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Smyrna begins process to honor Fanny Williams, of Aunt Fanny’s Cabin

Aunt Fanny’s Cabin. (File/Photo by Tyler Lahti via wikimedia.org.)

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.

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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5 Comments

  1. Helene Mewborn February 25, 2022 10:30 am

    Where is the support for this very successful Black Woman??? Not only did she provide a living for herself, when not many women Black OR White ran a business!!! But her contributions to the Wheat Street Baptist Church, which demonstrated true Christian values, and other charities as well Should be remembered by preserving her ACTUAL Cabin!
    Refer to Maria Saporta’s 8/20/ 2017, Article copied in this same paper!!!
    Aunt Fanny’s Cabin was a highly successful eating venue!!!
    We continue to lose HISTORY because of shortsighted destruction-supposedly in the name of “progress”!
    It would be a shame to destroy this Cabin!!!Report

    Reply
  2. Dr. Jody D. Iodice February 25, 2022 11:26 am

    As an Atlantan, a Caucasian professional women, I believe it is important to preserve ALL of our history in the most appropriate and appreciated manner for generations to come. I support all means to preserve Aunt Fanny’s Cabin!

    Thank you,
    Dr. Jody D. IodiceReport

    Reply
  3. Dr. Jody D. Iodice February 25, 2022 11:30 am

    Addendum reply from J.D.Iodice
    I do remember going to eat at Aunt Fanny’s Cabin as a child with my parents and siblings. It was always a special experience for us. Save AF Cabin!!! Preserve Ga. History and Landmarks!!!!

    Dr. Jody D. IodiceReport

    Reply
  4. Wormser Hats February 25, 2022 11:36 am

    If there’s any truth in the adage that “Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It,” then erasing the uncomfortable reminders of our complicated history with slavery, secession, segregation, and institutional racism will do nothing to remove its stain on our cities, states, or nation. Nor should it.

    However, efforts to obscure the truth will almost certainly make reconciliation, healing, and transcendence to an era of equity take a whole lot longer to achieve. After all, it’s only taken a little more than a generation for otherwise educated people to forget and deny the Holocaust that precipitated a global war we will never forget.

    So is Smyrna or any metro-area community really well-served by seeking to demolish reminders of the foundational ugliness from which our nation openly struggles to ascend?Report

    Reply
  5. Idella Moore March 15, 2022 1:47 pm

    As an historian who lives in Smyrna I have been researching Fanny Williams and consequently have been able to construct a (so far) short bio of her early life based on best evidence. The information Ms. Eldredge and others continue to purport regarding Fanny Williams’ early years is, from my research, shown to be inaccurate and appears not to be based on any accepted historical methods, principles or logical reasoning.

    Once my research is fully completed I plan to publish it (including footnotes and references) so that hopefully we can begin to end the trail of misinformation about Fanny Williams as much as possible all these years later. To me, regardless of what happens to the cabin, Fanny Williams deserves the respect of an accurate (as possible) account of her life. .Report

    Reply

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