Tag Archives: Georgia African-American History & Culture

Restoration of the Kinlaw Rosenwald School, Camden County

Marshall Glover

While photographing in Camden County with Cynthia Jennings yesterday, I met Mr. Marshall Glover. Mr. Glover is leading the work of restoring the historic Kinlaw Rosenwald School, which was built in 1921. The formal education of African-American children in Kinlaw began in a one-room schoolhouse built on the site in 1896.

The African-American community of Kinlaw was very progressive and embraced better education for its children. Upon learning of the existence of the Rosenwald grants from Matilda Harris, Camden County’s supervisor of black schools, the people of Kinlaw began exploring the possibility of replacing their schoolhouse with a better facility. They raised $909 and with matching contributions and grants began construction on this structure in 1920, with the first classes beginning in 1921. The school offered instruction for children from first to seventh grade and was one of three Rosenwald facilities in the county. Kinlaw is the only one that survives today.

Mr. Glover told me that his father and grandfather both attended the school and that he was glad to be doing the restoration as a way of honoring them. He noted that he has been working for over a year and spent much of that time caulking the tongue-and-groove paneling. He pointed out that the excellent material and construction of the school has been evident during the restoration, with much of the work being cosmetic. He stated that there were some parts of the floor that were compromised due to leaks in the old roof, but they are getting to that work now. With a team of volunteers, he has done an excellent job.

Please consider a contribution to continue this important work. Secure donations can be made here.

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Filed under --CAMDEN COUNTY GA--, Kinlaw GA

Ebenezer Cemetery, McIntosh County

Izear Day [5 February 1915-18 January 1931]

Though the headstone pictured above is the most unique in the cemetery, I have chosen to document the site due to its considerable collection of vernacular headstones. Ebenezer (spelled Ebernezer on the sign) is actually two cemeteries, located off Churchill Road near I-95. A fenced section is the white cemetery while the surrounding larger cemetery is the domain of African-Americans, a few of whom were born into slavery and others who represent the first generation after emancipation. The African-American section is what is represented here.

Charlie Ifield Thorpe [Circa 1877-1914]

The predominant vernacular form in this cemetery is the homemade star-adorned headstone, a locally made type that is well-represented in the nearby Gould Cemetery at Harris Neck. It’s possible that all of these were the work of the same maker. They follow in no particular order but many of the examples are memorials for the Thorpe family.

Thelma B. Thorpe [Unknown-18 November 1941]
Alice Thorpe [5 December 185116 September 1923]
Eddie Thorpe [Circa 1880-1922]
James C. Thorpe [20 August 1847-16 March 1939]
Affie White [1842-16 August 1931]
Ida Leake [Circa 1885-1921]
Irvin Weldon [16 August 1909-19 February 1936]
Rachel (York) Shellman [1881-6 October 1923] Born at Broxton GA
Susie G. Ross [25 September 1855-6 April 1943]
Reverend Pompie Anderson [12 September 1870-7 May 1949]
James B. Churchill [17 January 1897-19 February 1951]
J. C. Churchill [22 May 1867-16 May 1951] This stone features an O. E. S. Masonic emblem but is eroding quickly.
Mary E. Churchill [5 July 1879-17 July 1968] Wife of J. C. Churchill
Mary J. Jackson [Unknown-9 September 1925]
Proverb R. Roberson [6 June 1910-18 December 1955] Private 548 Quartermaster Service BN World War II
Pernellar Roberson [Unknown-3 January 1925] Born in Buckville SC, Died in Christ
The headstone for Brother Willie N. Alston is professionally made, but his footstone (below) and those of two other family members are more modern interpretations of vernacular types common in African-American cemeteries of the early 20th century.
Brother Willie N. Alston [15 January 1895-December 1974] Footstone
Brian Keith Alston [1 September 1975-6 December 1983]
Jessie Alston [29 July 1941-14 July 1968]
Hattie Hillery [15 September 1881-10 January 1928] This stone is the same style as two found in Behavior Cemetery on Sapelo Island and may have connections to those.

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Filed under --MCINTOSH COUNTY GA--

Macedonia Baptist Church, Circa 1930, Sterling

This historic African-American church was built circa 1930 and serves the Sterling community. I’m not sure if it has always been affiliated with the same congregation but will update it when possible.

This post begins our merger with Vanishing Coastal Georgia.

