas Brewer, who founded the Columbus branch of the NAACP in 1937 look for a test case. He asked 44-year old Reverend Primus King to help test the law.

On Independence Day, 1944, King, a registered voter, entered the Muscogee County courthouse and attempted to register for the upcoming Democratic primary. He was roughly escorted from the courthouse and was not able to register. He walked several blocks to an attorney's office and asked him to file suit against the Democrats. King v. Chapman (Joe Chapman was head of the county's Democratic party at the time) would extend the constitutional protection to Georgia when it was decided in October, 1945. Later a circuit court judge dismissed an appeal by the Democratic part and the Supreme Court reviewed the case and let the lower court ruling stand.

For many years afterward Thomas Brewer would receive death threats, especially during elections years. It was commonly known that Brewer carried a small pistol for protection. In 1956 Thomas Brewer was shot 7 times by Lucio Flowers who is variously described as a politician, a policeman or department store owner. Flowers did own a store beneath Brewer's offices and Brewer had come down to discuss events surrounding the arrest of a black shoplifting suspect. Flowers shot Brewer 7 times and claimed self-defense. Flowers committed suicide less than a year later.

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