Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Back to Albany and beyond - Memorable Encounters

Throughout our journey around western Georgia, the Good Girls ran across fascinating stories about remarkable people. Here are a few we won’t forget.

Miss Rutha sang for us in the church where her singing career began.

Miss Rutha Harris: Freedom Singer founder

History lives in Miss Rutha’s voice. It soars, pure in tone, strong as espresso, flavored in turn with pain, sorrow, hope, belief, determination, exultation, gratitude and glory. It defies listeners to ignore the chills down their backs.

Albany Civil Rights Institute.
There’s a lot of history to tell as we learned when we met her at the Albany Civil Rights Institute. We had toured the small but complete story of the Albany civil rights movement when Miss Rutha arrived.

She lives in the house where she grew up, daughter of a teacher and a Baptist minister who shielded her from the ugliness between the races. She had just returned home after her freshman year at Florida A & M University when stopped on the street by a man who asked did she want to help end segregation. Miss Rutha asked what that was.

She soon found out and joined the effort to gain voting rights, teaching a man in his 90s to write so he could sign his name when he registered, turning the family home into a “freedom house” where Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee workers stayed. When the Albany movement began in 1961, fewer than 100 of the city’s 20,000 black residents were registered to vote.

Miss Rutha was never beaten but she was jailed three times in Albany.

Reference point: Barack Obama was in diapers when Miss Rutha was in that jail which was, according to Martin Luther King Jr., the worst he’d ever been in.

Miss Rutha never returned to Florida A&M but used her voice training as a founding member of the Freedom Singers quartet at age 21, entertaining crowds during large meetings in Albany.

Folk singer Pete Seeger suggested they could raise more money and awareness for the movement by singing around the country. “ Toshi Seeger, Pete’s wife, organized our first tour,” said Miss Rutha.

Travel they did. Over a nine-month period, the Freedom Singers visited 48 states, putting 50,000+ miles on their vehicle and performing at the 1963 March on Washington. One of those stops was at the Newport Folk Festival, in Newport, R. I., a night I’ll never forget.

She returned to Albany in 1967, finished her education and taught special education. In 2010 she sang in the White House, one of many engagements at major venues across the country. You can spot her in the film The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington; she’s in the second row of the choir.

Now 72, she’s hardly taking it easy, still singing around the country and at home with her own Freedom Singers. The group of eight performs in her father’s Mount Zion Church, now part of the Albany Civil Rights Institute, 1-3 p.m., every second Saturday.

“The Lord, He blessed me with a voice and I used it.”


                                                                                  -- JW

Horace King

We frequently came across the skills of Horace King, the most respected bridge builder in Georgia, Alabama and northeast Mississippi of the 19th century.

Born a slave in South Carolina on Sept. 8, 1807, his father was a mulatto, his mother half Catawba Indian, half black. When their owner died in 1829, mother and son became the property of South Carolina bridge contractor and house builder John Godwin.  

In 1832 Godwin moved to what is now known as Phenix City, Alabama, across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, GA, to build first public bridge connecting Georgia and Alabama. It was 900 feet long and covered earning master and slave reputations as master bridge builders and engineers.

It was King’s first project and it is probable that Godwin made the contacts and won the bid while King planned the construction and directed the slaves who built it. This was a pattern the two followed, working more as partners than master and slave. However, whenever King asked to buy his freedom, Godwin refused, saying he couldn’t afford to lose him.

In the early 1840s King designed and supervised construction of bridges at Wetumpka, AL, and Columbus, GA, on his own. Finally in 1859, beset by creditors and afraid they would end up owning King, Godwin petitioned the Alabama General Assembly for King’s release from slavery. On Feb. 3, 1846, Horace King became a free man.

In 1858, King was hired by Albany, GA, founder Colonel Nelson Tift to build a covered bridge across the Flint River as well as a Bridge House to serve as a gateway to his new town.

Both were completed that year ahead of schedule, perhaps because of a disagreement over a bridge near Milledgeville. He had cut the timbers for a bridge across the Oconee River  when a disagreement over terms occurred and when no resolution was found, King shipped the timbers by rail to Albany, becoming perhaps the first builder in the South to prefabricate a major structure.

Welcome Center, Albany, GA.
The bridge was later destroyed by flood but the Bridge House still stands, now serving as the Visitor Center for Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau.

When his former master died in poverty in 1859, King paid for his burial and for a $600 Masonic monument to be erected that read,

John Godwin
Born Oct. 17, 1798. Died Feb. 26, 1859.
This stone was placed here by Horace King,
in lasting remembrance of the love and gratitude
he felt for his lost friend and former master.

Moreover, King supported Godwin’s family, educated the children and tried to keep his former master’s business afloat. Godwin’s son served as an artillery captain in the Confederate army.

King’s own children, four sons and a daughter, all joined him in the business which became known as the King Brothers Bridge Company.

In 1872 the family moved to LaGrange where King and his sons built bridges, stores, houses and college buildings until his death May 28, 1885. King is buried in LaGrange and it was said that when his body was carried through the town “the men – and the ladies too – came out of the shops and stores and stood with their arms folded over their hearts.”

His five children continued his work building bridges and various other structures in LaGrange, Atlanta and east Alabama.

