Tag Archives: African-American Culture of Georgia

Village Cemetery, St. Simons Island

The sacred ground on St. Simons known as Village Cemetery is one of the most important African-American burial grounds in Georgia. Closely watched over and maintained by the First African Baptist Church of St. Simons, it is the final resting place of countless souls who worked nearby plantations from the early 19th century to Emancipation, and their descendants. It should be noted that until World War II, and perhaps a bit later, African-Americans were much more numerous on St. Simons, living in various historical communities scattered around the island.

I found the cemetery by accident and was so moved by its beauty that I felt an urgency to document its most important monuments. Though there are countless unmarked and unknown burials, the oldest surviving section of the cemetery contains numerous vernacular headstones. These nationally significant treasures represent the resourcefulness and perhaps shed light on some of the traditions of the first and second generations of freedmen who remained on the island after emancipation. In early 19th century Georgia, slave burials were decorated with the last object used by the deceased. It is likely that the decorated graves in Village Cemetery are a continuation of that tradition. The cemetery is active so modern headstones and markers are also present.

I hope that the church or others with more knowledge of the cemetery’s history will work to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A survey was published by the Golden Isles Archaeology Society in 2000 and the cemetery has been documented on Findagrave. I am unable to share the location of the cemetery but those interested may wish to contact the First African Baptist Church.

Vernacular Monuments of Village Cemetery

Hattie Lee (29 November 1871-6 June 1929)
The Hattie Lee monument features a mosaic of glass and shells in the form of a vase or tree of life. It is the most colorful of all the surviving monuments.
Thomas A. Lee (9 August 1881-10 January 1933)
Aaron Lomon (8 July 1891-19 August 1931)
The Aaron Lomon monument features a hand-sculpted bell, ringing.
Peter Ramsey (17 February 1873-2 April 193?)
The Peter Ramsey monument features a mosaic star and beautiful raised lettering.
John Davis (April 1871-21 September 1927)
The John Davis monument features an encircled star mosaic centered with milk glass.
Albert Hampton (1 April 1897-5 November 1937) The Albert Hampton monument features a garland of pebbles in a design I don’t recognize. In African burial customs, shells and stones represented the boundary to the afterlife. In African cultures, white often represented death, so the light color of the stones is an affirmation of that tradition.
Jim Hightower (30 October 1884-7 June 1934)
The Jim Hightower monument features an interesting placement of letters and a star. The name is spelled phonetically, which was common in an era when African-Americans were often denied a basic education. There is slight damage to the lower right side of the stone.
Louise Hunter Hightower (27 January 1887-24 March 1964)
Mary Floyd, Hunter Baffo. There is no discernible information about the deceased on this simple headstone.
Edward Floyd (March?-May?) Though it appears to be the resting place of Floyd Edward, the presence of other Floyds in the cemetery suggest it is likely Edward Floyd. Unfortunately, this is often encountered and illustrates the difficulties of African-American genealogy.
Phillist White (23 January 1893-4 December 1927) I’m sharing this monument to represent the others of this manufacture bearing the symbol of the Mosaic Templars of America. This was an African-American fraternal organization founded by former slaves in 1882 to provide life and burial insurance to the communities they served. The local chapter was known as the Wesley Oak Chamber 2128.

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Filed under --GLYNN COUNTY GA--, St. Simons Island GA

Shotgun Houses, Brunswick

With the growing popularity of small houses, shotgun houses have become hot properties in the broader real estate market. Quite a few survive in varying states of repair throughout Brunswick’s historic African-American neighborhood and instead of being seen as blight should be an opportunity for affordable historic housing. They were likely built from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Filed under --GLYNN COUNTY GA--, Brunswick GA

Colored Memorial School, 1923, Brunswick

In 1870, the Freedmen’s School was established as the first public school for African-Americans in Brunswick. Colored Memorial High School, designed by Cloister architect Francis L. Abreu, was built adjacent to the Freedmen’s School in 1923* and named to honor African-American veterans of World War I. The Freedmen’s School was replaced by Risley High School in 1936 and served the community until 1955 when a new Risley High School was built elsewhere. It was named Risley School, for Captain Douglas Gilbert Risley, who advocated for the school as the head of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

*- The 1922 date on the building is the date the cornerstone was laid by Dr. H. R. Butler.

