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Black History Series

Black History Series Part IV --A Proud Musical Tradition

The 1940s quartet, the Tate City Spirituals, (l-r): O. J. Crowder (bass), Corneilus Rucker (baritone), James Pitts (tenor) and Henry Lee Gunn (leader).



By Dr. Kathleen Thompson

[This article is the seventh in a series devoted to the history of the Black residents of Pickens County. Dr. Kathleen Thompson has completed extensive research and interviews in order to write this series. This project has and continues to be made possible by the Pickens Arts and Cultural Alliance, and grants from the Georgia Humanities Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.]

In quartets and trios, Black residents past and present, have expressed their deep faith by sharing the gospel in song. The Pickens community has nurtured, listened to with pleasure, and appreciated this African-American tradition of singing spirituals.


Early Musical Groups

The local tradition began with Cornelius Rucker. He was a member of Pilgrim Church in Nelson, but directed the choir at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Tate. The multi talented Cornelius could sing all parts, but usually sang bass and baritone. The original quartet was organized by Rucker and consisted of Mr. Glover Green, James Pitts, Henry Lee Gunn, and Cornelius Rucker.

In the early 1940s the Georgia Marble Company and Colonel Sam Tate sponsored the quartet. Later the Brookshire Tire Company in Atlanta supported the group. During the 1940s they sang on the local radio every two weeks.

Later in the 1940s another groups formed. Sometimes they sang as a quartet using various combinations of members, and at other times they all performed together.  The members included Mr. Preston Roach Sr. as lead singer, Truman Roach as baritone, Will Rucker, Cornelius Rucker as bass, T. J. McClure, Anna Mackey, and Earstene (Teen) Mackey. Later Mr. James Pitts sang tenor.  During these years Melvin Bryant and James Howell also sang.  Mr. James Anderson accompanied them on the guitar.

Truman Roach recalled another group that performed in the 1950s and 60s, during the era of segregation. The group included Truman,  James Franklin (Chester) Roach, Glover Green, and Cornelius Rucker.  Preston Roach Jr. remembers the clear clear, strong voice of Robert Allen Williams singing in various groups.

In addition to performing locally all of these groups sang in churches, and at events in Blue Ridge, Monticello, Canton, and other communities.  All had ceased performing in the 1970s.              The tradition was picked many years later by Preston Roach Sr., Robert McClure, and Truman Roach.

The Mount Calvary Trio

Mt. Calvary Church has been the centerpoint for all the groups past and present. Mr. Cornelius Rucker was the Choir Director at the church and all of the members of the earlier groups sang at the church.

Today’s trio members are also long time choir members at Mt. Calvary. Preston Roach sings (lead), Truman Roach (tenor), and Robert McClure (bass) comprise the trio. Truman and Preston are brothers and Robert a double first cousin to the Roaches.

In 1993 all three were reminiscing about the earlier trios and began to harmonize on songs they remembered from the days of Deacon Rucker.

As other members of the church heard those songs, requests were made to the three to perform at the church services.  Before long they not only sang as a trio at Calvary, but began to be invited to other churches, including White churches, funerals, and public events.

Today if you attend Red Cross events, activities at the Tate Gym, attend the Senior Center or visit the nursing home, you will likely have heard the group.  They have also sung on ETC-3 Television.

The group usually performs a capella creating a unique sound that harkens back to a long tradition of unaccompanied Negro Spirituals from the days of slavery.  If the harmonies in this type of music remind you of Barbershop quartet music it is because the earliest groups singing in the Barbershop style of music were African Americans.

Asked why they sing and perform, all three members of the Trio testified to their pleasure at being able to share their faith, and to God’s generosity toward them as individuals and as a group.

Truman described his experiences, “I love to sing and have been singing since I was small. In grammer school I was always given singing parts in school musicals. At Fort Valley State College I worked to improve my skills and joined the college choir.”

Brother Preston Roach explained, “Singing uplifts me and others. I can get down and without intent start humming.  Next thing I know and I’m feeling better. I get so much out of praising the Lord in song, it’s a blessing to be able to sing for others.”

“Anywhere, anytime, I’m 100 percent involved. When I was in Ohio I sung in my church choir and when I worked at Lockeed I joined their employee’s choir,” noted Robert McClure. “I love to give God praise in song.  I’m not much on talking, but singing about My Lord is a privilege.”

