In 2013, when I was documenting all the Crawfordite churches in Southeast Georgia, I happened upon a little church and cemetery on my way to Sardis. The church I stopped at, Bethel Methodist, was historic in its own right. It’s a white congregation, but there is a small African-American cemetery adjacent to it. It was there that I met this gentleman, who drove up in a new Cadillac. He was an old-timer, he said, and if I recall was about 80. He shared a bit of the history of why the African-American cemetery was located beside the white church, but unfortunately, I lost that information. He didn’t mind his photograph being made and when asked his name, for documentary purposes, he said to just call him ‘Champion for Christ’, no names otherwise.
Tag Archives: South Georgia Documentary
On 17 December 2019 around 11:45 AM, an EF-2 tornado touched down near Mystic, with sustained winds up to 125 mph. It traveled northeast from Mystic into Ben Hill County, doing significant damage on Old Whitley Road, Vo-Tech Drive, Lake Beatrice and Pine Level Church Road.
The damage in Mystic was concentrated around the campus of the old Mystic High School (later known as Irwin Academy and Grace Christian Academy), which has recently been serving as a church.
The main building is still standing but sustained serious damage, especially to the roof. Hopefully, it can be saved.
Other structures on the property didn’t fare as well and will likely have to be razed.
Most of the focus now is on cleanup and an amazing amount of work has been done in the week since the tornado.
Nathan Bridges was born into slavery in 1857 and even recalled working inside the home of his owner as a small boy. Also against convention, he learned to read and write. He settled in Alapaha around 1880. He was a subcontractor who hauled sawdust from the area mills. He bought town lots during this time and eventually had significant real estate holdings for an African-American of his time. Around 1900 he opened an ice house near the Ocilla Southern depot in Alapaha. He first made deliveries with a wheelbarrow and eventually a mule and wagon. He expanded to groceries as his business grew. A niece recalled that they always went to Nathan’s store because the candy was cheaper than anywhere else in town. Bridges was a respected citizen of Alapaha and served on the Board of Trustees that created the Alapaha Colored School, along with his step-grandson, Brute Shipman. Nathan Bridges died in 1940 and his business was continued by Brute Shipman.
Thanks to Mark Dixon for sharing the photograph and the history. He notes: In the 1980’s, I would visit an older black man named Neil Shipman. Neil’s grandfather was Neil Graham Shipman, who came to Alapaha in 1884 from North Carolina to work in the gum production industry. He married the stepdaughter of Nathan Bridges. Most of my info on this family came from Neil. He died around 1989.
I was honored to be at the ceremony dedicating a mural to one of Fitzgerald’s most accomplished native sons, Morris Berthold Abram (19 June 1918-16 March 2000). Mr. Abram was an attorney and tireless civil rights advocate who notably argued the case before the Supreme Court that ended the county unit system in Georgia that gave rural votes equal value with urban votes. The system was a juggernaut which allowed discrimination at the voting booth and gave undue power to local political bosses. The decision essentially ended voter segregation by upholding the principle of “one man, one vote”. I remember very well that many people in my hometown didn’t have a great opinion of Abram for his “meddling” in local affairs, but as a teenager I read his autobiography, The Day is Short, and developed a great respect for the man. Among Abram’s numerous accomplishments: He was appointed first general counsel to the Peace Corps by President Kennedy and served on various commissions under four more presidents; president of the American Jewish Committee; president of Brandeis University; chairman of the United Negro College Fund. My friend Richard Owens fondly recalled: Morris was George H. W. Bush’s ambassador in Geneva when I started my UN job there in 1991. It was phenomenal to have a Ben Hill-Irwin connection to a man of such stature and courage. His dinner table was famous for encouraging often-spirited debates among people from very different backgrounds and perspectives.
Penson Kaminsky, a lifelong friend of my family and scion of one of Fitzgerald’s oldest Jewish family’s, gave the invocation.
The dedication was done in conjunction with Georgia Cities Week and I must say that I was very proud of my hometown for the great job they did honoring Mr. Abram.
Fitzgerald mayor Jim Puckett presented a proclamation to Ruth Abram, daughter of Morris Abram, who was in Fitzgerald with her son, Noah Abram Teitelbaum. Ruth has been an advocate for numerous good causes and is quite accomplished in her own right. She conceived and directed the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, one of New York City’s most visited museums, and has been a tireless advocate for women’s history and scholarship. She’s also the author of Send Us a Lady Physician: Women Doctors in America 1835-1920. She recalled her father’s time in Fitzgerald, and the challenges of a poor immigrant Jewish family in early-20th-century South Georgia. It was quite moving, with Noah giving voice to his grandfather’s words.
Noah Abram Teitelbaum and Ruth Abram unveiling the plaque detailing Morris Abram’s work and accomplishments.
I had a great time talking to mural artist Dylan Ross, whose work you may already know. Dylan has quickly become one of Georgia’s most sought after muralists.
Clark Stancil, of the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, designed the mural using archival images.
At just 20 miles in length and a mile wide at its widest, Lake Blackshear is one of Georgia’s smallest man-made reservoirs. It’s essentially a wide spot on the Flint River but it’s among the most popular outdoor recreation areas in South Georgia. To my knowledge, it’s also the oldest major man-made lake in Georgia, created with the damming of the Flint River between 1925-1930.
Pleasure boating and water skiing are extremely popular, as is fishing. There’s a busy put-in at Lakeshore Marine on the Sumter County side. Besides a ski shop, marina, campground, and event space, there’s the Lakeshore Grill which sells food, tackle, coolers, beer, gas and other essentials. Georgia Veterans State Park is a mile or so from here and is the primary location for public access to the lake. If you’re in the area, stop at Stripling’s for some of the best sausage around.
The lady in this photograph was Mrs. Effie Tinnell Sharp Bush [1887-1980], widow of Georgia’s last surviving Confederate soldier, William Joshua Bush [1845-1952]. ‘Uncle Josh’ as family and close friends knew him, was afforded the honorific ‘General’ Bush in recognition of his connection to the Civil War. I haven’t been able to confirm it, but it’s likely that Mrs. Bush was also the last surviving Confederate widow in Georgia. This snapshot was made in the late 1970s during a town festival by a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who graciously gave me the photograph.
Georgia’s southernmost town, St. George, is located within the “Georgia Bend” of the St. Marys River. This historic postcard, mailed from St. George, illustrates a picnic held along the river in February 1909. I have no idea what occasion warranted such a photograph. It must have been a really mild winter, though, as a few of the boys are standing in the river.