National Register of Historic Places

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Ahmaud Arbery Mural, Brunswick

Today, Ahmaud Arbery should be celebrating his 27th birthday with his family and loved ones, but on 3 February 2020, while jogging in a “white” neighborhood, he became yet another needless victim of racial violence. Unarmed, he was killed in cold blood by a retired law enforcement officer who apparently took offense to the mere presence of an athletic young black man in his neighborhood. This man presumed that Arbery’s race made him a suspect in a spate of recent robberies and acted as judge, jury, and executioner. To make matters worse, the local district attorney didn’t even think Arbery’s death met the definition of murder and charges weren’t brought against the perpetrators until it became a national news story. At this writing, the killer’s son and another man have also been charged not only with murder, but with hate crimes. As a white man, I am disgusted by the racists who committed the crime and the legal system’s abject but unsurprising failure.

The whole affair makes me angry but it’s nice to see this mural in the heart of Brunswick’s African-American community, on Albany Street. It was painted by Brunswick-born Miami artist Marvin Weeks and aims to educate and bring together all who deplore this inexcusable crime. The structure on which it is painted will soon become an African-American cultural center.

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Filed under --GLYNN COUNTY GA--, Brunswick GA

Winged-Gable Cottage, Circa 1935, Crescent

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Filed under --MCINTOSH COUNTY GA--, Crescent GA

Gable Front House, Liberty County

This is a typical house style of early-20th-century Coastal Georgia. This example is located near Midway.

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Ruins of the Union Brotherhood Society, Liberty County

The Liberty County Historical Society recently noted on its website that William McKinley Walthour’s Union Brotherhood Society meeting hall near Midway was in eminent danger of collapsing. While doing some re-shoots in coastal Liberty County yesterday, I drove by the site and can now report that it has indeed collapsed.

This relic of the Jim Crow era was a great example of the strong fraternal bonds of the African-American community, required at the time for the common benefits white society often took for granted, such as burial insurance. Its loss is most unfortunate.

The Historical Society made an impassioned plea for saving the structure, but its loss illustrates the limitations faced by such organizations. Donations are often slow to materialize and in an extraordinarily challenging year like 2020, even more so.

 

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Filed under --LIBERTY COUNTY GA--

Thomas Landing, McIntosh County

Thomas Landing, on the South Newport River, has been occupied since the early days of Colonial Georgia and its history is indelibly linked to the hundreds of African-Americans who resided here. They first landed here against their will but after Emancipation chose to remain, only to have their land taken from them by the United States government in the 1930s.

Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

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Bungalow, 1940s, St. Simons Island

The property surrounding this front gable bungalow has recently been cleared, suggesting it’s likely to soon be redeveloped. This is one of just a few surviving vernacular structures in the scattered community known as Jewtown. The community got its name from the Levison brothers, who had a thriving store about a mile east of Gascoigne Bluff. They called it Levisonton but the name didn’t stick and residents referred to the area as Jewtown. Like the other two historic African-American communities on St. Simons, Harrington and South End, Jewtown is largely indistinguishable from the rest of the island today. I believe the cottage dates to circa 1940-1945, making it a relatively late construction for the community.

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Filed under --GLYNN COUNTY GA--, Jewtown GA, St. Simons Island GA

Carneghan Emanuel Baptist Church, McIntosh County

This church was constructed between 1979-1983. Set in a beautiful grove of moss-draped oaks, its of a style typical among African-American congregations in Coastal Georgia. [“Carneghan” is likely the original spelling of the community, but it has been changed to “Carnigan” on modern maps.]

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Filed under --MCINTOSH COUNTY GA--, Carnigan GA