Lorenzo Bright, NPS Intern
In the Fall of 2017, NPS intern Lorenzo Bright conducted a series of interviews with local Cobb County residents in order to highlight experiences and connections between the end of the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. Below is an article detailing the project, as well as photographs, interviews, and audio clips of Lorenzo's interviews.
Civil War to Civil Rights Oral History Project
When I first arrived at Kennesaw Mountain, I had no idea how much I would learn and grow from my time here. The park has left such a positive impact on my life, and I hope to return one day. I appreciate the support I was given by my supervisor, Marjorie Thomas, along with the camaraderie that I found with rangers Jake and Amanda. From the very beginning, everyone, staff, volunteers, and members of the community, made me feel like part of the team. I will honestly be forever grateful for that. My first interviews were arranged by Mrs. Anne Strand, who proved to be a pivotal force in the lifetime of my project. These interviews painted an incredible picture of what the daily life was for African Americans in the area. My first task was to conduct research and find what I could about African American involvement at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and life in Marietta, and then, on to interviews!
First, I began my research by focusing on the census records of Marietta and the surrounding areas, and then cross checking the names of enslaved African Americans to freedmen records. Then, I used obituaries to see if any slaves were transferred to other people (next of kin, etc.). In addition to this, by using both census records, and the business directory, I also confirmed two former enslaved people that worked for William Root, a druggist based in Marietta. His home is now a museum known as the Root House. Unfortunately, that lead was lost, even after cross checking with those at the Root House.
Then, I decided to track down numerical evidence of African Americans in the area. The First Hundred Years; A Short History of Cobb County, in Georgia shows that in June of 1865, there were 2,118 African Americans living in Cobb County. While the numbers vary, in 1860 the number increased to 3,819 African American slaves, with a combined value of $2,305,628. Of those 3,819 slaves, 1,175 of them were owned by individuals in Marietta. When the Civil War ended, many slave owners in Cobb County lost all of their human capital to the above-mentioned sum of about $2,300,000.
Next, I began to comb through the WPA’s Georgia collection of slave narratives. These narratives were conducted by the WPA to capture the stories of those who lived as slaves. The narratives proved to be very interesting, because they showed the love that slaves had for their masters. It was not unusual for freed slaves to remark that after emancipation, many decided to stay with their former masters. In one specific case, from the Marietta/ Kennesaw area, one woman remarked that those that did leave were “good for nothing boys. ”
I then set up a meeting with Mr. Brad Quinlen, a noted local historian who has combed through reams of materials from several local libraries and the Library of Congress. His research taught me about the Undercooks of African Decent that served alongside the Illinois Regiments during the Civil War. These men were freed slaves that were mustered into Union ranks who served as stretcher bearers for their wounded comrades. The sacrifices made by undercooks such as Austin Gilmore, who lost his life trying to save one of his countrymen, can never be forgotten. African Americans served here, and died trying to take this final mountain.
Finally, I began to focus on Marietta’s place in the Civil Rights Movement. According to my interviews, Marietta did not have many of the problems that were present in other cities such as Montgomery or Selma. For example, when asked about why she felt that Marietta did not run into many problems, Mrs.Josetta Walker (listen to clip below) stated that “Marietta was 90% white at the time”. Numerically, Marietta’s African America population (31.5%) is less than 1/3 of the total number of people. In comparison, other cities such as Selma (80.3% black to 18% white) or Memphis (63.3% black to 29.4% white) have higher black populations.
Overall, I learned a great deal about the childhoods, struggles, and triumphs of members of the African American community in and around Kennesaw Mountain. For example, Ms. Clara Maddox (who is 91 years old) told me about the need to walk everywhere because they did not have transportation like we do today. She told me about how much she enjoyed banana splits and playing with the fish swimming around in Marietta Square. Mrs. Lamuriel Adams shared a similar sentiment, telling me about how she and her younger sibling had to walk the three or four miles to the only school they were allowed to attend. At this point, I realized that struggle was inherent in African American communities from the very beginning.
Some of the most heartrending stories I heard dealt with these inherent struggles each person had to face in their daily lives. Many of these injustices were hidden under the guise of normalcy or were written off as “just the way things were”. For example, as a child in the 1930s, Miss Clara Maddox (listen to clip below) remembered “colored” and “white” fountains, right next to one another, and having to go around the back to receive service. She remembered being allowed to go into the store only to buy her banana split and then having to leave immediately. Lastly, as a young woman in the 1940s, due to her job as an insurance agent, she had to ride the bus from Marietta to Atlanta often. She recalled having to stand up for the duration of the trip, both ways. Mrs. Lamuriel Adams (listen to clip below) had similar experiences. During her childhood, she had to walk to school, and remembered the school bus (which was only available to white children) passing by, completely empty. The most horrific recollection she shared was rushing to close the blinds and turn off the lights when the Ku Klux Klan rode through town. This was especially terrifying, given the tales of crosses being burned on the lawns of Civil Rights leaders and other acts of violence against African Americans. In addition to Ms. Clara’s story, Mrs. Adams also recalled having to stand up on the bus as a young woman, because all of the “colored” seats were taken up by white patrons.
