Tag Archives: Georgia Black History & Culture

Praise House, Circa 1930s, Long County

Driving the back roads of Long County the other day, I came across this gem and soon met Mr. Worthy, the landowner. He explained that this was an original praise house and that it was at least 80 years old. [This particular area has a long history of Black farmers and in earlier times, there was a large turpentine operation in the area. This likely explains its remote presence here]. To my knowledge, it’s the only surviving praise house in Long County.

Praise houses were tiny shelters used by Geechee-Gullah, and other African-Americans, for worship and as community gathering places. They are the rarest examples of religious architecture in Georgia, with just a few surviving in the coastal region.

The sign, reading “Thee Body of Christ”, is what initially got my attention.

Mr. Worthy noted that the sign, and other work in the yard, was done by his wife, Shelly Worthy.

Mrs. Worthy also created this small chapel as a place of worship and reflection.

Her inspired handiwork can be seen all over the property.

It is a fascinating place and an important example of a passion for history and a passion for faith coming together to protect a resource of great significance.

St. Mary A. M. E. Church, 1905, Thomaston

Freedmen established this historic congregation in 1867. James McGill writes in his fascinating book, The First One Hundred Years of Upson County Negro History (2017): By the summer of 1870, Reverend William Harris was sent to St. Mary AME Church in Thomaston, Georgia. Rev. Harris, the third pastor in the history of St. Mary, was born free in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1845 but was kidnapped in 1858 and sold into slavery in Georgia. He escaped to the North two years later and eventually enlisted in the Union Army.

William Harris met Rev. M. Turner, a Presiding Elder of the AME Church, on the corner of Peachtree and Whitehall Streets in Atlanta in 1866…At the Atlanta Georgia District Conference of the AME Church, Rev. Turner licensed [Harris] as an exhorter, and then presented him a preacher’s license at the Wilmington Annual Conference in Wilmington, North Carolina. Rev. Harris received some schooling at what would later become Clarke College. Rev. Harris served Atlanta’s Western Mission for two years before being presented a deacon’s license in 1870 and appointed to St. Mary in Thomaston.

It is safe to assume that Rev. Harris taught school at St. Mary AME Church. St. Mary had a new church building completed that year [1870] which provided ample room for scholars. The school operated in St. Mary at least as late as 1876. Upson County did not open a public school in Thomaston for Negro students until August 1883; St. Mary can confidently claim credit for housing the first successful church school organized for the Negroes in Upson County.

The current church building was constructed in 1905 during the pastorate of Rev. J. H. Adams. Trustees were: H. R. Rogers; Ed Hix; A. G. Cary; George Bell; William Brown; James Brown; James W. Bell; M. Drake, Sr.; and A. Holsey. The church retains its original appearance, though stucco has been applied to the original brick.

Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm, Jackson County

This property was originally settled by Joseph Shields and sons James and Patrick in 1802.

Date Plate from Restoration of Main House [1914]

With two slaves, they cleared and cultivated the land.

Log Cabin

When Joseph died in 1818, he willed the land to his son, James and by 1860, 20 enslaved people worked the land.

Commissary [1900]

James died in 1863 and in 1865 his widow, Charity, signed a contract with three of her former slaves, providing them housing and food in exchange for their work on the farm.

Blacksmith’s Shop & Carpenter’s Shop [1900]

When James and Charity’s son, Joseph Robert Shields, returned home from the Civil War in 1866, he built the main house and soon applied the sharecropping system to the entire farm, managing many of his former slaves alongside poor white farmers.

Tractor Barn

By 1890, the farm had grown to 1000 acres.

Warehouse

In 1897, Joseph Robert’s daughter Susan Ella returned to the farm with her husband Ira Washington Ethridge.

Cotton Gin [1910]

Joseph Robert Shields died in 1910 and Susan Ella and Ira inherited the house and surrounding property.

Gin Office [1930]

To hedge his bets against increasingly unstable cotton prices, Ira Ethridge built a self-sustaining sharecropper’s “village” near the main house.

Gin Office Interior

In 1914, “Mr. Ira” transformed the main house from its historical Plantation Plain appearance to it present Neoclassical appearance by adding columns and raising the porch.