Indeed, it must be a privilege for the members of the trio to perform, but it is also a privilege and pleasure to listen.


Stephen E. Griffeth, The Many Facets of Tate, Georgia, Wolfe Publishing, 1998

Interviews, 2010, Truman Roach, Preston Roach Jr. and Robert McClure

by Kathleen Thompson.

Black History Series Part V -- Racial violence in North Georgia 1900-1930

 By Dr. Kathleen Thompson

This article is the fifth in a series devoted to the history of the Black residents of Pickens County. Dr. Kathleen Thompson has completed extensive research including archives and library investigation, interviews of local residents and searches of early newspapers. This project has and continues to be made possible by the Pickens Arts and Cultural Alliance and grants from the Georgia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Led or misled by their leadership, cities and communities make choices. In the following historical narrative the choice was between hate and tolerance.  This is the story of two communities, each taking a different path, each with differing outcomes.

Cumming, Ga. (1902-1912)

Hidden in the bottom of his parents’ wagon, eight-year-old Olin Collins was terrified and had been since the troubles started weeks ago. Whitecappers and Klansmen had vowed to drive out every Negro family in Forsyth County. They had burned houses and shot into homes during the reign of terror.  At night Olin and his brother Clarence laid under quilts, eyes wide open, waiting, worried and frightened.

His mother and father loved their home. They had a chicken house and hens who laid eggs, and it was Olin’s job to collect the eggs. The farm was a nice place and none of them wanted to leave. They were a peaceable family, troubling no one. Then, late at night, shots were fired into a neighbor’s home. Days later another friend’s house was dynamited and set afire. Nightly his parents fretted over what to do. Nightly he and Clarence lay in bed, close enough to the kitchen that if they strained they could hear their parent’s worried discussions. Finally George and Katie Collins felt they had no choice. For the sake of their children they had to leave, not in a few days, but tomorrow.

That morning Papa told Olin and Clarence to collect their clothes and a few toys. Mama tied the items in a blanket and placed it in the bottom of their wagon. George and Katherine chose a few pieces of furniture and necessities, all that they could put on the wagon and still make a speedy exit. No time or chance to sell the house. The horses were hitched and they began the most terrifying journey of Olin’s whole life.

Olin and Clarence lay down in the bottom of the wagon.  Before they were hidden Papa said, “Now boys, no matter what, don’t make a sound. Y’all hear, not a sound, no matter what happens to us.” “Yes Papa,” they returned, wondering if they could do that should trouble come. Then Mama pulled the blanket over them and Papa began piling furniture atop.  Olin knew he would never see their house again.

Heading out they took a road west. The boys could hear the muffled voices of their parents.  “Please George hurry up, make the horses go faster,” Katie would implore. “I’m going as fast as I can,” George Collins replied, fear evident to Olin from the tone of his daddy’s voice. When they arrived in Cherokee County they were refugees, people without a home or jobs. They were not alone. A newspaper account from that year described refugee camps along the road between Cumming and Gainesville. On all of the roads leading out of Cumming Black refugee families camped in groups for protection. Dazed and shocked they were unsure of what to do next.

Things did get better. George Collins was hired as Colonel Sam Tate’s chauffeur. It is not known how they met, if Sam Tate met and hired George or George came to Tate and applied for a job. Either way, the family moved to Tate and lived in a company house built for them not far from the Pink Marble Mansion. Olin would grow up safely in Tate where he eventually became chauffeur to Luke Tate and later ran “The Stand,” a community store in Smoky Hollow.

The searing memory of fleeing Cumming never left Olin Collins. It was so painful he was unable to describe the events to his children. When all but one of his children were in college, married or had moved away, a reporter from the Pickens Progress called on him. He asked Olin Collins to tell the story of their troubles in Forsyth County. Fear and pain made that impossible. “I can’t,” he replied.  But when the reporter left he told the story, only once, to daughter Emma Julia Collins and never spoke of it again.  Emma Julia Collins Washington still remembers the day her father shared his story. “I cried when he told me.”

The results of the censuses from1910 and 1920 show the extent of the forced removal of blacks from Forsyth County.  The 1910 census reported that Forsyth County had a total population of 10,839 residents; and of these residents 1,098 were black, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the county’s population. In the 1920 census, a total of 30 blacks were reported to reside in Forsyth County. That accounted for less than .3 percent of the total population. By 1930 the number was 17. The Collins family and others who fled to Pickens County never went back.

