In this WSB newsfilm clip from June 1971, Joseph W. Sargis, director of public safety in Columbus, Georgia, comments on the recent firing of seven black policemen from the Columbus police department.
The clip begins outside of an office building, where a reporter comments on the sun's brightness to Columbus director of public safety Joseph W. Sargis. Next, the reporter asks Sargis "were you provoked, in your opinion, into firing these men," a reference to seven black officers recently fired from the Columbus police department. Sargis responds that he does not feel that he was provoked, instead, he considers the firings a response to a "continual series of acts" that began on March 26, and included making unfounded public statements and false allegations against fellow police officers. He notes that the officers' discredited allegations were investigated extensively by a grand jury and a committee appointed by the mayor. Referring to a protest on May 31 when the same seven officers ripped American flag emblems from their uniforms, Sargis concludes that he "simply reached the point where I felt that removing the flag was a final act of conduct unbecoming a police officer."
On May 31, 1971, seven African American police officers (George Arnold, J. H. Clarke, Robert Leonard, G. L. Smith, W. L. Pearson, F. L. White, and Vinson Willis) were fired from the Columbus police department after ripping American flag shoulder patches from their uniforms as they picketed police headquarters. The officers, all members of Columbus' Afro-American Police League, had organized against longstanding discriminatory practices in the department and alleged police violence against the black community. In response to the officers' dismissal, many conflicts continued throughout the spring and summer. A class-action lawsuit was brought against the city of Columbus, and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) helped organize a mass demonstration on June 19, after which mass violence escalated throughout the city. Rioting reached a height on June 21, 1971, when a white officer, L. A. Jacks, shot and killed a twenty-year old African American youth named Willie J. Osborne after an alleged armed robbery. Riots, arson attacks, police violence, and further protests impacted Columbus for several months, prompting the Columbus City Council to invoke an emergency ordinance, and Columbus mayor J. R. Allen to declare a state of emergency.
Title supplied by cataloger.
The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.
|Rights and Usage:|
Cite as: WSB-TV newsfilm clip of Joseph W. Sargis speaking about allegations against police officers in Columbus, Georgia, 1971 June, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 1594, 34:03/35:12, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.