Stories that move us and make us — a tale of freed slaves who started their own community, schools, and businesses
In this column, members of Georgia Humanities and their colleagues take turns discussing Georgia’s history and culture, and other topics that matter. Through different voices, we hear different stories.
By Jamil Zainaldin
Georgia is one of the oldest states in the country and holds many seminal stories, historic episodes, and unusual occurrences that have influenced the course of American history. But there are countless stories of brave and determined Georgians who have changed the course of their family’s or their community’s history, if not that of the nation.
We live on building blocks created by earlier generations, whatever we may think about our own present-day accomplishments. Unless we know how we got here, we can’t truly appreciate all that we have. Memory imposes a responsibility on the living.
Consider the Georgia story of the Chubb family.
It begins when eight brothers, all members of a family with the surname Chubb, and all former slaves who were freed in North Carolina, moved to Georgia sometime around 1851 — a full decade before the Civil War. Why freed slaves would head south, deeper into slave country, and not north to the free states is a mystery.
The Chubb brothers settled first in Madison, in Morgan County, and then moved west to a plot of land in the vicinity of Cave Spring and Rome in Floyd County. They would eventually form an unincorporated community that became known as “Chubbtown.”
What is unusual about this story is that the Chubbs were living in the state illegally, as Georgia law prohibited the settlement within its boundaries of slaves who were freed in other states. Yet the Chubb brothers survived, put down roots, and kept their freedom. As farmers, millers, distillers, and blacksmiths, they certainly brought skills important to any frontier settlement (the Cherokee had only recently been ejected from the area).
The Chubbs not only survived the destruction of the Civil War as Sherman slashed his way south to Atlanta, but flourished, unlike many in the state, and continued to succeed despite the imposition of Jim Crow laws later.
By the 1870s the residents of Chubbtown (as their community was now becoming known — and soon even to receive a post office) owned enough property to maintain pasturage and fields as well as build a church, which today is on the National Register of Historic Places, modest homes, and outbuildings, some of which are still in evidence.
Education seems always to have been a priority for this rural black community, which established Central Colored School for its children, on land purchased by Clemmie Chubb. One of the teachers of this early school was Gladys Chubb. In a story recounted by Joyce Perdue-Smith of Cave Spring, when the school board closed Central in 1942, Clemmie Chubb’s husband, Alfred, persuaded the Board of Education to give him the cab of an old school bus, which he hooked up to his truck. This became the first school bus between Chubbtown and Cave Spring, where a state-of-the-art three-room “Rosenwald school” had opened earlier. Its teachers held degrees from places like Morehouse, Spelman, Clark, Atlanta University, Tuskegee, Morris Brown, and Harvard.
And by teach, I mean not how to plow and work a mule (they were learning that at home), but how to do math, and read and write. With second-hand books, children were taught to recite well-known pieces of classic poetry by both black and white artists. The school grounds and buildings remained in constant use until the early 1950s, when the state required black children to attend so-called separate and equal schools, or “equalization schools” as part of a strategy to fend off judicial threats to segregation. (According to Perdue-Smith, two of Alfred Chubb’s children who taught at the historic school in Cave Spring are still living: Elvira Stone and Della Chubb Stokes.)
The story of this self-sufficient town of freed blacks is no secret, though also not one generally known beyond Floyd and Polk counties, with the exception of one or two state agencies and readers of Jeanne Cyriaque’s newsletter, put out by the state’s Historic Preservation Division. But others may soon hear more. Through the efforts of local residents in Floyd County, including some of the direct descendants of the original eight Chubb brothers, there are plans for the restoration of the last remaining building on the Fairview campus in Cave Spring and the creation of a museum exhibition that tells the story of the African American community’s passion for its children’s education.
Today, there are several hundred descendants of historic Chubbtown still living in Floyd and Polk counties, and by now, elsewhere in the state and nation. One you may have heard of is Nick Chubb, a star running back at the University of Georgia.
What an arc of a story. With roots in pre-Civil War slavery times, Reconstruction and into the 20th century Jim Crow era, the story of the Chubbs is a testimonial to the place of education and enterprise in the American dream of advancement.
Kelly Caudle of Georgia Humanities provides editorial assistance for the “Jamil’s Georgia” columns.