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LaGrange Legacy Museum tells story of early African-Americans in Troup County

Museum tells story of early African-Americans in Troup

By Tyler H. Jones

tjones@civitasmedia.com

County historian Clark Johnson points to a photograph of First Baptist Church on Fannin Street, constructed between 1879 and 1882. The photo is on display as part of the ‘Lift More Voices: Black History in Troup County’ exhibit at the Legacy Museum downtown.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/web1_Legacy02WEB.jpgCounty historian Clark Johnson points to a photograph of First Baptist Church on Fannin Street, constructed between 1879 and 1882. The photo is on display as part of the ‘Lift More Voices: Black History in Troup County’ exhibit at the Legacy Museum downtown. Tyler H. Jones | Daily News
An unnamed family of early Troup County African-Americans, circa 1930, sit on the front porch of a former plantation home in the Long Cane area.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/web1_Legacy03WEB.jpgAn unnamed family of early Troup County African-Americans, circa 1930, sit on the front porch of a former plantation home in the Long Cane area. Tyler H. Jones | Daily News
A photograph shows the building that used to sit where Flagpole Park off Lafayette Square is today. The balcony that overlooked the square was built by a slave craftsman.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/web1_Legacy04WEB.jpgA photograph shows the building that used to sit where Flagpole Park off Lafayette Square is today. The balcony that overlooked the square was built by a slave craftsman. Tyler H. Jones | Daily News
Troup County historian Clark Johnson shows mid-1800s court records as part of the ‘Lift More Voices: Early Troup County Black History’ exhibit at the Legacy Museum. One record appears to show a woman tried to free a slave in 1854 by smuggling him out of LaGrange by rail, only to be caught in Hogansville.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/web1_Legacy01WEB.jpgTroup County historian Clark Johnson shows mid-1800s court records as part of the ‘Lift More Voices: Early Troup County Black History’ exhibit at the Legacy Museum. One record appears to show a woman tried to free a slave in 1854 by smuggling him out of LaGrange by rail, only to be caught in Hogansville. Tyler H. Jones | Daily News

LaGRANGE — In 1854, Sarah Hubbard of LaGrange took a chance.

She bought two train tickets on the West Point and Atlanta Railroad and boarded a car with a 25-year-old man “of dark complexion” named Brick, according to an indictment that would later be handed down against her.

Brick was the “personal property” of Maxey Brooks, a well-known owner of a grist mill near what is today Hamilton Road at Flat Shoals Creek. Brick was Brooks’ slave, and Hubbard was likely trying to shuttle him to freedom, according to Clark Johnson, Troup County historian.

“This is our one thing we think connects us with the Underground Railroad — the one thing we’ve found,” Johnson said Tuesday of a court record telling the tale. “When they got to Hogansville, she took him off the train, like she was trying to spirit him away and help him escape or something.”

Hubbard was pretending to be Bricks’ owner, but was caught. A grand jury later indicted her on charges of “simple larceny.”

The story is one of dozens on display in the Legacy Museum’s current exhibition, “Lift More Voices: Early Troup County Black History,” which focuses on the contributions and chronicles of African Americans in Troup County from its founding to World War I.

Told with photographs, records, news articles and artifacts, the exhibit highlights the lesser-known history of slaves, freed African-Americans and their descendents in and around LaGrange.

For Johnson, who compiled the exhibit, the most striking part of the records is learning the names of individuals involved in the stories.

“These are reproductions of actual Troup County Superior Court records that talk about slaves,” he said of records posted on the museum’s walls. “It makes people human, because it gives their names. There was quite a number of free blacks in Troup County before 1865, as well. That’s what some of these documents relate to.”

Johnson pointed to another court record.

“In fact, this is an 1831 petition by a free woman of color asking for a guardian for her and her children,” he explained. “She names all of her children. Patsy King was her name.”

Another free African-American, Giles Wilkenson, owned 4.5 acres at the corner of what is today Broad Street and Country Club Road, at the triangular intersection near LaGrange College.

“There are deeds from his property records, and a little notice (in the newspaper) from 1868 saying ‘Uncle Giles’ died,” Johnson explained. “I’ve suggested to several people — because that’s like a little park over there — that they should name it Wilkenson Park.”

The exhibition is divided by topic, and covers African-American schools, churches, businesses and a plethora of other topics. Johnson has meticulously curated the showcase, and can tell visitors about the building that once stood where Flagpole Park is off Lafayette Square — a slave craftsman built its balcony that overlooked the square, he explained. He can talk about Ross Cameron, who built the columns of LaGrange College’s Smith Hall and was the slave of Benjamin H. Cameron, for whose family Cameron Mill Road is named.

The records, though, speak for themselves. A lengthy article in the LaGrange Reporter — the precursor to the Daily News — on Nov. 6, 1879, tells the story of the first “Colored People’s Fair” in America, held here in Troup County.

“About ten o’clock, a special train came from Atlanta, bring three colored military companies, and a large number of their friends,” the article explains. Apparently, the event was a huge success, even though a man broke his collar bone during a horseback riding competition.

“There were cakes and wines, and breads and jelly and jam and preserves, and old fashioned ginger cakes,” the article reads.

Johnson explained that telling the story of African-Americans in Troup County was no easy task, particularly finding the names and ages of individuals. In fact, he said, Georgia didn’t even use birth and death certificates until after the turn of the 20th century.

One artifact on display, an 1843 family Bible, helped Johnson learn about the history of one local family and their slaves — or “servants,” as the family called them.

“Not only did they give their names, but complete birth dates for a lot of them are difficult to find,” he said. “That’s a rare thing to find, for blacks or whites, because Georgia doesn’t have birth or death certificates until 1919.”

Still, there are plenty of news clippings, records and photos on display at the Legacy Museum to tell the story of Troup County’s earliest African Americans.

The exhibit will remain open through Sept. 15 and admission is free. The Legacy Museum, 136 Main St., is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Group tours can be scheduled by calling the museum at 706-884-1828.

Tyler H. Jones is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.