Gristmill

The structures seen today were built between 1900-1930. Most of the sharecropper housing is gone today, but a few scattered examples survive.

Seed House

When Ira died in 1945, his son Lanis understood that the farm would soon be changed by mechanization.

Teacher’s House

He diversified and in the early 1950s began breeding cattle and slowly expanding pastureland on his acreage.

Well House [Reconstruction]

At his death in 1970, the sharecropper’s village was long abandoned.

Water Tower [1913]

His widow, Joyce Ethridge, began documenting the history of the farm.

Corn Crib

In 1994 she and daughters Susan E. Chaisson and Ann E. Lacey gave 150 acres of the farm to the Shields-Ethridge Farm Foundation to preserve the site as an agricultural museum.

Shields-Ethridge Family Cemetery

Joyce’s research also led to the listing of the property on the National Register of Historic Places.

Milking Barn

The Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm is the most intact collection of historic farm structures in their original location in Georgia.

Mule Barn [1913]

It is truly awe-inspiring and worth a visit.

Garage

As someone who has spent years seeking out structures like these, I can’t tell you how important this place is.

Wheat Barn [1910]

You must see it for yourself.

Tenant House

National Register of Historic Places + Georgia Centennial Farm

Note- This replaces a post originally published on 11 July 2021, necessitated by formatting issues.

Fortune Teller’s House, Harris Neck

I made these photos in 2009; no one was living here when I was in the neighborhood earlier this summer. As a self-service ice house, and home to a welder, it served an important purpose in this community of fishermen. The owners were obviously on the honor system, but to make sure customers were honest, a decorative skeleton kept an eye on things. The “answers” part of the sign always got my attention. I imagine it had something to do with the telling of fortunes. This is a bigger deal in these parts than many like to admit.

Peter Joseph’s Store, Circa 1900, St. Simons Island

This was the general store and boarding house of Peter Joseph, a leader of the historic Black community of South End on St. Simons Island. Built circa 1900, per the Glynn County Historic Resources Report [2009], it was razed circa 2016. The only Peter Joseph I can locate on St. Simons was born in 1903 and died in 1966; if this is the same Peter Joseph, it would mean the store was built by someone else, perhaps a member of his family. I will attempt to update this if I can find out anything more.

These photographs were made in February 2015.

As the images confirm, the structure had long been abandoned when I photographed it. It was an important resource for a long lost community, so I’m glad I had the opportunity to document it.

Strangers Cemetery, St. Simons Island

Officially known as Union Memorial Cemetery, Strangers Cemetery gets its unusual name from those interred here. Former slaves (and their descendants) who toiled on the island’s plantations prior to Emancipation were buried on those properties. The original “strangers” were freedmen who came to the island after the Civil War and worked primarily in sawmills along the Frederica River. Many remained for generations in three thriving black communities: Harrington, Jewtown, and South End, and some were interred here, as they weren’t allowed to bury on the former plantation lands. While most marked graves are in very good condition, a large number of unmarked graves exist, as well.

Among later “strangers” is Mary Elizabeth “Bessie” Sampson Jones (8 February 1902-4 September 1984). She was born in Smithville (Lee County) and never knew her biological father. Her mother moved to an uncle’s farm in nearby Dawson when Bessie was a baby and while there married James Sampson, who was a father figure to Bessie. Of her childhood, she wrote: “I never has went to school a whole term and I didn’t get past the fifth grade; every school day I had to keep other people’s babies and sometimes I had to work in the fields.” Music was always present in Bessie Jones’s childhood. Her mother Julia played the autoharp and James Sampson played numerous instruments by ear. Her grandfather, Jet Sampson, was an accordionist. He was enslaved, along with five brothers, around 1843 and died in 1941 at the age of 105. Listening to his stories and songs, Bessie gained many insights that would inform her later work.

Bessie Jones. on the set of “Music of Williamsburg” film, Williamsburg, Virginia, April 28, 1960. Photo by Alan Lomax. AFC Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004).

