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State historical markers to honor Cabbagetown’s mill, Civil Rights leaders and more

The former Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills complex in Cabbagetown. (File Photo by Kelly Jordan.)

By John Ruch

A diverse array of history will be remembered in seven new state historical markers approved by the Georgia Historical Society (GHS).

They include a previously announced marker at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills site in Atlanta’s Cabbagetown neighborhood, and others around Georgia.

Over 2,100 state historical markers — large metal plaques on poles — recognize sites around Georgia. GHS has erected over 300 since taking over management of the marker program from the state in 1998. Each year, the GHS votes to approve some new markers after a detailed review process. The new batch was approved in August.

Markers may take some time to be installed. Markers approved last year for Atlanta’s Techwood Home and University Homes public housing were just installed last month. Installation of another Atlanta marker approved last year, regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark LGBTQ rights case Bowers v. Hardwick, has been delayed until sometime next year.

The new markers include:

The Augusta Chinese and the Augusta Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. Augusta is home to Georgia’s oldest ethnic Chinese community, according to GHS. Chinese laborers came to the area in 1873 and established a community that grew despite racist federal laws prohibiting immigration. The CCBA is a nonprofit culture and heritage organization founded in 1927 that acquired its current home in an 1859 church building at 548 Walker St. over 80 years ago. The CCBA’s work includes an oral history project.

Camilla Massacre, Camilla, Mitchell County. This racist mass killing on Sept. 19, 1868, played a significant role in Reconstruction-era Georgia and was a factor in the state remaining under military rule and delaying its readmission into the U.S. after the Civil War. The precursor to the murders was white supremacists forcing the expulsion of Georgia’s first Black General Assembly members shortly after their election. One of the expelled members, Philip Joiner, led a march from Albany to Camilla, the county seat, to join a Republican Party rally. The marchers were confronted by a sheriff and vigilantes who opened fire on the crowd and chased and killed some attendees. The New Georgia Encyclopedia estimates about a dozen people died and about 30 were wounded, though exact numbers are unknown.

Frank Yerby, Augusta. Yerby (1916-1991) was an author of Black, white and Native American ancestry who became famous for historical romance novels. His “The Foxes of Harrow” (1946), about a New Orleans gambler, helped to make him the first best-selling African American novelist and the first to have a mainstream Hollywood movie adaptation. Known as the “King of the Costume Novel,” he also drew criticism for featuring white heroes during the Civil Rights era, though he focused more on Black heroes and stories in later works. He later moved to Spain to escape U.S. racism.

Jacob Elsas and the Fulton Bag and Cotton Company, Atlanta. Elsas (1842-1932) was a German Jewish immigrant who established the mills in 1881, as well as its adjacent company town, which survives as the Cabbagetown neighborhood. He became an influential civic figure as well, though his mills also were the site of major labor union strikes over working conditions, child labor and other issues. After a century in operation and many business changes, the mills completely closed in 1981. The complex remains a significant landmark today and survives after being converted into apartments and condos. Elsas’s great-great-grandson, also named Jacob, today preserves the history through the local Patch Works Art & History Center. Recent plans for two large antennas to be erected near the complex have drawn preservationists’ objections.

Mamie George Williams, Chatham County. Williams (1872-1951) was an influential political organizer focused on the voting rights of African American women. After women won the right to vote through the 19th Amendment in 1920, Williams reportedly drew 40,000 women to the polls in that year’s presidential election. In 1924, she became the first African American woman to serve on the Republican National Committee and spoke at the party’s national convention, focusing on attempts by the Georgia delegation’s white members to strip Black members of their power, according to the organization Georgia Women of Achievement. Williams also founded the National Republican League of Colored Women Voters and was active in many Savannah-area women’s clubs and the nascent Girl Scouts movement, which named a troop for her.

Mayor Richmond D. Hill and the Modern Civil Rights Movement, Greenville, Meriwether County. Hill (1905-1992) was a local Civil Rights leader who was elected to Greenville’s City Council in 1968 and in 1973 became its mayor – and the first Black mayor of any Georgia city. In his decade in office, he oversaw the full expansion of street paving and water and sewer service throughout the city, created low-income housing and supervised the conversion of a train depot into a multipurpose center that is now named for him.

Pine Gardens and Savannah’s Defense Community, Savannah. This neighborhood was among several created as a company town by Southeastern Shipbuilding Corp., which built “Liberty ships” for America’s World War II effort. The Liberty ships program quickly produced vessels to carry supplies to aid in Europe’s fight against the Nazis and later served as troop transports as well. The company began building the Savannah neighborhood in 1942, the same year it launched it first Liberty ship. Today, Pine Gardens is the only remaining part of the company town, consisting of around 500 houses and other buildings.


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