Title image: "The Courthouse"

The completion date of Columbus’ first courthouse is unknown, although it is known that the building burned down in 1838 while a new courthouse was being built. As a result, countless irreplaceable documents were lost. The second courthouse was completed in 1840, and it would briefly be used to house wounded soldiers during the Civil War [1].  This second courthouse was demolished in 1895, and a year later, a third courthouse was constructed. In 1971, after 76 years of usefulness, this courthouse would also be demolished to make way for the present-day Government Center, which houses the combined city-county government [2].

Teasy McElhaney

On July 1, 1912, The Columbus Ledger’s front page would host a headline, “Cedron Land Killed Sunday,” with a sub-heading reading, “Coroner Investigated Killing and Ordered Negro Held - Damaging Evidence Obtained” [3].  “He [Teasy McElhaney] had given an unsworn statement in which he had admitted shooting Cleo Land, but he said it was accidental. He said that he and the Land boy were involved in a friendly scuffle over the gun, which discharged and killed Cleo.” After McElhaney’s verdict was delivered- guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of an unlawful act- he was moved from the courtroom to the sheriff’s office when men closed around the officers and demanded the prisoner. When neither bailiff turned over McElhaney, he was pulled away, and the mob detained the bailiffs and sheriff. Then, the group took McElhaney out of the courthouse to a streetcar on the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue. When the car reached city limits, all passengers, including the hostage McElhaney, were ordered off, and the car was ordered to move on. It was then that several of the men in the mob pulled out pistols and murdered McElhaney [4].

Primus E. King

In 1944, Primus King would walk into the Muscogee County Courthouse during the all-white Democratic Party Primary. After being accosted by a white police officer and turned away, King walked three blocks to the office of attorney Oscar Smith Sr. and hired him to sue the Democratic Party, chaired by Joseph E. Chapman. In King v. Chapman, U.S. District Court Judge T. Hoyt Davis ruled that the all-white primary violated King’s 14th, 15th, and 17th Amendment rights [5]. The Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this decision in New Orleans in March 1946, when Thurgood Marshall served as amicus curiae for King. King’s fight against the white primary was paid for by over $10,000 raised by civil rights activists led by Dr. Thomas Brewer. Federally, this fight eliminated the legal barriers that had stood in the way of Black Georgians’ right to cast ballots in state and local elections. Additionally, Mayor Bob Hydrick proclaimed June 28th Primus E. King Day in Columbus. Of the $5,000 in damages King sued for, he would eventually receive $324.70 in 1977; and in 2000, Governor Roy Barnes signed a law naming a stretch of state road in Columbus the Primus King Highway [6].

Dr. Thomas Brewer

Dr. Thomas Brewer is best known for his help in the Primus King court case King v. Chapman, but he spent his lifetime fighting to desegregate Columbus, GA. In 1938, Dr. Brewer helped establish Columbus' first NAACP chapter. He helped desegregate the Columbus Police Department, getting the first four black officers hired in 1951. In addition, he assisted in establishing the Fourth Avenue Library (later named for Manager Mildred L. Terry) and The Manly Taylor Recreation Center [7]. Dr. Brewer's office was in a building shared with a department store owned by Luico Flowers. When Flowers and Dr. Brewer witnessed a black man being beaten by a police officer outside the building, Dr. Brewer said excessive force was used, but Flowers disagreed. Over several days, Dr. Brewer visited Mr. Flowers and attempted to convince him to testify that police used excessive force. On February 18th, 1956, Dr. Brewer revisited Mr. Flowers, who shot Dr. Brewer seven times in what he said was self-defense. Dr. Brewer's death shook the black political community and caused many black professionals to leave Columbus [8]. Dr. Thomas Brewer is buried locally in Green Acres Cemetery [9].