In 1914 a very young Jones gave birth to her first child, Rosalie. The child’s father, Cassius Davis, was a native of the Georgia Sea Islands and had come to the Dawson area seeking farm work. After World War I Bessie lived briefly in Milan and Fitzgerald. Cassius died in Brunswick in 1926. For the next seven years she lived in Florida. In Okeechobee she married George Jones and in 1933 they moved to St. Simons Island. They had two sons: George L. Jones (1935) and Joseph (1937). George died in 1945. After his death Bessie got involved with the Spiritual Singers of Coastal Georgia, perhaps the first group to formally attempt to preserve and perform the slave songs and spirituals of the Sea Island Gullah and Geechee people. It was a great honor for Bessie to have been invited to join the group, as she was not a native of the islands.

Bessie met musicologist and folkorist Alan Lomax in 1959 and a couple of years later he recorded a series of songs, stories, and interviews with her at his apartment in New York City. In 1963, the Georgia Sea Island Singers were established. Lomax arranged a tour that took the group to colleges around the country and a decade of travel followed. They participated in the Poor People’s March in 1968 and appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Newport Folk Festival, Montreal World’s Fair, Central Park, and numerous Smithsonian Folk Life Festivals. In 1976, the Sea Island Singers performed at the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter. In 1982, Mrs. Jones received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, but died of leukemia later that year.

Peter Stone and Ellen Harold’s profile of Bessie Jones at the Association for Cultural Equity, from which this was condensed, is an excellent source for further reading.

Apartment Houses, St. Simons Island

These structures, likely built in the 1950s, were located behind Bennie’s Red Barn Restaurant in the historic Harrington community on St. Simons Island. They were lost to development by 2020.

My identification of the structures as apartment houses is tentative, as I have been unable to confirm anything about them. I have been told they were built for employees of Sea Island or that they may have been owned by the late Alonza Ramsey (c. 1932-2010), a legendary resident of the Harrington community whose Old Plantation Supper Club was a longtime favorite. I have no idea which, if either, is correct, but the layout of the houses would indicate company housing or rentals.

By the time I documented them in 2017, they appeared to have been abandoned for quite some time and were obviously returning to the elements.

The structures were utilitarian in design and represented modern and practical housing in the mid-20th century.

They were built of cinderblock, like the nearby vernacular church and Masonic lodge.

If I recall correctly, there were 5 or 6 buildings in the oak grove that dominated the neighborhood.

This was one of the largest remaining historic Black resources on St. Simons before it was demolished, even if it didn’t have the elements that many would consider worthy of preservation. Describing the loss of such places, Patrik Jonsson wrote in The Christian Science Monitor in 2002: Blacks once owned 86 percent of St. Simons, but now the small remaining settlements are intertwined with development roads and gated condosWhere small ramshackle villages once stood in the shade of giant live oaks, hacienda-style townhomes now crawl all the way up to the water.

I hope someone will reach out who knows more than I do about this place. There must be some great stories.

Woolworth Department Store, 1939, Augusta

In its heyday, the F. W. Woolworth Company was one of the nation’s leading retail store chains. The location of the Augusta store was one of the busiest parts of the city when built in 1939. It closed in 1991 and has been empty since.

In 1960, its lunch counter was the site of a sit-in, protesting segregation, by a group of students from Augusta’s Paine College, a historically Black institution.

Broad Street Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

James Brown Statue, 2005, Augusta

Known as much for his tireless stage presence as his rocky personal life, James Brown (3 May 1933-25 December 2006) was known as the Godfather of Soul, and considered himself “the Hardest Working Man in Show Business”. Born into poverty in Barnwell, South Carolina, he moved at age five with his father and aunt to Augusta, which he considered his hometown. The city honored him with a statue on Broad Street on 6 May 2005. There’s also a James Brown Boulevard in the heart of the city’s historic Black neighborhood.

The sculpture is the work of Montezuma-born orthopedic surgeon John Savage, who has gained notoriety for his artistic pursuits.

Union Baptist Parsonage, Circa 1870, Augusta

This was built by the Greene Street Methodist Church circa 1870 as a school for Black children and a parsonage. It also served the Union Baptist Church as a parsonage and was later used as a rental property.

Greene Street Historic District, National Register of Historic Places