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Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Sweetwater Park Hotel Advertisement

I was honored Friday to have the opportunity to speak at the weekly Kiwanis lunch about Douglas County history.  I met so many new friends and was amazed how busy the Kiwanis are here in Douglasville. The Sentinel was kind enough to post about my “little talk” here.

This week I’m posting the contents of an ad that appeared in the June 14, 1888 edition of Atlanta’s Constitution newspaper along with some pictures of what some termed “the Saratoga of the South”.   I’m posting some pictures I’ve received from various sources regarding the hotel and springs.
It was an amazing place.


Sweetwater Park Hotel is now open for summer guests and has been since June 1st. Undoubtedly this is one of the finest hotels in the southern states. Everything the heart can desire can be found there. E.W. Marsh & Company, the proprietors, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing up this grand hotel and chautauqua grounds at Lithia Springs and have made it the summum bonum of summer resorts.

The Chautauqua grounds covered a few acres adjoining the Sweetwater Park Hotel property. I've written about the Piedmont Chautauqua here and here.

Three or four years ago there was nothing at Lithia Springs except the springs. The ground was rugged, the fields barren: today the springs have been beautified, lakes have been built, avenues opened, parks made, making it one of the most beautiful pictures imaginable. The trees have grown to give a heavy deep shade. One is delighted with the cool breezes which invariably come from the southwest.

Hmmm....well, there WAS something at Lithia Springs before the hotel and water company...and the Piedmont Chautauqua. The land was owned by Judge Bowden, and it was all part of his plantation. It was heavily farmed until he leased the springs and sold the land where the hotel was located to E.W. Marsh. I've written about Judge Bowden here. 

The Constitution ad continues....

"The Sweetwater Park, as a hotel," said a gentleman yesterday, "has no equal in Georgia. The fare to be obtained there is all that money and time can produce. Every vegetable grown, every luxury obtained may be found upon the tables. There is nothing too good for the proprietors to serve their guests with. This fact has done a great deal to advertise the hotel and hundreds of people are coming from New Orleans, Montgomery, Mobile, Galveston, Birmingham, and other southern cities to spend the season at this famous hotel. I have been boarding at Sweetwater Park for over a month, and know that it is the most delightful summer resort I have ever visited. My wife is greatly improved in health, and I feel like a young man again."


It was at the bath house (pictured above) where folks could bathe in the medicinal waters at any temperature they desired.

The ad continues:

This is the expression of everyone who has been a guest of this famous hostelry. Major Rider, of the Georgia Pacific railroad has arranged four schedules a day from Atlanta to Lithia Springs. The train runs as follows:

Leave Atlanta at 9:00 a.m., 2:30 p.m., 5:40 p.m. and 10:10 p.m.

Returning to Atlanta, leaving Lithia Springs at 5:29 a.m., 7:40 a.m., 11:25 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

This is a perfect schedule and suits the people of Atlanta and those passing through Mr. Rider says he will see that these schedules are run to the minute. No road running Atlanta is better managed and has a more perfect system of schedules than the Georgia Pacific. For months its trains have been arriving and departing on the minute and no complaint can be made whatever as to schedules. The road furnished reduced fare for round trip. The trip is made in exactly forty minutes.

Having the cooperation of the Georgia Pacific was very important to the Sweetwater Park Hotel. They depended on folks who came to stay at the hotel, but much of their business came from folks who came out to Lithia Springs for the day on the weekends or for the businessman who could work in the city and join his vacationing family each night and get to the office the next morning.

Folks visiting the hotel or the Chautauqua grounds would reach the depot at Lithia Springs and then get on the dummy line which was a spur railroad that took visitors to the hotel. The dummy line train was dubbed "The Anna" and was named for the wife of James Watson.


The ad continued:

If you were to ask what were the attractions at Lithia Springs for summer guests it could be stated that there were many. In the first place, it is a quiet cool place. It is beautiful with lovely shade trees, placid lakes and flower gardens.

The picture below is the rose mound on the chautauqua grounds where band concerts were often presented.


 
The picture below is the lake on the chautauqua grounds.


The ad continues:

The hotel is as perfect as money can make it. The fare is all that can be described.
 
