The mayor of a Georgia town so racially divided that even its cemetery is segregated is fighting back against the discrimination that has long plagued his residents.
Mayor Rufus Davis was elected to his post in Camilla, Ga., in 2015. According to Davis, his own city council has refused to give him keys to City Hall, boycotted his first meeting as mayor and put an end to public meetings.
Two years after his election, Davis is reportedly trying a different tactic and boycotting his City Council meetings.
Camilla’s racial issues are clear, Davis told The Root.
“The city is 70 percent African American, but there are no Black police officers,” he said. “There are only three Black employees out of about 35 in City Hall, and one of them is the janitor. The highest-ranking Black man on the city payroll is a meter reader. About 99 percent of white students in the town attend a small private school that I believe has maybe three or four Black students in athletics now.”
In an interview with WFXL-31, a local Fox affiliate, Davis called the city’s practices “dehumanizing” and “an embarrassment to our city.”
Segregationist policies continue even after death. According to Davis, a fence divides local Oakview Cemetery, separating where whites and Blacks are buried. And the “Black” side is poorly maintained. While not a “written policy,” the practice has been in place for years.
“All Blacks that have ever been buried are buried there,” Davis told WFXL. “There are no records, so if you had a relative that was buried on that side, unless someone could show you were their body is buried, you would never find out.”
Davis detailed the city’s problems further in a lengthy Facebook post on Sunday.
City Manager Bennett Adams disputed most of Davis’ claims. But according to Davis, the city manager is part of the problem:
“We have a white city manager who exercises, carte blanche, all decisions regarding city hires — police chief, the fire chief, all employees; they all report to him. His decisions are final, he does not need approval. If I need a paper clip, I have to ask him for the paper clip,” Davis said to CBS Atlanta.
Despite the city’s majority-Black population, the current voting districts are designed to ensure whites are overrepresented on the Council. And even though there are Black members, they are largely inactive.
“They never make proposals, they never ask questions, they vote consistently with the white members. I looked at the minutes of our [Black] City Council members over the last 10 years, and there has never been a situation where they said anything on a substantive issue, and that’s just how far I went Back,” Davis shared with The Root.
Davis was pushed to begin his peaceful protest after Adams proposed a new city charter that would essentially remove what little power Davis currently has over the city.
“If you have this kind of record of invidious discrimination … if this kind of power was given, it would damage the community for years to come,” he told The Root.
Davis has teamed up with civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump to raise awareness about Camilla’s racial divide and urge for change. Crump represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice. He is currently representing Corey Jones, who was shot and killed by a plainclothes police officer while he stood on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck.
“This is nothing more than the work of crafty individuals who are trying to turn back the clock of time to a deeply flawed period in our history,” Crump said in a statement. “I will use every legal resource available to assist Mayor Davis in desegregating Oakview Cemetery, and to ensure that all the residents of Camilla are treated with the dignity, equality and respect they deserve.”