Smyrna begins process to honor Fanny Williams, of Aunt Fanny’s Cabin
By David Pendered
Smyrna’s Committee to Honor Fanny Williams met for the first time Tuesday to discuss a planned memorial for the woman whose namesake Aunt Fanny’s Cabin is to be moved or demolished.
One question the committee raised is where the memorial could be installed. A site outside the cabin may not be possible. The Smyrna City Council is slated to vote on March 21 to sell the building to a buyer who will move it, or to demolish the cabin.
The NAACP’s Cobb County chapter has opposed demolition, in part because the cabin honors the space and tells the story of a Black woman who ran a renowned restaurant. Those in favor of removal or demolition contend the cabin is in disrepair, would be costly to preserve and reminds of a racist past.
Smyrna Councilmember Tim Gould chaired the committee meeting. He said the committee is under no time constraint to present a recommendation on a memorial to the mayor and council. A preliminary update is due by March 17. The next committee meeting was set for March 14.
Gould said he expects the recommendation to include a physical memorial of some type and educational programs. A budget has not been determined, he said.
Tuesday night’s meeting featured a presentation on Williams’ life and contributions compiled by Jennie Eldredge, museum manager at Smyrna History Museum.
Williams was a pioneer among the Black women of her generation who supported projects that benefitted the Black community, according to the presentation. The original purpose of the cabin was to serve as a site for Black farmers to sell their produce, Eldredge said.
The Ku Klux Klan noticed Williams’ work in the community and responded by burning a cross in her front yard, Eldredge said.
Atlanta’s historic Wheat Street Baptist Church benefited from Williams’ donations, Eldredge said. Williams provided money to a construction project. The Rev. William Holmes Border, Jr. preached at her funeral and the church choir sang at the service, Eldredge said.
Eldredge said she’s awaiting a response from the church to her request for more information about Williams’ role in the congregation.
Williams raised money for the construction of a hospital in Marietta for Black patients at a time hospitals were segregated, Eldredge said. The Black hospital was closed in 1951, upon the opening of Kennestone Hospital in Marietta. The shuttered facility was converted to serve Black youths as the Montgomery Street Recreation Center, Eldredge said.
Committee member Lisa Castleberry said she remembers going to parties in the building in the mid-1970s. Castleberry said her father remembers when the building was constructed.
“I never knew anything about Fanny Williams,” Castleberry said. “That was 1974, ‘75, ‘76. That’s where we would go have our dances, African Americans.”
Eldredge said many legends have enveloped Williams and the cabin remembered for its Southern food and menus written on boards that hung around the necks of Black boys who stood beside tables.
“It’s difficult to separate truth from the fiction that grew up around Fanny Williams and the cabin,” Eldredge said.
For instance, there’s no basis for the stories that Williams was 106 years old when she died, nor that she remembered the Civil War and the Union Army’s March to the Sea, Eldredge said.
“Her birth was after emancipation,” Eldredge said. “It looks like, in the 1880 Census, she was a domestic servant in Macon at age 12. She was working at an early age, out on her own.”
Likewise with the stories that Williams was born on a plantation and worked with the owners’ children, Eldredge said.
“That is simply not true,” Eldredge said.
The 1910 Census showed Williams working “possibly as a cook for a private family, and a border in Macon.” The 1920 Census showed her working as a cook for a private family in Macon.
The 1940 Census was the first time Williams was recorded in the Smyrna area, Eldredge said.
“Probably on the Campbell property,” Eldredge said, noting the family purchased the land in 1890. “She shows up in the Smyrna community. Not in city limits. The Campbell property would not have been within Smyrna city limits.”
Williams had a third-grade education and lived from 1869 to 1949, Eldredge said, citing the records she had retrieved.