 
The ad continues:

The drives are wild and beautiful. The conveniences to Atlanta are many. The rates for accommodation are extremely low when compared with what hotels of this character usually charge. It will be remembered that the guests at Sweetwater Park Hotel have free access to the Lithia Springs mineral water.

I've been conducting lots of research regarding the hotel and the Piedmont Chautauqua and have a few more tidbits of history to bring you in the near future regarding the goings on at the Springs....

Thanks for staying tuned.

If you haven't already "LIKED" Every Now and Then on Facebook I try to post at least one picture a day....old and new....on the Facebook page.   

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Fed Hudson and The Midway School

Every July my father’s family gets together for a family reunion.  At some point during the gathering I always take a moment and scan the room full of folks from Canton, Cartersville, Waleska, Atlanta and from as far away as Texas to realize that we all came from two particular people – my great grandparents, James William Johnson Land and Amanda Emaline Allred Land.  It's amazing to me that we can all trace our roots back to two particular people.

My family isn’t alone….many families across the nation get together for reunions including the Hudson family who meet in Villa Rica every year on the last Saturday in July.  Like me, members of the Hudson family look back to one man and woman.  In their case they trace their lineage to Fed and Amanda Hudson.

 


Fed Hudson’s grave along with his wife’s is located in a very small family plot located near the intersection of Liberty and Cole Roads in western Douglas County. The Douglas County Cemetery Commission has the family plot listed as Hudson-Dobbs Cemetery.

Most of the graves are unmarked, but Fed and Amanda’s  graves have a six foot marker with the words “gone but not forgotten”.

 
While the Hudson family hasn’t forgotten him, Fed Hudson has been lost in the Douglas County story and his contribution has only been known to a few.

Fed was born in 1839 according to the marker on his grave, but of course, it’s hard to know for sure since records weren’t always maintained where slaves were concerned.
Charles Hudson, Fed and Amanda’s great-grandson indicates family research has led him to a ship leaving Sierra Leone in 1767 with 65 slaves. The ship was classified as a sloop named Dove, and the master of the ship was Harrison Hudson.

It may just be a wild coincidence that the captain of the slave ship was Hudson….but then again he could have been related to the man who owned at least one of Fed Hudson’s great-grandparents.

Records reflect  51 slaves actually reached Savannah.  It was very common for slaves to die along the harsh journey across the ocean….conditions were brutal. I’ve written about the Middle Passage in my post titled Door of No Return, here.
The Hudson family believes one of Fed’s grandparents was on that ship because the manifest lists the location of the slaves or their tribal names.  Notations such as FEDr, FEDeyoh, LahFEDay, FEDay, etc. were made.  Of course, this could be a reason why Fed had such an unusual name, but again this is pure speculation.
It does seem plausible, right?

There has been no confirmation regarding the man who owned Fed, but due to census information from the year 1880, we do know Fed indicated he was born in 1839.  Fed also indicated he was a mulatto. There is speculation that his mother was a slave and his father was his master, but to date there is no proof.
In 1864, Fed was freed along with millions of slaves across the south due to the Emancipation Proclamation followed by the 13th Amendment. The Hudson family believes upon receiving his freedom Fed was given $100 and 100 acres  in the Bowdon area for him to make his own way, and it appears that he was successful!

By 1869, Fed Hudson decided the Bowdon area needed a school for blacks. He built what would become known as Fed Hudson High School on his property using his own timber.
In 1879, courthouse records indicate he paid taxes on 178 acres. By 1880, the land where the school sat was donated to the Carroll County School System and the “high school” became an elementary school by the same name.

A past West Georgia newsletter titled The Journey discussed the elementary school in Bowdon.  It says:
Hudson [Elementary] was named in honor of a former slave, Mr.Fed Hudson, who organized Bowden's first school for African Americans in 1880 and donated the land for it. Mr. Hudson's original school was located on Highway 100 adjacent to New Hope Methodist Church.

At some point between 1880 and 1900 Fed and Amanda Hudson moved to Villa Rica.  Fed bought 101 acres (Land Lot 82) in 1908 for $1,000, another 101 acres (Land Lot 83) in 1910 for $1,000, and in 1912, he paid $500 more for the remainder of Land Lot 82.
The land was in the vicinity of Liberty and Cole Roads.
Deed records at the courthouse indicate three acres of the total were excluded which means a school and/or church building might have always been school might have already been there.  We do know that the building was used as a school after Fed Hudson owned the land. 

