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100 Years Celebration

52 Weeks of Celebration

Week 23 – MUSIC – Georgia Sea Island Singers

"The old ones (songs) make you feel good, the new ones don’t make you feel anything.’ (Ben Davis to Lydia Parrish) Bessie Jones was born in southwest Georgia. She arrived on St. Simons Island with her baby and husband Cassius Davis, nephew of Spiritual Singer Big John Davis. Although mainlanders, her family had always been singers and Bessie, close to her four grandparents, had learned storytelling, games, plays, and “the old ways” from her elders especially her grandfather Jet Sampson who was enslaved in Africa and brought to Western Hemisphere in 1843 with his five brothers. Sampson died in 1941 at the age of 105. Thanks to her “buoyant personality, extensive repertoire, and experienced singing style,” her husband’s family inv…

Week 22 – MUSIC – Spiritual Singers: The Soundtrack of the Islands

The rhythms came with the slaves from Africa and the Caribbean. The tunes were nurtured by sweat in the rice fields and cotton fields. The cadences were counted at the mills and docks and with each sweep of the oars on the rivers and each stoke of the washtubs. Children clapped their plays in the yards of their segregated schoolhouses. Fathers and mothers sang hymns in wooden churches and offered prayers to God from the porches of the homes built by their freed parents. The Families were singing mostly for themselves and for those in their community. They did not sing for performances. Nor for the public. And definitely not for >white folks. Until a Quaker lady from up North asked them to. One hundred years ago Lydia Parrish, a Quak…

Music: Introduction

This month we listen to the musical heritage of the islands and to Brunswick. First, the Spiritual Singers who knew the old songs and helped a Quaker lady from up north preserve them. Next we honor Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers whose voices rallied youth during the civil rights movement and whose songs are saved at the Library of Congress. During Week three we swing to recall the African American musical greats who performed here along the Chitlin Circuit. Finally we shout out to the Risley High School marching band, the hometown talent who drew a crowd at every parade or special event, and who are remembered that on the football field, they “did some hell of a half time show.”

Week 21 – MILITARY SERVICE – Always a Team

Always a Team In 1967 AIC Maurice T. Wilson, Jr.  told his CO that he planned to get married. He was denied permission with a typical military response, “If the service wanted you married, they would have issued you a spouse.”  57 years later Stella and Maurice T. Wilson, Jr. are still a team. When a man enlists or joins the military so does his spouse and family. But whether living thousands of miles apart, or together on six different bases, “The spouse is the backbone,” Wilson stated. Maurice grew up on SSI, Route 4, Box 325 North Harrington Road and attended the Harrington School. He enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school in 1964 and retired as a Master Sergeant, as he put it, “23 years,11 months, 7 days. I stayed to serv…

Week 20 – MILITARY SERVICE – Son of a Preacher

We can’t thank you enough for your service to our country. Your commitment to our freedom and safety deserves thanks. It takes a special person to serve like you did. Son of A Preacher James H. Scott, Jr.  grew up in the Harrington community and attended Harrington School. When Glynn County consolidated schools and closed the Harrington School, his father Reverend Scott drove the children to school in Brunswick. Four Scott brothers – Samuel, Charlton, Robbie and Jim — enlisted in the Air Force. Jim enlisted in the Air Force in 1961 and retired in 1996 after having attained the rank of Colonel in Command of the Defense Commissaries Agency responsible for 45 DOD (Dept of Defense) Commissaries from North Dakota to Texas. Colonel Scott …

Week 19 – MILITARY SERVICE – Truck Driver Hero

To be heroic is to be Courageous enough to die for something, to be inspirational is to be crazy enough to live a little. Truck Driver Hero James A. Lotson, Jr. grew up on St. Simons Island. He did all the usual things boys did on an island including riding his bike and babysitting his little sister. “’Sonny’ pushed me in my stroller to the field.” recalled his sister Amy Lotson Roberts, “I was supposed to cry if someone was coming while he and the other boys snatched watermelons from a nearby field.” Like many youth, Lotson thought about when he would leave the island. He lived in South End but attended Harrington School like his younger sister Amy. In August 1954 James was drafted into the Army.  Finally he could be off the island an…