What happened to the property of families like the Collins who lost their homes? Cox Newspapers reporter Elliot Jaspin traced land deeds and tax rolls back to 1912. “He found proof that the majority of the property owned by the banished African Americans was never sold, but instead taken by their white neighbors. Called adverse possession, this process is partly statutory and partly common law and involves the legal acquisition of a title to a property without having to pay for it. In the case of the land in Forsyth County, white residents simply held the property belonging to black residents following their banishment. In the state of Georgia, the period of adverse possession is seven years. After this period of time, whites legally owned the land.”                            

By Contrast, Tate, Ga.

A report in the Atlanta Constitution indicates that in 1902 Pickens County experienced attacks on their Black residents (see accompanying article). These racially motivated crimes provoked a very different response from the leadership of the Georgia Marble Company whose workforce was 15 percent Black. Tate was not incorporated and lacked a mayor or police chief. The Marble Company and Colonel Sam Tate were responsible for all aspects of safety for the town, thus their response was the “official” one.

It is clear in the accompanying article in the Atlanta Constitution (1902) that the leadership of the Tate community chose a different course, one in which the protection of their Black residents was paramount. Based on the dates and church records, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church may have been the church that was burned. This would have been the two-story building that preceded the current building. The Marble Company provided a replacement for the destroyed building.

The story of Colonel Sam’s response to racial attacks is best described in Stephen Griffith’s Book (see accompanying article). Not only did Sam Tate decry the attacks, but he provided a way to protect the Black families of Tate.  In no uncertain terms he stood up to injustice.  The outcome was quite different than in other Georgia communities of the time that experienced racial unrest. The mob of Whitecappers from Dawson County never arrived and Tate continued to be a place where Black people could live and work.

No Black citizens were forced to leave Tate, moreover refugees from the violence in Cumming were taken in. Willie Mae Weaver recalled that several refugee families fled from Cumming to Tate. “They didn’t have relatives here, they were just getting away. They got jobs at the marble quarries and stayed. None of those families are left now, they have drifted away.” Roderick Moore of Jasper explained that his Aunt Lillie Mae and Uncle John Knox fled from Cumming and came to Jasper where they had family.

Racial Attacks Spread

The first third of the 20th Century in North Georgia were traumatic ones for Black citizens, punctuated by period of violence and Black displacement. Atlanta Constitution Dec. 8, 1915, Two More Blazes in Cherokee County Add to Reign of Fear, Canton, GA., – “Today’s fires bring the total number of conflagrations in Cherokee within the past three days to nine. Believing there is a campaign to drive them from the county, the Negroes of this section are in a panic and many have left for other communities.” In Cobb County, the Gainesville News reported on Oct. 16, 1912, that notices were posted reading “Hurry up Niggers and leve this town if you don’t leve you will wish you hadder got out.” At the end of December 1912, under a headline that read “Georgia In Terror Of Night Riders,” The New York Times reported that “an organized effort is being made to drive every negro out of North Georgia counties.”

Jasper and Ball Ground

There is an account of heroism that was told to me by Rev. Charles Walker during a visit at his home in 2009. Unfortunately, I failed to ask him the date of the events or how he knew the story. Rev. Walker related the story during a conversation about the events in Cumming in 1912, so I assumed the narrative dated from that time.

Since his passing I have tried with no success to locate someone who could corroborate the story. With this in mind I will share his story. If anyone has heard about the events from a source other than Rev. Walker or has any other information, please contact me via e-mail or phone.

Racial unrest spread from Forsyth County and became a problem in Canton and Ball Ground. Not only were Whitecappers harassing their local Black residents, but some wanted to “cleanse” adjacent communities of their Black population. A group of vigilantes and Klan members were organizing a night run to Jasper where they would run the towns Black residents attempt to intimidate.

Word of the plans reached Jasper and terrified local Black families. Jasper’s Black population was considerably smaller than that of Tate, consisting of only four or five families. Several of the families worked for or knew Mrs. Julia Roach Howell. She lived on Main Street next to today’s Pickens Progress offices. After she was widowed she lived in the house on Main Street alone for 45 years. To help her she employed several Black workers. After her death the Howell home was torn down and replaced by today’s parking lot.

Julia Howell is said to have chosen to shelter the frightened Black families in her home.  Moreover, she sent a message to the angry mob that was forming in Ball Ground. The message was simple, direct and firm. “If you want to harm our Black families you will have to come here and shoot me first.” You see, Mrs. Julia Howell was White and the vigilantes were not going to harm an elderly, prominent widow.

A second story about racially motivated harassment and violence dates to a later period, sometime in the 1930s, and was related to me by Coach Roy Cowart. Roy grew up in Ball Ground where his father ran a sawmill. His dad, Harold Cowart, was acquainted with, and a friend of, a sawmill worker by the name of Velpo Smith. Velpo had moved to Georgia from Alabama. The two families lived near each other on the road to Nelson in Cherokee County.  Problems started developing with threats by local rabble rousers that they would run all of the Black residents out of Ball Ground. Dynamiting homes was one of the planned acts of violence that Harold Cowart heard about. Concerned about Velpo, he went to him and advised that he move out of Ball Ground. In fact, shortly after the warning, Black homes were damaged by dynamite.

That advice was taken by Velpo Smith who quickly moved to Jasper. His name is familiar to many older residents here in Pickens County. Velpo was the “Go to” man for the Black community. If there were problems or news needing to be gotten out, Velpo would be contacted and he would get the word to Jasper’s Black residents and the Black leadership in Tate.

In Conclusion

Choices made by individuals and communities in Pickens County have shaped the character of the place. In Forsyth County, the Collins family met violence and hatred. At Tate they were able to lead a peaceful,  productive and respected life. Why? Because Colonel Sam Tate made a choice and his community stood by him.  Harold Cowart chose to warn Velpo Smith. In Jasper Velpo filled a leadership role as a well known and respected man. No community is without hatred or misdeeds. Even so, Pickens County residents can be proud of the choices made by those who lived here during difficult times.


U.S. Census Bureau, 1910.  Reports by States, With Statistics for Counties, Cities and Other Civil Divisions:  Alabama-Montana, Vol. II, Washington DC, 1913.

U.S. Census Bureau, 1920.  Composition and Characteristics of the Population by States, Vol. III, Washington DC, 1922.

James D. Williams, “The Long, Sad Road to Cumming, Georgia,” Crisis Magazine. March (1987): 12-21.

Robert S. Davis, The Story of the Georgia Marble Dynasty, Georgia Historical Quarterly, Fall 2005

Elliot Jaspin, Buried in Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America, Perseus Book Group, NY, 2009, Forsyth County, Chapter 7: 1912

Text from: The Many Facets of Tate by Stephen Griffeth, 1998, Wolfe Publishing, Pages 186-187

(Mr. Griffith has passed away, but I spoke to his sister.  She said he was a close friend of Col. Sam and that when Sam was an older man, Steve often visited with hours of conversation ensuing. So this would be an account given by Sam to Steve Griffeth.)

On one occasion, Dawson and Forsyth counties became very violent toward the black people. Several black people were lynched and their schools, churches and homes were burned. Soon you could not find a black person anywhere near these areas.

There were black people in Pickens County. In fact, many were employed by The Georgia Marble Company. There were signs posted on the premises of the company, stating that all blacks people must be gone within 24 hours. They did not leave, and many are still here today. They are still here because Colonel Sam said they could stay.

Colonel Sam called his workmen (1,030) together and showed them the signs that had been posted and then talked with them. He spoke very softly and said: “I want to say to you men that when the black people leave Pickens County, I will be going with them because they are law-abiding, humble, inoffensive and hard-working citizens of our community. The black people have done nothing to harm anyone and their lives and their freedom is as sacred to them as it is to the white person. They shall not be driven from their homes and their jobs. I want each white who is here to stand by me in protecting our friends. And if any of you agree with the mob, I want you to say so and prepare to leave Tate immediately. I expect you my friends, neighbors and workmen to keep your eyes an ears open and let me know what is going on.”

That afternoon, the citizens of Tate learned that the mob was organizing and expected to enter Pickens County through what is known as the “shut-in.” This is where Long Swamp Creek flows between two mountains which are very close together, located just above Nelson. “Give me a hundred pounds of dynamite and I’ll fill the pass of minced meat when they come,” said one man. He received the dynamite.

It was reported that the mob had sympathizers in Pickens County. But with two dozen military rifles and a hand-picked group of men, the citizens could not stop the uprising. The rifles arrived from Atlanta but neither the dynamite or rifles were used. Sam Tate’s word was enough. His word had been the law for about twenty years in his domain were about five thousand folk looked for help and guidance and his words were always quietly spoken. This is the story of a benevolent despot who showed the people he cared for them and would protect them.

