Fence separating blacks and whites in Camilla cemetery now gone

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By: WCTV Eyewitness News
Updated - January 12, 2018

CAMILLA, Ga. (WCTV) -- The city manager says a fence separating blacks and whites in Camilla's Oakview Cemetery is gone.

City Manager Bennett Adams says city crews began removing the fence Thursday afternoon and finished the work Friday morning.

Adams says Camilla's city attorney recommended the fence be removed after talks with attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Mayor Rufus Davis.

Adams says, in a letter to the city, Crump said he would pursue litigation if the fence did not come down.

Davis has been boycotting city council meetings to protest what he calls a system of segregation in city policies and practices.

“It’s a day of mixed emotions for me; I am happy to see this fence — which is a powerful symbol of segregation — come down," Mayor Davis said.

However, Mayor Davis said, he was not notified of the decision and did not have a chance to actually see crews taking it down.

“It was my hope that we could have worked together, bringing the community together — both black and white — to partake in a cathartic exercise, removing this ugly symbol of segregation and unifying our community. Unfortunately, the city did not give us advance notice," Mayor Davis said. "However, at the end of the day, I am happy to see the fence coming down."

Mayor Davis - along with attorney Ben Crump, activist Gwen Lillian Thomas and others - posed for a picture in the cemetery holding a fence post.

"When I first came to visit the Camilla cemetery, Ms. Gwen Lillian Thomas, a 70-year-old African-American activist, said when she was born in this hometown the fence was already erected," Ben Crump said. "She prayed that she would live to see the day this fence would be taken down. I am so happy we were able to ensure that she could see this symbol of racism destroyed in her lifetime."

City Manager Adams says the fence separated a section of cemetery where burial plots are free from the section where plots must be purchased.

There are no African Americans buried in the section where plots must be purchased.

Adams says now that the fence has been taken down, the city will change its policy and free burial plots will no longer be offered.

By: Alex Crescenti | WCTV Eyewitness News
December 22, 2017

CAMILLA, Ga. (WCTV) – Controversy continues to swirl over race relations in Camilla, Georgia. Camilla Mayor Rufus Davis is speaking out again about what he calls a system of segregation in city policies and practices.

Today, his focus is on the city cemetery. Right now, the burial site has separate sections for blacks and whites. The mayor’s attorney says that cannot continue.

A week ago, Rufus Davis, alongside a newly elected city council member, began a civil protest by boycotting all city council meetings until the fences of segregation are dismantled.

Mayor Davis, along with his attorney, Benjamin Crump, says a fence at the cemetery literally separates black and whites buried in the Oakview Cemetery. They are calling on the city manager to tear down this fence and help end segregation in the city.

"This cemetery is divided by a fence," Mayor Davis said during a press conference on Friday. "This fence is the symbol of segregation, not only this cemetery, but in our community. We began this protest to call attention to and bring an end to insidious racial segregation and discrimination within the city of Camilla."

We've reached out to City Manager Bennett Adams for comment but have not heard back at this time.

Mayor Davis also pointed out this afternoon that the city has no black police officers and only three black city workers.

Many residents we spoke with in Camilla this afternoon were very passionate talking about this matter, saying this type of situation shouldn't exist in the United States in 2017.