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Filed under --GLYNN COUNTY GA--, Sterling GA

Smith Grove Cemetery, Jefferson County

This well-maintained African-American cemetery contains a collection of vernacular headstones of statewide importance, both as artifacts of ingenuity in the face of adversity and as sacred ground to the loved ones of those interred here. Thanks to Cynthia Jennings for making me aware of the site. Smith Grove [Smiths or Smith’s in some references] members made the best of what was available to them, which was typical of rural congregations. Many of the memorials are nearly unreadable*, but consider that at the time they were made, most rural African-American schools were grossly underfunded and were barely able to provide the basics of an education, and the makers of these were likely “drawing” the letters as opposed to writing them. I believe Smith Grove Cemetery should be on the National Register of Historic Places.

*-All names and dates that follow are presumed to be correct but the nature of the script makes it difficult to be completely accurate

Triangular Headstones

There are four triangular memorials, likely all accomplished by the same maker. Dates on Findagrave for these stones are not completely accurate. The way the numbers are positioned makes it nearly impossible to determine an actual date, in most cases.

Alex Stone (10 August 1862-22 November 1930). The date of Mr. Stone’s birth would indicate he was likely born into slavery.
Ed Way (1873-?)
Billie Lee Way (1865-1902).
Reverend B. T. Smith (1900-?). It is possible that Reverend Smith was the first pastor here and of the family for whom the church was named. [The name is listed as B. C. Smith on Findagrave, but I believe that may be an error in translation].

Unique Headstones

Inell Belle (2 December 1932-1944). This unique memorial is perhaps the most interesting of all the vernacular headstones at Smith Grove. I believe it represents a crown and/or the trinity.

This is the back side of the Inell Bell monument.

Unknown Memorial. It appears at first to resemble a keystone, but I don’t know if that was intentional. The rectangle in the middle likely once served as a frame for a piece of glass that held something of importance. The grave of PFC Robert W. Lockhart (not pictured), while a simple form, also has such a space and retains the original glass.
This side of the memorial has an even more complicated appearance, including incised areas that seem to be purposeful.
Tora Hymes (18 February 1864-?). This is a small wedge-shaped stone. I am not sure if the name I have given is correct.
Unknown. Stacked stones were once a common way to mark burials in African-American and white cemeteries, especially in rural locations.

Round Headstones

Sanie Brown (2 December 1932-1944)
Jessie Campbell (1931-1953)
Willie J. Hymes (1895-1945)

Traditional (Rectangular/Square) Headstones

Mell Berrie (1890?-February 1930). This is identified as Nell Berrie on Findagrave but I believe it to be Mell.
Unknown Avera (1850-1936). The first name is unreadable but contains an “o”, and an “r”. The surname is misidentified on Findagrave as Iveya. Avera was a common name in the area at one time.
Elex Tyler (14 November 1933-14 July? 1934)
Tom Hymes (February 1886-January 1920)
Professor L. W. Seabrook (January 1864-October 1956). Many of the later headstones in the cemetery use a form slab and stenciled letters.
The beautiful churchyard at Smith Grove.

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Filed under --JEFFERSON COUNTY GA--

Old Mt. Olive Baptist Church & School, Circa 1909, Jefferson County

This historic African-American congregation is still active and this structure is adjacent to the associated cemetery. I am unaware of the history of the church, but it is possible that itwas established by former slaves of the Old Town plantation, located nearby.

This structure is located near the old church, and may have been a schoolhouse. Near the newer church is also a structure which appears to have been a school. I hope to learn more.

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Filed under --JEFFERSON COUNTY GA--

Mr. Fish Fry King, Cordele

This a soul food-seafood restaurant. The murals are nice.

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Filed under --CRISP COUNTY GA--, Cordele GA

Holley Mural Dedication, Lumpkin

Ezekiel and Lonnie Holley

On 24 July 2021 I was honored to attend the dedication of a mural designed by nationally renowned artist Lonnie Holley and painted by his son Ezekiel, on the side of the Singer Hardware building on the square in Lumpkin. Mr. Holley’s work is often classified as Outsider Art, though The New York Times called him “the Insider’s Outsider”.

The work actually comprises two individual works of art. The image on the left is “Born into Color”, and the image at right is “Black in the Midst of the Red, White, and Blue”.

According to his website, Lonnie Holley began working by the time he was five years old. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1950, and lived in a whiskey house, the state fairgrounds, and several foster homes. Holley notes that his early life was chaotic and he never got to experience a real childhood. Perhaps this explains why the artist has such an infectious good spirit today.

