Tunis Campbell-A Reconstruction leader of self-determination in the Gullah/Geechee Nation
Gullah/Geechee TV’s “Gullah/Geechee Nayshun Nyews with Queen Quet” focused on the 2012 “Tunis Campbell Celebration.” This annual events takes place in Brunswick, GA in the Gullah/Geechee Nation around April 1st. Rev. Zack L. Lyde who founded the event is on the Assembly of Representatives for the Gullah/Geechee Nation. He wanted this event to be a celebration of the self-determination that Tunis Campbell was instrumental in leading on the Georgia coast during his work with the Freedmen’s Bureau and thereafter.
In 1863 U.S. secretary of war Edwin Stanton commissioned Tunis Campbell to work in Port Royal, South Carolina, where former enslaved Africans and Gullah/Geechees gathering under the protection of the Union forces. After Union general William T. Sherman captured Savannah in December 1864, Congress set up the Freedmen’s Bureau in March 1865 tow which Campbell was appointed to supervise land claims and resettlement on five Georgia Sea Islands: Ossabaw, Delaware, Colonels, St. Catherines, and Sapelo. Campbell purchased 1,250 acres at Belle Ville in McIntosh County and there established an association of Black landowners to set up their own township on the island that they would govern themselves. He knew that land would be needed by any self-determined group of individuals. Today numerous Gullah/Geechee families still live on the lands on the Georgia coast in spite of the concerted effort to dismantle the settlement that Tunis Campbell had on the coast.
In 1867 a Congressional order started a new era that is now called “Reconstruction.” (To learn more about this period and Campbell’s involvement, see the PBS documentary, “Reconstruction: The Second Civil War” which is on YouTube beginning at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UKvKUvKUpU) During this time Tunis Campbell became the vice president of the Republican Party in Georgia. He was later elected as a justice of the peace, a delegate to the state constitutional convention, and a state senator from the Second Senatorial District (Liberty, McIntosh, and Tattnall counties). During his tenure, Campbell pushed for laws for equal education, integrated jury boxes, homestead exemptions, abolishment of imprisonment for debt, open access to public facilities, and fair voting procedures. As a justice of the peace, minister, and political boss, in McIntosh County, Campbell protected freedmen from abuse and terrorism. He organized and led a 300-strong Gullah/Geechee armed force that guarded him from the Ku Klux Klan and others that burned his home and continued to threaten his family. They went as far as having Tunis Campbell poisoned. However, he did not die on the Georgia coast. He died in Boston in 1891 after many years of seeking to clear his name from various charges on which he had even been imprisoned and sentenced to a chain gang in Georgia.
Gullah/Geechees respect all the blood, sweat, tears, and intellectual contributions of Tunis Campbell to the Gullah/Geechee Nation. Therefore, they invite everyone to know of and celebration his legacy of self-determination. Self-determination is the foundation on which the new freedom school in Brunswick is being built.
Tune in to this three part episode to hear interviews with the founder of the freedom school that was opened as a part of the “Intelligence Advancement Movement”: