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African Americans in Augusta

Augusta's racial makeup has long been largely African American.  Its African American citizens have contributed greatly to the rich tapestry of the city's history. A number of listings in the National Register of Historic Places reflect the role of African Americans.

Georgia initially banned slavery during earliest colonial times, but eventually the Trustees allowed it, acquiescing to pressure from colonists who saw slavery providing economic benefit to their neighbors across the Savannah River in South Carolina.  Remote Augusta worked gangs of enslaved Africans brought over from Carolina even before it was legal to do so.

Springfield Bapt Church Photo 2

Springfield Baptist Church, 1801 Building
Historic Augusta,Inc.

Production of cotton required intensive labor to grow and pick, as well as to prepare to sell and send to market.  Cotton’s potential for making high profits accelerated the desire of southern planters to own more slaves in order to grow more cotton, and slavery grew ever more prevalent after invention of the cotton gin in 1793.  Augusta area farmers joined in the frenzied rush to plant more cotton, which almost completely supplanted the previous cash crop, tobacco.

By 1787 a large group of African Americans, who had been slaves on the Galphin Plantation at Silver Bluff, arrived in Augusta and settled in the then adjacent village of Springfield.  Mostly free, they formed Springfield Baptist Church there, which was an offshoot of the Silver Bluff Church that the Galphin slaves established before the Revolution. Displaced by British invasion of South Carolina, former Silver Bluff slaves formed Springfield in Augusta and another church in Savannah that are among the oldest independent African American congregations in the nation.

Cedar Grove Cemetery in the Pinched Gut Historic District has been the burial place of Augusta’s black population, both slave and free, since the 1820s.  Burials began there after the St. Paul’s churchyard closed in 1817. At that time, Magnolia Cemetery was founded for whites and Cedar Grove soon thereafter for African Americans.  By an act of the legislature, authorities removed the remains of African Americans originally buried at St. Paul’s and re-interred them at Cedar Grove in 1825.

Augusta had five black churches before the end of Civil War, in an era when formalized assembly of African Americans was frowned upon, if not illegal, in most parts of the South.  In addition to Springfield, Thankful Baptist, Trinity Christian Methodist Episcopal, Central Baptist, and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Churches all had their own buildings.

laney walker carrie st
Carrie Street
Rebecca Rogers

After emancipation Springfield was the center of educational and political activities for Augusta’s black citizens. The Augusta Baptist Institute was founded in 1867 in Augusta's Springfield Baptist Church, eventually moving to Atlanta to become Morehouse College. The Georgia Equal Rights Association was founded in Springfield in 1866. This association evolved into the Republican Party in the state.

African American churches initiated efforts to educate Freedmen after the Civil War, first at a former wagon factory turned shoe factory by the Confederate government on 9th and Ellis Streets.  Other notable African American educational institutions established in Augusta after the Civil War include Reverend Charles T. Walker’s Walker Baptist Institute; Ware High School, Georgia’s first public high school for African Americans, built in 1880 by the Richmond County Board of Education and later the subject of a Supreme Court case that legalized the practice of segregated education; Lucy Laney’s Haines Normal and Industrial Institute; and Paine College, a joint effort of the black and white Methodist churches. Shiloh Baptist Association founded Shiloh Orphanage in 1902 to provide housing, care, and education for black children without families.

After the Civil War, African Americans, not yet legally segregated from whites, gradually gravitated to the neighborhoods south of downtown. This area, now known as the Laney—Walker North Historic District, was formerly an area settled by Irish immigrants known as Dublin. Trinity Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Central Baptist Church, and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church all had been in Laney—Walker since before emancipation. All three congregregations have moved away from the neighborhood, and only Trinity CME's building still stands. Afterwards a number of other churches came to the neighborhood. Tabernacle Baptist Church, which has a national reputation, moved to the district to its present building in 1915. Laney—Walker became Augusta's principal African American neighborhood and the location of important black owned businesses such as the Penny Savings Bank, and Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance. It was also home to noted black educator Miss Lucy Craft Laney. Another neighborhood developed outside the original city limits known as The Terri and Nellieville, parts of which became the Bethlehem Historic District.

Still another African American neighborhood, originally called Elizabethtown, developed north of the affluent suburb of Summerville.  Today the neighborhood is the Sand Hills Historic District. The Cumming Grove Baptist Church and Rock of Ages Christian Methodist Episcopal Church were among the earliest congregations founded to serve its residents. 

Lucy Laney Museum

The Amanda Dickinson Home
Rebecca Rogers

Amanda American Dickson’s acquisition of a large house on Telfair Street in 1886 is a notable exception to the trend toward segregation of housing and neighborhoods. Amanda Dickson was perhaps the wealthiest African American woman of her time, having inherited the entire estate of her white father, David Dickson of Hancock County, Georgia.  She lies buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery under an imposing monument, a contrast to the modest grave markers on surrounding lots.

Preservation efforts in the African American community have centered on specific landmark buildings, including Springfield Baptist Church on 12th Street, The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History and Conference Center on Phillips Street, and the former Penny Savings Bank on James Brown Boulevard. In addition, Historic Augusta, Inc. is restoring the Union Baptist Church.