Negroes Are Frightened, Atlanta Constitution, page 7, March 26, 1902

Lawlessness in Tate, Ga, Causes Citizen Uneasiness

Efforts to Stop Trouble

Oscar Bane Tells What Has Been Done to Suppress Whitecap Outbreak

The residents of Tate, Ga, Have been very much agitated of late over repeated acts of lawlessness that have been perpetrated on the Negroes of that community. Many good laborers have been driven away from the town and the marble companies have had trouble in holding others to there work. Oscar F. Bane president of the Georgia Marble Company was in Atlanta yesterday on business. Upon being asked by representative of The Constitution concerning the trouble and what steps were being taken to suppress it he said:

“We all deprecate the recent violence and will join Dr George B. Tate and Colonel Sam Tate in their effort to break up the gang of whitecappers that have lately been terrorizing the Negroes of our community. It is probable that an organized and determined effort will be put on foot shortly with the view of subduing the mob of mischief-makers.

“A few days ago a Negro church was burned in Tate, as was also the Negro school house, and when the novelty of public destruction had worn away the mob put dynamite under several Negro cabins and tried to blow them up. Many of the colored population in our section are very much alarmed and many are afraid to venture out after nightfall, many having recently been rocked by crowds of white men and boys

“Negroes employed in the rubbing beds and as truck men at the marble quarries have become so wrought up they threaten to leave the community. The Georgia Marble Company, Blue Ridge Marble Company, George B. Sickles & Co., the Marble Hill Quarry Company and the Southern Marble Company have been put to no little inconvenience on account of the paralysis that has struck their negro laborers, and are anxious to break up the gang of white cappers and put a stop to the outlawry. It is probable that a reward will be offered for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the recent violence. The sentiment of the better class of white people in Pickens County is opposed to the violence visited upon the Negroes.

“No reason can be ascribed for the acts of lawlessness except malicious mischief, as the negroes are in the main quiet, law-abiding citizens who lives peacefully in their homes and some of them have been working in there quarries for fifteen years. They in Atlanta doing work so that white men would form, so this does not account violence inflicted upon them.”

Black History in Pickens County Introduction


Black History in Pickens County

By Dr. Kathleen Thompson

This article is the first in a series devoted to the history of the Black residents of Pickens County.  Dr. Kathleen Thompson has completed extensive research including archives and library investigation, interviews of local residents, and searches of early newspapers.  This project has and continues to be made possible by the Pickens Arts and Cultural Alliance, and grants from the Georgia Humanities Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Grant Committee members include; Robert McClure, Justin Davis, Portia Goss, Lawton Baggs, and Willie Mae Weaver.


The total number and percentage of Black residents in Pickens County has varied from 4.6 percent during slavery to 8.2 percent during the Sam Tate years, and declining to 1.1 percent today.  Despite the small numbers, local African-Americans, past and present, have made significant contributions to the good of the community.  Many have achieved success here and in the places to which they journeyed.

As I have researched and interviewed I have come to realize that this story is about White residents as much as it is about Black residents.   When I began this project scholar Dr. Tom Scott, of Kennesaw State University, warned me that our research must be impartial.  I was instructed to keep an open mind and let the facts and conclusions fall where they may.  I have endeavored to do as he suggested.

In the last sixteen months of research, I have come to realize that the history  of race relations in Pickens County is one of tolerance and cooperation.   An unwillingness to resort to violence here in Pickens was often in contrast to the hatred and hostility of other communities. This heritage is truly worth understanding with pride.

What can you expect to read about in the dozen installments that will appear in the next few months?  The Civil War and slavery comprise the first period to be examined.  “Black Workers in the Marble Industry” covers a period from 1895 to the decline of the marble mining industry.  A significant story in that same period is the reaction of Colonel Sam Tate to vigilantes from nearby counties that wanted to harm Black families in Tate.  While school integration racked many states Pickens County’s two-year plan was accomplished with no violence and much new understanding for both races.

This research is not finished and even after the grant concludes this fall the grant committee will endeavor to continue the project. Any information readers have that they would be willing to share would be welcomed.



You many contact Dr. Thompson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. To learn more about Dr. Thompson and published history books go to

Black History in Pickens: Part I Slavery and the Civil War


Black History in Pickens: Part I

Slavery and the Civil War

By Dr. Kathleen Thompson

This article is the first in a series devoted to the history of the Black residents of Pickens County.  Dr. Kathleen Thompson has completed extensive research including archives and library investigation, interviews of local residents, and searches of early newspapers.  This project has and continues to be made possible by the Pickens Arts and Cultural Alliance, and grants from the Georgia Humanities Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Grant Committee members include; Robert McClure, Justin Davis, Portia Goss, Lawton Baggs, and Willie Mae Weaver.

Cherokee Owned Slaves and the 1860 Slave Schedule

The first Black residents of Pickens County were  slaves.  Today some Black people prefer not to use the term African-American.  “I’m an American and I’ve never been to Africa,” a local resident told me. Yet the first slaves did have a sense of being African.  Nelson resident Willie Mae Weaver explained that her great grandmother was taken at age seven from Africa to Dahlonega, Ga. and remembered aspects of village life which she shared with her children.

Using the ages of Black residents in later census records, their birthplace, and other records it appears that the area that is now Pickens County included slaves as far back as the 1830s.  Early inhabitant James Daniels, who built an impressive home, tavern and farm in the 1830s, owned slaves and had several slave cabins. According to Steve Griffith in his book The Many Facets of Tate, Georgia, “Daniel was of mixed Cherokee and White heritage and was the head of a family that included twelve Cherokee.  He owned and cultivated 300 acres of land with the help of 137 African-Americans.” It is a little known fact that wealthy Cherokee farmers owned slaves.  In fact many of their slaves accompanied them on the Trail of Tears.”   James Daniel‘s wife was a Cherokee, as was his mother.  His father was a White trader.

Effectively this means there were slaves in what is now Pickens County before the Cherokee were forced on the Trail of Tears and before the arrival of the majority of White settlers.  This may explain why all but three of the former slaves in 1860 were born in Georgia, not other states.

Luke Tate, in his book History of Pickens County, records that, “In 1839 a number of negro slaves were members of the Talking Rock Baptist Church and attended along with their owners.”  Given the customs of the day, they would have attended church in a balcony separated from the White families.

By the mid eighteen hundreds the Cherokee were gone and many settlers had arrived. Pickens County was created from parts of Cherokee and Gilmer Counties in 1853. The 1860 census established that the county’s population was 4,951 residents including adults and children, but not slaves who were counted separately.

In 1860 Pickens County residents included a total of 241 slave individuals who were owned by thirty-six local landowners.  They comprised a total of 4.6% of the county’s population.  Of these 29 were recorded as “mulatto” or mixed race (27 female and 2 male). By comparison Richmond County (Augusta, Georgia) had 7,812 slaves and 344 whites. In 1860 the state of Georgia was 25% Negro.

Of the thirty-six slave holders the majority had 8 or less slaves.  Those with more slave individuals included James Simmons (13), Andrew Blackwell (12), Thomas Murphy (14) and Hugh Briants (17).  By far the largest groups of slaves worked for Samuel Tate (31), and William Tate (25). Each of the Tate’s had five slave houses where their workers lived.  At this time, the marble industry had not developed so the slaves performed farm work.

Pickens, Slavery, and the Civil War

In 1860 the mountain counties of Georgia presented a special problem for Governor Brown and those who wanted to secede from the union.  With few slaves mountain farmers did not have the same incentives toward secession as the large slave holding counties. Pickens citizens elected two representatives to the 1861 Georgia Secession Convention in Milledgeville. Each was elected on a platform pledge to vote against secession.  One of these was James Simmons, owner of 13 slaves.  Upon arriving at the convention delegates from thirteen mountain counties, including Pickens County, wanted the vote given directly to the people but the measure was defeated. They believed that if there was a direct vote succession would fail. Despite opposition from the mountain counties, Georgia seceded January 19th of 1861.  While mountain representatives tried to prevent Georgia from withdrawing from the Union, in the end most, including Simmons, signed the final secession document.

Pickens County was divided with both Confederate and Union supporters.  The last United States flag to be flown in Georgia after Georgia seceded from the United States flew in Jasper.  For several weeks after secession the flag waved in defiance.  Other county’s officials encouraged Governor Brown to order state troops to forcibly take the flag down, but he refused.  Within a month the flag was removed by those who placed it aloft.

When Union troops entered the South many who had been opposed to seccession joined Confederate units.   In all, 1,427 men from Pickens fought for the Confederacy and 253 fought in the Union Army. Before the war was over a few even fought for both armies.  John Darnell was among those who flew the Union flag at the beginning of the war. In 1862, he was in the Pickens County Militia of the 107th Georgia Militia and later the 9th Georgia Cavalry, both Confederate units. But by 1864, he enlisted in the 5th Tennessee U.S. Mounted Infantry, fighting for the Union.

The 1870 and 1880 Census, Where have all the Former Slaves Gone?

In 1860 slaves were counted not in the census but in a separate “schedule,” reflecting their status as property.  Five years after the Civil War under Reconstruction colored individuals were counted on the United States Census.

Between 1860 and 1870 forty-six percent (112) of the former slaves left Pickens County.  Where they went and why is difficult to know.  Those who stayed continued as farm workers, often for their former owners. Others worked as domestic help in homes of White residents.  While they were no longer owned, their economic status showed little improvement.  The Black population in Pickens did grow in the future, but at this time many free colored families chose to leave.

While many families moved away those who stayed were recorded on the 1870 census.  Some kept the name of their slave owners.  Samuel and Amanda Tate, ages 32 and 30, and their seven children, ages 1 to 12, farmed on land worth one hundred dollars.  Hannah Tate, age 50 was listed as “farm labor.”   Her daughter Nancy, age 25, resided with her as did Nancy’s three children.  Hannah and Nancy owned no land

George Griffith was likely once owned by his neighbor Caleb Griffith.  George and his wife Emeline, and their seven children lived and worked on a farm valued at one hundred dollars.

Other names of Black residents in 1870 included Webb, Nalley, Murphy, Jefferson, Freld, Thompson, Tomelley and Sandvalley.  Because census records were written in sometimes illegible script the last two names are my best guess.  Enumerators were often forced to list information in impossibly small spaces with a quill pen and a bottle of ink.  Read today on microfilm one can see blots, water splotches, and dirt smudges.  Riding on a horse or mule from farm to farm was not an easy task for those employed to record the countries population.

Occupations of former slaves included farming their own land, farm labor on the property of others, and domestic servant.  Willie Webb, age 17, was a “farm laborer” as was James Field of the same age.  Lowery Murphy looked after the children of farmer James Hollins.  The children were ages 1, 5, and 8.

The decade after the Civil War was difficult even in areas not ravaged by large battles or Sherman’s March.  There were shortages of materials, neglected roads, injured soldiers returning home, and families whose men did not return. But Black residents together with their White neighbors would rebuild a more equitable place, a good place to call home.


The Many Facets of Tate, Georgia, Stephen E. Griffeth, 1998

History of Pickens County, Luke Tate, 1935

Wolfscratch Wilderness, Charlene Terrell, 1994

Next installment: Black Workers in the Marble Industry

You many contact Dr. Thompson at 706 633 3865 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. To learn more about Dr. Thompson and published history books go to

Black History in Pickens: Part II Workers at the Georgia Marble Company and Jasper


Black History in Pickens: Part II

Workers at the Georgia Marble Company and Jasper

By Dr. Kathleen Thompson

[This article is the second in a series devoted to the history of the Black residents of Pickens County. Dr. Kathleen Thompson has completed extensive research including; archives and library investigation, interviews of local residents, and searches of early newspapers. This project has and continues to be made possible by the Pickens Arts and Cultural Alliance, and grants from the Georgia Humanities Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.]

A year after the arrival of the railroad in Tate and Jasper, the Georgia Marble Company was chartered in 1884. A 1902 account in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper records that Blacks had been employed in the marble industry for 15 years.             That would mean that the first Black employees were hired in 1887, before Colonel Sam gained control of the Company in 1905.

The article also refers to the Black workforce as holding jobs as “workers in the rubbing beds and as truck men.”

Old photos, preserved on a state run website called Vanishing Georgia, document the type of work of Black employees provided. Captions and notes clarify work seen in the photographs.  A picture taken in 1890 of the entire workforce of the Blue Ridge Marble Company in Nelson clearly shows Black workers.

Three photos, shot in the 1930s of quarry workers in Tate and Marble Hill, confirms Black work crews doing tasks such as “attaching cable to a marble block to be lifted out the quarry.”  Teams of mules and men are seen in another photo and include a Black employee.  These teams “transferred marble from the stock yard to the plant and back.”

Beginning in 1906 Willie Sanford Green (father of Willie Mae Weaver) worked at the quarry.  One of his duties was to check on Sunday afternoon to make sure that the pumps were properly removing ground water.  One day Willie arrived at the work site and found that the creek had flooded, swamping the pumps and filling the quarry.  He had started the sirens in order to get help from other employees. The sirens always signaled an emergency such as a home fire, accident at the company, or other serious problems.

By the 1930s Colonel Sam Tate had developed the Georgia Marble Company to a size that required 1,030 workers.  It is estimated that 15 percent of that work force was Black. That would be around 160 workers, most of whom lived nearby with their families.

The Black population of Pickens County in 1930 included 426 Negro males counted on the census.

As an employee of the Marble Company family men were provided housing.

In fact one was not allowed to buy land and build one’s own home if you worked for Colonel Sam Tate. According to Steve Griffith, Sam Tate believed, “If he owned the land, he had the power to remove someone he considered undesirable at any time.”

In addition to family housing, single Black men could stay at a boarding house for colored workers that was provided by the Georgia Marble Company.

It was located in the Lower Whippowill section, near the creek and quarries. According to Nelson resident Willie Mae Weaver, many of the Black men were from Dahlonega. They would walk home to their families in Lumpkin County on Friday and walk back to the Tate boarding house Sunday afternoon.

When Colonel Sam Tate took over the marble company in 1905 he began recruiting Black workers from other areas of Georgia.

The first employees came from Lumpkin County. Willie Mae Weaver’s father, Willie Sanford Weaver, walked to Tate to become a quarry worker around 1906. She explained that in rural Lumpkin County the only choice was to work at farming.

In Tate the pay was better and one could get company housing for their families. Willie Green met Kittie Mae Roach, married her, and moved from the workers boarding house to a home in Upper Whippowill.

Additionally Black workers from the areas around Sandersville, Georgia came to Tate to toil with marble and to Jasper to work in the sawmill industry.  They heard of employment opportunities from relatives and friends who had already moved to Pickens County.

Roderick Moore’s father moved to Jasper because an uncle had already relocated and got a position at a sawmill.  One of the reasons for this migration was the lack of industry and jobs in rural South Georgia

At the pink marble mansion Colonel Sam, his sister, and brother Luke were attended to by several Black employees. An ex slave, Jeff Strickland, was Colonel Sam’s first valet and lived in servant’s quarters in the basement of the house.

Three Black families lived near the mansion in company homes build on orders from Colonel Sam. Just outside the gate of the Tate House one can locate what was once a residence. It has recently been expanded for use as part of events held at the house.

This was the home of the Roach family. James Roach was the chef at the Tate Mansion.  He and his wife Dora raised their children in this home including; James (Chester), Mary Lois, Grady, Preston, and Truman. Son Preston Roach (Sr.) worked for Steve Tate until Steve’s death in 1958. Preston worked managing the Tate property at Lake Sconti (Today’s Big Canoe). Brother Truman Roach also worked for the Georgia Marble Company.

While the home no longer exists, just up the road from the mansion toward Smokey Hollow, on the left, was the residence of Temp Echols and his wife Mattie Frances.  Temp was Colonel Sam’s chauffer and Mattie was a school teacher.

The Collins family lived in a company house on the opposite of the road from the Echols family. George Collins was a brick and stone mason and carpenter for Sam Tate and was foreman of the crew that built the mansion.

His wife Katherine worked at the Tate House as housekeeper taking care of Sam, Miss Flora, and brother.

When George’s health precluded stone work, Colonel Sam had a store constructed in Smokey Hollow for George to run. The “Stand” was a landmark in the community for years (More about the Stand in a later installment.)

African-American citizens have worked in Pickens County for as far back as the 1830s, when they were slaves to Cherokee landowner James Daniels.  In the marble industry Black workers were so valued that Colonel Sam Tate sought out company employees in South Georgia and other locations.  The Tate family had a group of loyal employees that lived near the mansion.

In Jasper Black workers worked in the sawmill industry, at the Roper Hospital, in local homes, and other businesses.  While the numbers and percentages of Black residents was and still is small, they have been and are a valuable part of the community.


Next installments: The Historic Black Communities in Tate Jasper’s Black residents & Community