Also from Mr. Holley’s website: Since 1979, Holley has devoted his life to the practice of improvisational creativity. His art and music, born out of struggle, hardship, but perhaps more importantly, out of furious curiosity and biological necessity, has manifested itself in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and sound. Holley’s sculptures are constructed from found materials in the oldest tradition of African American sculpture. Objects, already imbued with cultural and artistic metaphor, are combined into narrative sculptures that commemorate places, people, and events. His work is now in collections of major museums throughout the country, on permanent display in the United Nations, and been displayed in the White House Rose Garden. In January of 2014, Holley completed a one-month artist-in-residence with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva Island, Florida, site of the acclaimed artist’s studio.

A nice crowd turned out for the dedication and braved excessive heat for the opportunity to meet Mr. Holley.

This young man kicked off the ceremony with a wonderful rendition of the National Anthem.

Annie Moye, who organized the event and helped secure the mural, speaks at the dedication.

Mike McFalls, an Associate Professor of Art at Columbus State University and Director of Pasaquan, gave context about Mr. Holley’s place in the art world and a brief overview of his life and career.

Spontaneity was the order of the day, and Mr. Holley was quick to join the improvisational street dance and shared some good moves with the crowd.

Carlonie Holley putting the finishing touches on her chalk art

Mr. Holley also took time to visit with anyone who was so inclined and personally answered many questions from those in attendance.

He also gave a demonstration of his process to local 4-H members.

The hand of the artist

I want to personally thank Annie Moye for inviting me to document the event and to give a special thanks to Lonnie, Ezekiel, and the entire Holley family for allowing me to photograph them. They were really nice folks and I’m honored to have had the opportunity.

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Filed under --STEWART COUNTY GA--, Lumpkin GA

Bethel A. M. E. Church, Stewart County

This historic African-American congregation is located near Kimbrough, just inside the Stewart County line.

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Filed under --STEWART COUNTY GA--

Rosenwald School & Marian Anderson Library, 1926, Blackshear

The Blackshear Rosenwald School was built between 1925-1926 to provide a good education for African-American children.

When the school moved into a more modern facility [red building visible at left], the building became the Marian Anderson Library and served the community for many years. It is presently in stable condition, but restoration as a community center or museum would be the best way to insure its future.

The class of 1948 placed two brick gateposts in front of the school. This one contains a marble plaque identifying the graduates: J. B. Twyne; H. J. Lofton; C. S. Britton; T. F. Gibson; A. Fulmore; L. M. Harris; D. A. Deal; and L. Sellers. V. R. McClain was the advisor and S. D. Tarver was the principal.

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Filed under --PIERCE COUNTY GA--, Blackshear GA

Bessie McKnight Jones Memorial, 1929, Sandy Bottom

Situated in a small isolated cemetery, this vernacular headstone is an extraordinary work of African-American folk art. Details indicate the hand of someone with above-average skills in the medium, especially the braided pony tail and the eyes and eyelashes. And though time has been relatively kind to the sculpture, gravity is now its greatest threat. The grave is buckling and, without stabilization, the headstone will likely fall face-forward in the future. At this point, there is no way to definitively determine the maker, but such memorials were often created by a parent or husband.

Very little is known about Mrs. Jones, but her death certificate states that she was a housewife and married to Lonnie Jones. Her father, John McKnight, was born in South Carolina in 1888, and her mother, Amelia ‘Mealie’ Montgomery, born in 1890, was also a native of South Carolina. They were all living in Clinch County in the first decade of the 20th century [this section of Clinch became part of Atkinson County upon its formation in 1917]. Bessie was born in 1908 and was 21 years old at the time of her death from malaria, on 2 November 1929.

I’m grateful to Cynthia Jennings for bringing this treasure to my attention. Cynthia and Mandy Green Yates accompanied me to the cemetery on a recent photo trip. Cynthia notes that she has encountered quite a few difficulties in researching Mrs. Jones’s family but has learned her husband Lonnie was a turpentine laborer, was 20 years older than Bessie, and that she was his second wife. She also notes that some of the McKnight family were in Virginia by the 1930s. She identified the following siblings in Bessie’s family tree: Prince; Mitchell; Lizzie A.; Venis; Varnetta; Hettie; and Maggie McKnight. Hopefully, these clues will lead to more information.

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Filed under --ATKINSON COUNTY GA--, Sandy Bottom GA