Of course, Mr. Hudson held education in high esteem. He would be pleased to know that many teachers among his descendants including Dr. Roy D. Hudson who is a past president of Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia.

Last year the cemetery commission uncovered the foundation and bricks from the chimney for Midway School.



I want to thank the Cemetery Commission led by Sandy Whittington for their work  preserving and documenting the many family cemeteries around the county including the Hudson-Dobbs cemetery and the foundations for the Midway School.  I also wish to thank Charles Hudson, Fed Hudson's great-grandson, who was so kind to meet with Elaine Steere, a local genealogist regarding the Hudson family.
As you can see there are several questions that remain regarding Fed Hudson, but what a great contribution he made concerning early education for the black community not only in the Bowdon area, but in Douglas as well. 
The hunt for information will continue……

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Mule Train - A Different Kind of Stubborn

We should all be familiar with this sign, right?  You generally see it as you zoom down the entrance ramp of any expressway in Georgia or along the roadway at certain spots.

This particular law was tested in June, 1968 when a group of protesters traveling to Washington D.C. had a showdown with Governor Lester Maddox, the media, and the Georgia State Patrol because the protesters wanted to travel down Interstate 20 using mule drawn wagons.

The entire standoff unfolded right here in Douglasville.
First a little background……

In 1962, sociologist Michael Harrington released his book titled The Other America which quoted data estimating twenty-five percent of all Americans lived below the poverty threshold. Many historians cite Harrington’s work as the inspiration for President Lyndon B. Johnston’s “War on Poverty” begun in 1964.  Unfortunately, you can’t wage a war domestically while fighting a war overseas….the Vietnam War.  The “War on Poverty” soon stalled.

Fast forward a bit to 1967.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had finished a book tour and with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 he realized he needed to attack the next set of issues not just for black Americans, but for ALL Americans regarding better jobs, higher wages, decent housing and educational opportunities.
Dr. King also began to speak out against the Vietnam War for the first time. In his remarks at Riverside Church in April, 1967 he stated Americans should not be fighting a war on foreign soil when there was a war to wage here at home.

Gee, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Marks, Mississippi became ground zero for the face of poverty in the late 60s. Quitman County, where Marks was located was the poorest county in the United States per the U.S. Census. Robert F. Kennedy visited Marks and later urged Dr. King to visit, which he did in March, 1965 along with other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

You can read an account of his visit to Marks here.
What resulted from Dr. King’s visit was The Poor People’sCampaign…..a mass demonstration to draw national attention to the realities of impoverished Americans. The event was primarily planned by Dr. Martin Luther King and the SCLC prior to King’s assassination. The hope was that the campaign would help to gain national support for a proposed $10 billion poverty package.

Dr. King realized the Poor People’s Campaign would have to be a mass movement that would disrupt the workings of government to get the attention of the American people.  There would be several caravans of folks converging on Washington D.C. to set up a camp along the Mall known as Resurrection City.  The culmination of the campaign would be the Mule Train which would set out from Marks, Mississippi on May 13, 1968. Plans called for the Mule Train to reach Resurrection City on June 19th. The date held significance since June 19th is remembered as Juneteenth…..the day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached many slaves in the Deep South.
As you can see by my source list at the end of this post I found plenty of news stories from across the nation reporting on the Mule Train where Douglasville was mentioned over and over, and while they were helpful, I think we really need to focus on our own paper and how the Douglas Sentinel reported the story.   I located the issue for June 20, 1968, and on the front page…below the fold,  was a story titled “Train Halted by Georgia Patrol” written by Tommy Toles, the editor of the paper at that time.

I present the text of the article here in italics with my comments and explanations in regular type.
The mule train arrived in Douglasville late last Friday afternoon via Highway 78 west. It continued through the city and north on Highway 92 to R.L. Cousins School, where it stopped to camp overnight on the playground in front of the school.

The wagons were described as “raggedy” with “makeshift white covers.” Raggedy would be a correct description since they had been on the road for over 30 days. Slogans were written on the covers proclaiming “Jesus was a marcher”, “Stop the war”, “Feed the people”, and “I can see a new day.”
When the wagons reached the Georgia state line they were met by the Georgia State Patrol who served as an escort. Captain J.H. Cofer with GSP advised the patrol would help the wagon train in any way possible, providing safety and escort.