In 2004 the Horace King Overlook, a deck attached to the historic Bridge House at RiverFront Park in Albany, was dedicated in King’s honor.
                                                                                          - JW

Julia Compton Moore

We encountered this U. S. Army daughter, wife and mother on the walls of the Infantry Museum in Columbus, GA, married to Lt. Col. Hal Moore

In November 1965, some 450 men of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, commanded by her husband, Lt. Hal Moore, dropped by helicopter into la Drang Valley where they were surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. The days that ensued were the first major ground involvement of U. S. forces in that war.

Overwhelmed by death notices, the Army sent them via Western Union telegrams that were then given to taxi drivers to deliver to survivors.

When one came to Mrs. Moore’s house where she lived with their five small children, it took her a long time to open the door. The driver had the wrong house, apologized and asked for directions. Mrs. Moore followed that taxi and others to bring what comfort she could to other wives and their children.

Then she got mad and addressed her concerns to the Pentagon about the heartless practice. Within two weeks of her prodding, the Army established a new policy: from then on, an officer and a chaplain would personally deliver the notices.

Mrs. Moore continued to visit the small houses and trailer homes around Columbus, GA, to offer sympathy and support to the new widows.

It was the first step in what became a new effort on behalf of the Army to support its soldiers’ families. Mrs. Moore’s continuing work helped in establishing the Army Community Services organization.

Mrs. Moore died at age 75, April 18, 2004. She is buried near her parents at Fort Benning, Ga, just outside Columbus.

In 2005, Ben Franklin Global Forum established the Julia Compton Moore Award given annually to recognize the civilian spouse of a soldier for outstanding contributions to the U. S. Army.

Never underestimate the power of one woman.
                                                                              -- JW 

John Wisdom: The Paul Revere of the South

John H. Wisdom

John H. Wisdom is known as the Paul Revere of the South because of a famous ride he took on horseback. His ride covered 76 miles and wore out five horses and one mule, compared to Revere's nine-mile ride. He rode through dark, hilly country for 11 hours to save Rome, Georgia, the town of his birth where his mother still lived, from destruction during the Civil War ... at least for a short period of time.

According to

He [Wisdom, a mail carrier] left Gadsden at 3:30 in the afternoon by buggy and after 22 miles at Gnatville his horse was completely exhausted. A widow Hanks at that place owned the only horse- a lame pony- which she loaned to Wisdom. The pony only lasted five miles until he came to Goshen. Here he was able to get a fresh and stronger horse which carried him to Spring Garden where he was able to get two horses. At a point about one mile south of Cave Spring, Georgia, his mount was exhausted and darkness had come.
Farmers were reluctant to loan their animals nevertheless he walked on and even used a mule for several miles until he was able to get two good mounts in Vann's Valley in succession and raced into Rome after midnight.
Rome’s citizens were quick to act once they were alerted.
The covered wooden bridge over which the Union troops would be forced to move was barricaded with bales of cotton and the bridge floor covered waist deep with hay soaked in oil which was to be set afire in the event the invaders could not be stopped by other measures.
The engineers of the Rome Railroad made trips into the countryside warning the people and bringing the planters who responded to the call to arms. They brought their squirrel rifles, muskets, and muzzle loading shotguns.

Wisdom received $400 and a silver service for his basically unknown ride. Somehow that seems fitting as Paul Revere was a silversmith! 

Who's the Hero?

            Paul Revere                                            John H. Wisdom

Date:                   April 19, 1776                                May 2, 1863
War:                    Revolutionary                                Civil
Started:              Charleston, Mass.                         Gadsden, Ala.
Destination:       Lexington, Mass.                           Rome, Ga.
Distance:           9 miles                                           67 miles 
Time:                  2 hours, 15 minutes                      11 hours (8 1/2 riding)
MPH:                   4                                                   8
Travel ed by:      Horseback                                    Buggy, horseback
Objective:          Save Lexington and Concord        Save Rome, Ga.
Start of ride:      11:45 p.m.                                      3:30 p.m.
End of ride:        2 a.m.                                            2:30 a.m.
Horses used:     1                                                    5 (one mule)
Road condition: Fair                                               Rough
Riding by dark:  2 hours, 15 minutes                      7 hours 
Riding by light:  None                                             4 hours
Country:             Undulating                                     Hilly

                                                                                  -- DL

Rosalind Gammon:  The Woman Who Saved College Football

 College football is hugely popular  in the South and it's hard for some to imagine life without the game. But, back in 1896, a boy named Von Gammon from Rome, GA,  played for University of Georgia.  He had been quarterback in 1896, but was moved to the fullback position. On October 30th, in a game against the University of Virginia, he suffered a severe head injury and died the next day.

Von Gammon
That day, a move began in the state that would make football illegal. The Georgia Legislature was called into session and passed a bill to put an end to the game.  However, Rosalind Gammon, Von's mother, was upset that a game so loved by her son was being abolished in his name.  She sent an impassioned letter for the Governor asking him to veto the bill.  She signed the letter "Von Gammon's Mother."

The bill was vetoed and a bronze plaque was dedicated to her at the University  as "the Woman Who Saved Football in Georgia,"  but there seems to be no photograph of her.

Sadly, three years later, her other son, Will, died following a baseball game when he lost his balance and fell beneath a train. 
                                                -- DL

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