As I travel about, reading The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, many people tell me secrets about race they've been afraid to share. My talks encourage others to dig into old family secrets, racial and otherwise. If you would like to share some of your stories anonymously or publicly on this page, please go to Contact and send them. Thank you.
Dr. Jackie Jordan Irvine, professor emeritus at Emory University, discovered her kinship to Johnie Moore, the youngest man lynched in Hamilton in 1912, while reading The Family Tree. Because I, too, believed myself kin to Moore, Irvine and I had our DNA tested and discovered we're distant couins. We're writing our separate stories of discovering our kinship to men white newspapers of the time called "negro desperadoes," but in the meantime I share with you this beautiful article Jackie wrote about her Jordan ancestry and the families that enslaved them, families I knew while growing up in Columbus, Georgia.
This was written by my good friend Ron Carver, who worked with SNCC in Georgia as a very young man during the Civil Rights Movement. It was published in 2005 in The Washington Post
This moving story was sent by Dr. George Henry of Lagrange.
Near the end of your excellent presentation at the LaGrange Memorial Library on September 1, you expressed confidence that some of our community’s recent initiatives toward supporting meaningful relationships already contribute to our own stories of racial reconciliation. The press of time then, and the needs of others to make their input prevented sharing one of those stories. We still want to make you aware of it.
I am a 78 year old white male retired physician, married to a retired United Methodist minister. A year ago, at the first gathering of an initiative in racial reconciliation and trust-building in Troup County, I happened to sit next to a retired African American educator only a few years younger. In our early years we had both lived in LaGrange, but had lived for long times in other areas before returning to this community during the last 10-20 years. Until that morning, we had no awareness of the other’s presence here. As we introduced ourselves rather cursorily, the man smiled while asking if my wife were the former Helen Freeman. Surprised, I assented; and then to my greater surprise he describe my first automobile, named my high school rival for Helen’s affection, and related a couple of humorous anecdotes about us. Then with a bigger smile he said, “George, I am Robert.”
Through the fog of long ago, I recognized that Robert had been the “yard boy” who worked for Helen’s mother in her flower beds and other outside details during our teen years. He remembered when Helen and I had returned to LaGrange after college, married, bought that automobile, and prepared to pursue our postgraduate and vocational work elsewhere.
In the years to follow, Robert too had graduated from college in Atlanta and later earned a doctorate. He became a teacher, then a school principal, and later a director of human resources. After a number of decades, we had each returned “home”, re-establishing places here unaware of one another.
In the weeks to follow that first encounter, I learned that in LaGrange again Dr. Robert Tucker had opted to reside not in an “upscale” neighborhood or a lakeside home as first planned, but in the midst of a stressed and challenged neighborhood “just across the tracks” from LaGrange’s renewed downtown. He occupied and beautifully restored the cottage in which his mother had lived after Robert left for college. He soon began working with other homeowners there, dreaming and planning to revitalize what long ago had been identified as Calumet Village, named after the former Calumet cotton mill that had occupied the area’s northwest corner where lovely St. Peter’s Catholic Church now stands.
During the first half of the twentieth century the area had been a mill village. Many of it's representative residential structures and a couple of historic African American churches still stand. One can easily glimpse the character of it’s past. However, in recent decades it had suffered urban blight as a number of its houses fell into serious neglect, several were boarded up, and criminal activity became frequent.
Robert and the new Calumet Village Neighborhood Association worked to develop a phased plan to be enacted over a number of years. It included improving the streets, adding sidewalks, enhancing safety, developing recreational and family-oriented areas, providing work training, fostering education, assisting parents, and improving homes. In a relatively short time they successfully engaged the city’s leadership, beginning a valuable partnership that resulted in a fine park that now enjoys much use and benefits from regular upgrading and beautifying. Strong collaboration between city and neighborhood continued, leading to better control of traffic, the establishment of sidewalks, and dramatically reduced crime because of excellent relationships with law enforcement personnel. Word began to spread about the improvements and Calumet Village community's desire to improve from within. Yet the more ambitious, full program remained without substantial funding or other clear prospects of moving ahead beyond a snail’s pace.