If you research the history of John W. Stewart MiddleSchool in Douglasville, you soon discover a school has been on that property since 1957. From 1957 to 1972 R.L. Cousins was one of two black schools that existed in Douglasville prior to integration.
As the “poor people” watered and fed their mules, curious Douglas County residents drove by the location while others lined the banks surrounding the playground. Several persons took photographs of the marchers as cameramen from at least one national network took background footage for a documentary being compiled for showing later this summer.
 
The picture below is how the playground at the old R.L. Cousins site looks today.

 
Douglasville police officers and Georgia State Patrol officers kept a close watch on the train throughout the afternoon and night. However, no incidents were reported.

Tension was high during the Spring and Summer months of 1968. Dr. King was assassinated in April, and though they were broken and in mourning the leaders of the SCLC decided to push forward with the Poor People's March. Hundreds of riots broke out across the nation including places such as Chicago and Washington D.C.  After the Mule Train had left Marks, Mississippi Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5th.  

By the time the Mule Train reached Douglasville everyone knew that Resurrection City was basically falling apart due to days and days of rain that left the Mall a muddy mess and the message the movement's leaders were wanting to convey had become as muddled as the ground the campers were trying to inhabit.
State Patrol officers discussed the route to Atlanta with march leaders that afternoon and told them that they would escort them on any highway to Atlanta except Interstate 20 because Georgia law prohibits operation of non-motorized vehicles on interstate highways.

Following their arrest, several marchers said they were under the impression that they were going to follow Highway 78 into Atlanta and couldn’t understand why the route had been changed to Interstate 20.
Willie Bolden, a Southern Christian Leadership Conference official in charge of the mule train said Friday afternoon that he made the decision to use Interstate 20 instead of the other highways leading to Atlanta. He claimed the marchers had used interstate highways in Mississippi and Alabama without incident and that Interstate 20 would save train several hours of travel.

It could not immediately be determined whether the other two states have laws prohibiting travel on interstate highways, as does Georgia.
The picture below shows Willie Bolden (in the middle).

 
After a few hours rest, the marchers and mule train started south on Highway 92. Upon arriving at the Interstate 20 entrance ramp at 7:45 a.m. Friday, the poor people were again told by State Patrolmen that it would be a state offense to drive non-motorized vehicles on the expressway, where the slow moving train might endanger the lives of motorists and the marchers.

Other media relates….”the lead driver started his wagon, and the others fell in behind him with most of the marchers walking alongside. Police formed a human wall across the highway and told the marchers they were under arrest. The marchers fell to their knees alongside the route praying and singing while they waited to be led off in groups of five to six….”
Several “poor people” including a white youth, stayed behind and were not arrested. They remained to watch the mules and wagons.

The state patrol carried the arrested marchers back to Douglasville where they were placed in the National Guard Armory. Only 67 adults on the train were charged with violating state law. It was difficult to determine exactly how many marchers were traveling with the mule train, but a member of the Georgia State Patrol said the marchers told him the entourage included 100 adults including youths 15 and 16 years of age, 30 small children and one baby.

My research indicates the oldest marcher was 88 years old while the baby was six months.
The son of the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, president of the SCLC and two sons of Hosea Williams, another SCLC official, were included in the train, marchers said.

In his autobiography, Ralph David Abernathy advised the news media told him his family had been detained in Georgia by authorities.  He said, “Maddox was playing to his constituency when he issued such a ridiculous order…. As usual, such outrageous behavior on the part of the white establishment just gave us additional publicity…..”
Bolden remained behind when the mule train started down the interstate entrance ramp and was not arrested, however, Andrew Marrisett, Bolden’s assistant, said it had been agreed that Bolden would not be arrested because “one of us needed to stay out of jail.”

Douglas County Sheriff Claude Abercrombie told the marchers several times that charges would be dropped if they would agree to travel to Atlanta by any other route than Interstate 20.


Governor Maddox repeatedly advised his reason for the arrest was “to protect their own safety and welfare, as the safety of motorists. He also offered to provide flatbed trucks to pick up the mules and wagons and transport them to Atlanta.”
Marisett said that he had to receive instructions from his superiors before authorizing any action.

