On July 11, 1947, a camp warden and guards shot dead seven prisoners being held at the Anguilla Prison in Georgia. They were Jonah Smith, Henry Manson, Willie Wright, James Smith, George Patterson, Edward Neal, and Willie Frank Chambers.
The victims were sentenced to time in a prison labor camp outside of Anguilla, Georgia, after being convicted of crimes such as robbery, burglary, and larceny. Little else is known about these seven men, though. The only reason we know what little we do know about them is because of the dedicated organizing by the NAACP to bring attention to their deaths.
According to the Anguilla Prison Massacre Quilt Project, which was created to honor these seven men:
The day after their murder, the New York Times ran a story describing their killing as a failed escape attempt. That was the official story. But a hand written letter from one of the survivors that made it to the local NAACP chapter told a different story. Investigations by NAACP members revealed that the men had been forced to dig ditches without shoes in swampy land infested with poisonous snakes.
When they refused to continue working, afraid for their safety, they were driven back to the camp where the warden, drunk and angry, opened fire on them with a submachine gun. Thanks to their advocacy, there were public hearings and eventually a trial. Although no one was ever convicted of the killings, the fact that we know as much as we do today is because of their tireless efforts for justice.
To learn more about this massacre and the quilt designed in their honor visit the Anguilla Prison Massacre Quilt Project.
The quilt is by Rachel Wallis in collaboration with Mariame Kaba, created during a 2020-2021 Project Nia Artist Residency.