In getting to know Robert, really for the first time, I became quite interested in the Calumet Village project and what he and his colleagues were able to do thus far. We began to meet and enjoyed being together. When Robert shared his frustration in getting help from architectural and urban planning experts from area universities, I helped him become aware of the award-winning successes in community development by The Georgia Conservancy and it’s partners at Georgia Tech. That resulted in their agreement to work with us here. The Callaway Foundation generously provided a $37,000 grant to support the planning efforts.
In mid-September the consultants led the first workshop for Calumet Village’s residents, city planners, public safety officials, church leaders, and other community stakeholders. It focused on early results of face-to-face input from canvassed homeowners and renters, as well as dialogue among the workshop participants about the Calumet Village assets and challenges. A followup meeting is scheduled for mid-November. After that the project proposals will receive a first hearing before the City Council. We believe this process can benefit not only the small local community-within-community, but also the entire city; and it has potential to serve as a model for others to follow.
I share this as an illustration of potentially successful community enhancement that arose directly from intentional efforts to build trust in a setting of open engagement that moves tangibly beyond the separation and conflict of past racial divergence. Your wonderful story in The Family Tree, the richly detailed history underlying it, and the hope arising from learning truth about our deep relationships invite people to explore their own stories and potentials for revitalization.
George Henry, MD
October 20, 2016
This story was sent to me by George Pettie, author of a serial trilogy -- The Tale of a Woods Colt, The Call of the Whip-poor-will, and The Crags of Old Rag, written under the pen name G. Mason.
My first direct encounter with racial polarization was at fourteen when, in 1961, my family moved to an old farm in a profoundly rural Virginia county. There I entered the white high school, still segregated under Virginia's policy of "Massive Resistance" to federal desegregation laws and court rulings. I got on well with everyone at school during those four years, but I forged no real friendships in that very different cultural milieu.
One of my formative experiences was attending, at my broad-minded father's suggestion, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. After standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial with several hundred thousand others, in the blazing sun and heat of late August, I came away inspired that the country could get itself back on track toward an inclusive and just society (a hope that was tested a couple of years later when I was drafted into the Viet Nam war). To attend the March, I stayed with my grandparents just across the river in Arlington. Both from poor Virginia farm families, they were benign racists who harbored no ill will toward blacks, but who could not abide "mixing of the races," which to them included water fountains and classrooms along with miscegenation. Though only seventeen, I could see the pointlessness of discussing it with them. They were no more capable of explaining their visceral beliefs than was Granddad's beagle of explaining the stars in the sky. I knew then that prejudices had to die with those who held them.
The following summer I had a more lurid encounter with racial bigotry. My mother took in paying guests, whose Farm Vacations lasted a week or two. A woman persuaded me to hold an informal two-week summer camp at our farm, for her two sons and three other children. During the time, a mountain man who lived on our large acreage tipped my dad that some local rednecks were planning to harm "the little Negro boy," one of my campers. A cross was burned in our yard during the wee hours of that night.
Your account of the 1946 Walton County lynchings had the FBI attempts to find the perpetrators coming up empty, leaving Director Hoover to gripe about "arrogant whites," but taking no further action. Perhaps J. Edgar Hoover's own well known racism had tempered his enthusiasm back in 1946.
Not so at our farm in 1964.
My dad called the FBI in DC. He didn't think the FBI was keen to take on every racist threat, but he knew they would this time. Sure enough, two Special Agents showed up immediately. They got the picture from us, and then went discreetly about the neighborhood, letting certain upstanding but bigoted citizens know the dire penalties from instigating criminal violence. The two agents then visited each of the three rednecks to inform them that the "little Negro boy" was under federal protection, and that anyone attempting to harm him would certainly meet an immediate and violent end.
Summer camp ended peacefully, with no one but us Pettie's being the wiser for what had, and had not, happened. I've always wondered how it would have played out if the "little Negro boy's" father had not been attorney Hobart Taylor, Jr., President Johnson's White House Counsel at that time, and a friend of the president going way back to Lyndon Johnson's early political career in Texas.