While in the armory, the marchers sat on blankets and quilts on the concrete floor, some singing and praying while others played cards at a table in the rear of the building.
The picture below shows some of the detained marchers in the armory.

 
Near noon, Sheriff Abercrombie made arrangements to feed the marchers at the armory.  A local restaurant operator prepared food for the “poor people.”

Many state patrolmen, Douglasville policemen and Sheriff’s deputies had gone without sleep for 16, 24, 36, and 48 hours because of the march and must not have eaten for one to two days.
At one time, some 16 patrol cars were counted at the armory.

“Why didn’t they just decide on a route instead of trying to break the law and causing all this trouble?” one tired looking patrolmen asked.

During the morning hours, Marrisett held a press conference inside the armory kitchen. News media representatives from several weekly and daily newspapers were on the scene, as well as television cameramen.

Marrisett answered routine questions with ease and repeated the philosophy advanced by the late Dr. Martin Luther King that man had a moral obligation to disobey laws he feels are “unjust.”
However, Marisett floundered for a moment when a reporter asked whether such philosophy would lead to anarchy. He cited “civil disobedience” used to connect with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the public housing regulation passed by Congress as proof the philosophy can be used without anarchy. But, Marrisett did not recall the recent riots in America’s largest cities.

 
Asked whether a person could disobey the law against assault and strike him (Marrisett) because the person felt the law was “unjust”, the mule train assistant leader said the question was not involved with the current issue. Pressed for an answer, he finally answered, “If you want to hit me, go ahead. I won’t strike you back.”

He added that persons have a right to disobey what they claim are “unjust” laws if they are willing to “pay the cost.”
Marisett was then asked whether the marchers – who were resting  and being fed after several days on the highways – were “paying the costs” or whether the weary State Patrol, Douglasville Police department, Douglas County Sheriff’s  office, Douglas County citizens and Georgia taxpayers were “paying the costs.”
He continued to claim that the mule train participants were “paying the costs.”

The mule train continued to get into deeper hot water as the afternoon proceeded. Dr. William C. Driggers and Bill Newman of the Atlanta Humane Society inspected the mules – which had been tied to the right-of-way fence at the Interstate-20 entrance ramp and pointed out that many had open sores. All the mules were almost exhausted and needed food and water before proceeding further they said. Mr. Newman said it would be difficult for some of the mules to make it to Atlanta much less Washington D.C.
However, Bolden dismissed the comments by saying, “They seem more concerned about the mules than the folks.”

The Humane Society offered to buy five of the mules, but the marchers refused.
It was finally agreed that the mule train would be allowed to use the interstate beginning at 3:45 a.m., but they had to be at their destination by 7:00 a.m.  Sheriff Claude Abercrombie stated all charges would be dropped.

After the announcement was made Sheriff Abercrombie ordered county school buses to carry the marchers back to the R.L. Cousins school ground, where the wagons and mules were waiting.
The train had been moved back to the school grounds earlier in the afternoon to be fed and given water.

 
….As the marchers boarded the school buses to be carried to the school, Bolden made a statement, saying in part:

“It is fitting that the poor people’s mule train was momentarily halted in Douglas County.”
“Douglas County is a very poor, poor county. There is little economic opportunity in the county for the people. Bolden said many Douglas Countians “have to leave” the county to work in the Atlanta area.

As a closing note Bolden invited the poor people of Douglas County to join the march. It could not be determined if his offer was accepted.
The Mule Train along with their GSP escorts left Douglasville at 3:45 a.m. traveling along Interstate 20.
Other news reports indicated the mule train segment of the Poor People’s March completed the final over the road portion of its journey wearily struggling off Interstate 20 at Atlanta, 75 minutes past the deadline set by Governor Lester Maddox.

The battered condition of the mules was one of the reasons it took nearly six hours to cover the 25 miles from Douglasvillle to Atlanta.
In an issue of Washington Afro-American Willie Bolden is quoted as saying, “We proved our point. We’ve traveled 600 miles. The people who previously didn’t believe there were poor folks in this country have had a chance to see them. We won a victory today….We told the state troopers and Lester Maddox before they put us in jail we were going to Atlanta and we were using our mule train….We gave him our proposal and we told  him to accept it or get a larger national guard.”….