Conversely, while most of the individuals interviewed endured non-violent resistance, “General” Larry Platt (listen to clip below) recalled a variety of horrible and incredibly violent treatments. General Platt was present on “Bloody Sunday” of the Selma to Montgomery March, and recalled seeing individuals being “picked up and thrown into the river below,” along with being assaulted with tear gas and police dogs.
Hearing these stories broke my heart. However, each interviewee ended their stories with some of hope and triumph. A common sentiment that was shared was that after all of the injustices, all of the pain and anger, things got better. Mrs. Walker shared that Marietta was not a flashpoint of the movement, but instead served as an example of how change could come peacefully. Miss Clara reminded me that while her father only made six dollars a week, she never struggled. She kept the faith and continued to become the very best that she could become. General Platt still holds no anger or resentment towards those that hurt him, and strives to operate out of love, and not malice.
My experience with those that shared their stories offered me greater insight into what it means to be an African American, and the impact that we have had on Marietta and Kennesaw Mountain. From the struggles that were faced by those that came before, the best we can do is to continue the work that they began. When Miss Clara was growing up, she had to fight against segregation and discrimination, colored only signs and having to go through the back door to receive service. Mrs. Walker continued to carry the torch by being influential in the integration of the Marietta City School system. Further still, General Platt was beaten, bruised, and blinded in one eye by those that saw him as a threat due to the color of his skin. However, his actions like Marching on Selma, fighting for voting rights, and remaining influential in the Civil Rights Movement paved the way for him to witness the inauguration and administration of America’s first black president. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The work that I have done, and will continue to do, will no doubt bend the arc ever closer to our final destination of equality for all people, races, and creeds.
List of References
Gen. Larry Platt Audio Clip
General Larry Platt speaking on his involvement in the Civil Rights march on Selma, AL. This is one small clip of a larger interview done for the NPS African American Oral History Project.
Credit / Author:
[start recording] … put tear gas masks on. We got so far from the bridge out there, where the state troopers with horses, stuff came at us, dogs and stuff. They started beating us and spraying tear gas and we took off running to Brown Chapel Church. Some of us got caught and some of us got beat before we got back to the other side of the bridge. The state troopers were ready to get us, they started beating us down. Some of us got picked up and thrown into the river and died, before by the impact of the water.4 Which the media hasn’t told anyone about. A Whole bunch of people were killed. Some of us got all bloodied up going back to the church, because state troopers where already at Brown… [end recording]
General Larry Platt in front of a plaque honoring him as an official Civil Rights Hero.
General Larry Platt
Mrs. Josetta Walker Audio Clip
Mrs. Josetta Walker discussing her experience with integration. This is one small clip of a larger interview done for the NPS African American Oral History Project.
Credit / Author:
[female]: The whole transition process went smoothly in Marietta city. It really did. It really did. [male]: And that’s definitely good to hear because... [end recording]
Mrs. Lamuriel Adams Audio Clip
Mrs. Lamuriel Adams details her experience dealing with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). TThis is one small clip of a larger interview done for the NPS African American Oral History Project.
Credit / Author:
And then I can remember um, when I moved across town, I can remember the Ku Klux Klan coming through in their cars, and people would say don’t look out the windows, keep the windows closed, cut the lights out, because people didn’t want to see them. Because you know they were putting, they were burning crosses in some of the people’s yards that had been active in the Civil Right Movement. So, and I can remember some of the white people in the city, that owned businesses, that we knew, were KKK.
Ms. Clara Maddox Audio Clip
Ms. Clara Maddox talks about her experience with segregation. This is one small clip of a larger interview done for the NPS African American Oral History Project.
Credit / Author:
It was segregated, we just couldn’t go, you could go into the stores to buy, like the drug stores, you know they used to sell banana splits that’s what all children love, but we could go in there and buy them, but you couldn’t sit down and eat, you had to um just get what you was gonna get and come out. And as I say, all the places were segregated, there were signs up on the wall for water fountains, they’d be together now, right, close together, but colored would be on one side and they’d put white on the other side, so that’s the way that was,. Then you’d have to go around to the back, to the doors, for service. It was just, it was, that’s the way it was, but it didn’t bother us because they hadn’t started with the Civil rights thing yet, we didn’t know any better, that’s just the way life was, it really didn’t make us feel bad. But um, in our neighborhood, we lived in a neighborhood where… [recording cuts off]