Week 18 – MILITARY SERVICE – Fighting For Freedom

Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia November 1775 I do require every person capable of bearing arms to report to his Majesty’s STANDARD, or be looked upon as traitors …And I do herby further declare all indented servants, Negroes, or others (pertaining to rebels) free, that are able and willing to bear arms, they joining his Majesty’s troops, as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing this colony to a proper sense of their duty, to his Majesty’s crown and dignity.   Royal Admiral Alexander Cochrane, April 2, 1814 That all those who may be disposed to emigrate from the United States will, with their Families, be received on board of His Majesty’s Ships or Vessels of War, or at the Military Posts that may be established,…

Week 17 – MILITARY SERVICE – Introduction

May is Military Appreciation Month Let us respect every soldier, from every country who serves beside us in the hard work of history. America is grateful, and America will never forget. African Americans took up arms for their freedom in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Later, they entered the military by draft or by enlisting as a way off the small island and a way to see the world. Some served only a few months. Others chose the military as a long career that provided a paycheck, benefits, health insurance, and housing, Their career supported their families and served their country. And wherever they were stationed around the globe they always kept in touch with their island families. This month our artic…

Week 16 – CULTURE – Robert Sengstacke Abbott and the Chicago Defender

Robert Sengstacke Abbott was born on November 28. 1868, to parents Flora Butler and Thomas Abbott. Both of Robert Abbott’s parents had formerly been enslaved on St. Simons Island, where their son was born, and Thomas Abbott died there when Robert was only four months old. Flora and her infant son soon moved to Savannah, and when Robert was six years old, Flora married John Hermann Henry Sengstacke, whose family name Robert adopted as his own middle name. Throughout Robert’s childhood, his mother and stepfather instilled values of hard work and ingenuity. John Sengstacke undertook many ventures. He was a Congregationalist minister, a schoolteacher and advocate for the education of African American children, and the publisher of at least …

Week 15 – CULTURE – Willis Proctor, Entrepreneur, Preserves Musical Legacy

Long-time residents of St. Simons Island will remember that the stretch of road linking the north end of Mallery Street with Demere Road was once known as Proctor Lane. When that lane became part of Mallery Street, we lost an important reference to one of the island’s most prominent African American families. Proctor Lane was at the heart of the South End neighborhood, a community established after the Civil War by former enslaved workers from nearby cotton plantations. Willis Proctor, in particular, was well known on St. Simons Island. For many years, he operated an emporium in South End. Previously, he had managed the dining room at the Arnold House Hotel (once located in the vicinity of the present day King and Prince Beach &…

Week 14 – CULTURE – Entertainer Ethel Waters on St. Simons

Born in Pennsylvania in 1896, Ethel Waters overcame poverty and discrimination to achieve many firsts for African American women, including first to sing on the radio, first to star in her own television show, and first to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. After touring in vaudeville shows, Waters made her Broadway debut in 1927 and acted in her first film in 1929. She appeared at New York City’s Cotton Club with Duke Ellington in the 1930s and recorded with both Ellington and Benny Goodman. In 1939, she starred in Dorothy and Dubose Heyward’s acclaimed play Mamba’s Daughters, her first dramatic role. In 1949, Waters’s role in the film Pinky earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. For her performance i…

Week 13 – CULTURE – The Weave of History: From Africa to Harrington

Basketry is one of the oldest crafts of African origin in America. Enslaved workers, brought from Africa’s West Coast to cultivate rice and Sea Island cotton, preserved native traditions within their plantation communities. The descendants of these Africans, known as the Gullah in South Carolina and the Geechee in Georgia, continued practicing ancestral crafts such as basket making. The woven forms were originally made forpractical purposes: winnowing rice, carrying clothing, cradling infants, and storing and sorting foods. Practical designs were later altered to reflect European influences and increase their marketability. Charles Wilson, who lived in the Harrington Community on St. Simons Island, was well known for his basket making s…