As the train arrived in Atlanta…”the clip-clop of the mules’ hooves echoed off the buildings. The streets as is normal on a Saturday morning, were nearly deserted. A few persons came out of their homes and apartments to wave and two women riders aboard the train lifted their voice in song.”
The Mule Train made its way to Hunter Street Baptist Church where the marchers spent a couple of days before heading to Washington D.C., but the “train” would be transported the rest of the way to Resurrection City by train and truck. 

Most Civil Rights scholars and historians judge the Poor People’s Campaign to be a failure.
By June 21, 1968 riot police cleaned out Resurrection City, and the campaign just dissolved away..

No actual legislation was born out of the Campaign, but the Department of Agriculture did increase the Food Stamp Program by $20 million and increased the amount of surplus food.
A week later the Douglas County Sentinel posted an editorial with some final thoughts about the whole matter…..you can see it here.

Sources:
And the Walls Came Tumbling Down….Ralph David Abernathy

Rome News-Tribune….June 14, 1968  “70 Members of Mule Train Arrested at Douglasville”
The Pittsburgh Press…..June 14, 1968   “Maddox Cracks Whip on Mule Train March

The Evening Independent….June 15, 1968   “Mule Train Rolls into Atlanta”
The Pittsburgh Press…June 16, 1968   “Mule Train Marchers”

Washington Afro-American    June 18, 1968
Douglas County Sentinel…June 20, 1968  “Train Halted by State Patrol"

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Illusions of Freedom


The picture I've posted above is Wilson Steverson.

He was born in 1838 on the Stephenson plantation in Coweta County. Wilson was one of fourteen children raised by Archie and Harriet.

I can't even imagine trying to cover all the bases with raising fourteen children, but of course, Archie and Harriet didn't experience many of the things I had going on as a parent. They didn't have any school activities, traffic, dinners out, money worries, etc. All they had to worry about was keeping their master satisfied.

Archie and Harriet were slaves. They belonged to Moore Stephenson who owned the plantation.
Yes, Archie and Harriet and their children belonged to Moore Stephenson. Of course, this means they were property. Think about your own dishes, the car, books, clothes....all property, right? Archie and Harriet were on the same level of thought as your computer or the rug on your floor.

The image below is taken from an inventory list Moore Stephenson created at some point. (You can click it to isolate and enlarge it)


Among the inventory you can see there is nine year old Wilson (down at the bottom). Notice he was worth $300. I think you can buy some brands and sizes of flat screen televisions for $300 today, can't you?
Moore Stephenson had owned Archie and Harriet for many years. Archie had helped his master clear his land when it had been nothing but a frontier full of rattlesnakes and an Indian here and there according to family lore. There is also a family story that tells how the master saved Archie's life when a panther was close by and ready to attack.
I'm certain that there was some degree of feeling on both sides, but when everything was boiled down...Archie didn't really have a choice in helping Moore clear his property, and Moore certainly had no choice in saving Archie's life.  He would be out a large investment.

The master's family along with his slaves were thrown into a tailspin when Moore Stephenson died in 1849. The slaves along with all of the property were divided into equal lots for the survivors. The estate handlers worked meticulously to make sure each lot was equal monetarily....around $1600. Slaves were listed along with horses, mules, chickens and farm equipment.

Archie went to Linnah, Moore's wife, but later on Linnah Stephenson fell on hard times, and Archie was sold to a man named Brewster. Archie was fortunate in that he saw his wife and a few of his children on the weekends, and there was always a little extra time at Christmas. Most slaves who were separated from their spouses, parents and children never saw them again.

While the manner of dividing Moore Stephenson's property seemed fair to his heirs, the process of dividing the estate had a huge effect on Archie and Harriet's family.

With the flick of a pen Archie and Harriet went to different owners and their children were divided as well. Wilson and his brother were given to Emily Stephenson, the master's daughter. At the time she was eleven.

Per the African American Encyclopedia of History edited by Paul Finkelman...."While some family members were merely hired out or rented, others were sold, mortgaged attached to satisfy debt or transferred to Texas with the expansion of the Cotton Kingdom."

A few years ago when I was still in the classroom, students would invariably puff up and tell me that IF they had been living during slave times they would have run away, they would have revolted, they would NOT have put up with slavery at all, but it just wasn't that simple.

