Marker honoring civil rights icon Primus King unveiled

Elected officials and the general public gathered at the northeast corner of the Government Center campus this morning to unveil a tribute to a local civil rights icon.

Unveiled was the city’s newest historical marker, this one honoring Primus King, who led the successful effort to open primary voting to black citizens in the 1940s. King’s sucessful lawsuit against the Democratic Party of Georgia broke the party’s firm stranglehold on state politics.

Until King challenged the party’s right to deny black citizens the vote in what it called a “private election,” blacks were in effect disenfranchised because the Democratic primary was then tantamount to the General Election.

State Rep. Calvin Smyre said he had the honor of attending and speaking at King’s funeral in 1986, and was honored to be allowed again to pay tribute to him again.

“The old saying goes, ‘No one can break your back unless you bend it.’ He stood tall, and for that we’re all grateful,” Smyre said. “In fact , the city, the state and the nation has paid tribute to Primus King, and for us to be here today is a great tribute to his life and what he gave.”

Gary Sprayberry, chair of the department of history at Columbus State University, has long studied, written about and taught about the civil rights era and King’s role in it. He said a lot of people today don’t realize the level of courage it took for a black man to challenge the white power structure of its day.

“Almost immediately he started to get death theats over the phone,” Sprayberry said. “One man threatened to toss him into the Chattahoochee River.

“King responded to him over the phone, ‘Well, they’ve put so many negroes in that river for nothing, I’m willing to go in there for something.’”

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said it is fitting for the city and state to honor a man who altered the course of history for the better.

“We’re here today to celebrate how a seemingly ordinary person can change the course of history,” Tomlinson said. “ Hopefully every time we pass this marker we’ll remember to think, is there something that we can do today that can change the course of history?”