In an article from The Herald, Roland Barksdale-Hall who happens to be a great-grandson of Wilson Steverson says, "Wilson and his family never considered running away as an option. Because of strong family ties, a runaway slave feared retribution from his family as well as from his master...Slaves wanted to be free, but with their whole family."

So, life continued for Wilson and his new owner Emily Stephenson. A few years later when she married George R. Fambrough, Wilson followed his new master to the front during the Civil War in the capacity of a body servant. You can find out more about the role of a body servant here.
 
With the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments Wilson and his family were finally free, and while they certainly celebrated that fact, we need to remember that freedom in 1865...and at least the next hundred years....wasn't freedom as you and I would describe it. As soon as the 13th amendment was passed southern states passed Black Codes which basically kept former slaves under constant scrutiny of the white community.

As the family reunited Archie changed his surname from Brewster to Stephenson to reflect homage of sorts to his former master, and they encouraged their children to do the same. Most did. However, somehow, Wilson went with the "Steverson" spelling.

After emancipation Wilson worked as a farmhand, logger and peddler in Coweta County. He saved 50 cents on every dollar he made to purchase 80 acres in 1885. The total cost was $600. 

The land he chose lay along the Georgia Pacific railroad in Salt Springs/Lithia Springs. Yes, I'm sure you were beginning to wonder where the Douglas County tie-in was going to come in. The property had a two-story house and six 3-4 room cabins. The Encyclopedia of African American History states, "The spacious grounds of Wilson Steverson's farm reflected a high standard of living with respect to the black family in the late 19th century." While it wasn't unusual for black men to own land at the time Wilson was certainly in the minority of his race, and according to Barksdale-Hall Wilson had to keep an independent relationship going with certain whites in order to keep the Ku Klux Klan from forcing him off his land. It was also helpful that Wilson Steverson was a mulatto having bi-racial ancestors.

Wilson and his wife Rilla raised nine children in Douglas County....three of which would become educators. Over the years Wilson planted cotton crop after cotton crop....a very successful money maker for Douglas County farmers, white and black alike, for many years following Reconstruction.

The picture below is Wilson's family taken during a family reunion on the Salt Springs/Lithia Springs property.  Wilson and his wife are to the extreme left.


Economically, things began to change in the 1920s....
While most of the country experienced a boom in the market place, the price of cotton began to fall in Georgia. The boll weevil had arrived in the state around 1915, but by the mid-twenties farmers were feeling the full effects of ravaged fields.
Faced with menial jobs here in the south as the only alternative, Wilson sold his land and along with his daughter Mary and son-in-law Joseph he moved to Pennsylvania.'

At the age of 80 Wilson became part of what we history types designate as the Great Migration.  From 1916 to 1930 over one million blacks left the South for better economic opportunities in the North.

Per his great-grandson, he also left Georgia to experience real freedom, "He knew how to play the game, but he was tired of it."

Wilson worked for the Erie Paper Mill and American Sheet and Tin Plate Company in Farrell. He also served as the caretaker for the Church of God campgrounds while Joseph and Mary also had a stand at the Farrell Curb Market where they sold butter, fruit and pork.

By 1921, Wilson's son Etania and his wife and children moved to Farrell. Suddenly, there were three generations living in a three bedroom house, but isn't that what family does when they need to?

Etania had been a sharecropper and cotton picker here in Georgia. He got a job in the Farrell works of Carnegie Steel.

While Wilson and his children did find more economic opportunities in Pennsylvania, it wasn't all a bed of roses. The house they lived in which was owned by the steel company was in poor shape. The bathrooms on the upper floors leaked...urine often dripped down the walls. Blacks were given the lowest paid jobs at the steel mill and other places even when they had high school diplomas while their white counterparts had not finished school.

Before his death in 1948, Wilson Steverson was honored as one of fifteen centenarians in the state of Pennsylvania...at the time he was 109. Of the fifteen people honored he was the only one who had been born a slave.

Terry Harper, one of Douglas County's famous sons is the great-great grandson of Wilson Steverson!

Sources:
The Herald
The Post Gazette
A family newsletter....
A play by Roland Barksdale-Hall containing several family documents/pictures
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