Week 12 – SPORTS – Selden Park

Brunswick’s Selden Park began its story in 1903 as the site of Selden Institute, a school that provided African American students with teacher training and courses in trades like agriculture, carpentry, cooking, nursing, printing, and stenography. The school flourished until 1933, when it merged with a similar school, the Gillespie Institute, and moved to Cordele, Georgia. After World War II, the site of Selden Institute became a public park that, during segregation, was an important community gathering place. At a time when Glynn County’s public parks and the islands’ beaches did not allow African Americans, Selden Park provided a variety of outdoor and indoor sporting opportunities. Under the leadership of Genoa Martin, who served as p…

Week 11 – SPORTS – Risley High School Sports

Brunswick’s Risley High School was known both for its academic and athletic successes. The school that would become Risley opened in 1870 as the Freedmen’s School, Brunswick’s first public school for African Americans. New buildings for an updated Risley High School were constructed on the same site in 1936 and 1955. Generations of African Americans in Brunswick and on the islands attended Risley High School, and many remembered anticipating their high school experience from childhood. One such Risley student, Clyde Williams, grew up in Brunswick with a strong mind for sports from an early age. He remembers that a coach at Glynn Academy would save used footballs and basketballs for him, but that he had to visit a local service station to…

Week 10 – SPORTS – Jim Brown

Born on St. Simons Island on February 17, 1936, Jim Brown would go on to be widely regarded as one of the best professional football players of all time. Brown was a descendent of Tom Floyd, a survivor of the Wanderer, the second-to-last known illegal slave trading ship to land on United States shores. After the Wanderer’s landing in 1857, Tom Floyd became a noted local medicine man and built a home on St. Simons. Jim Brown lived on St. Simons only until the age of nine, when he and his mother moved to New York. He went on to play football for Syracuse University from 1954 to 1956 and for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1965. Still, he carried memories of his childhood in the South End community with him throughout his life and certain…

Week 9 – SPORTS – Tiger Flowers

From Brunswick to Boxing’s Best On February 26, 1926, a former resident of Brunswick became the first African American to win the world middleweight boxing championship. Theodore “Tiger” Flowers was born in Camilla, Georgia in the mid-1890s, but moved to Brunswick as an infant. He attended Risley School and had a number of jobs, including dockworker, before pursuing professional boxing. After working with a local boxing promoter, Flowers attracted the attention of Atlanta manager Walk Miller. Miller is thought to have arranged Flowers’s first official fight, which he won in Brunswick in 1918. By 1920, Flowers had moved to Atlanta for serious training under Miller. Over the next six years, he crisscrossed the United States as he ascended …

Week 8 – COMMUNITIES – Mutual Aid Societies

Mutual Aid Societies within the African American community provided emergency support to fellow residents. For a small donation, or deposit, a mutual aid society allowed residents to pool resources to care for widows and children, to serve as a credit union when banks would not serve Blacks, and even to post bail for jail, fight eviction, and buy land. Most recently, societies such as the Sandfly Betterment Association, Harris Neck Land Trust, and St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition work to help their community. HARRIS NECK, McIntosh County In 1873 members of Harris Neck’s Gullah community purchased lots on old Peru Plantation in McIntosh County. Residents lived off the land and waterways and preserved traces of their native…

Week 7 – COMMUNITIES – For Work

Some communities were created for workers in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Jewtown “Quite a flourishing village” developed around the Dodge Meigs and Hilton Dodge Lumber Mills on Gascoigne Bluff in 1874. In addition to buildings for mill operations, St. Simons Mills had “a neat church, schoolhouse, post office and store.” The cutting capacity of the Big Mill and the Cypress Mill was about 125,000 feet per day. 150 hands were employed and about 300 lived at the village. When two Jewish brothers Levisons opened a general store in the community near “the negro homes” and “colored church” along Demere Road, the neighborhood was nicknamed “Jewtown.” Dixville On the mainland in Brunswick Dixville was established in 1875 as …

Week 6 – COMMUNITIES – Family and Land

Jan. 12, 1865: “The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn it and till it by our own labor…. We want to be placed on land until we are able to buy it and make it our own. “ MINUTES OF AN INTERVIEW BETWEEN THE COLORED MINISTERS AND CHURCH OFFICERS AT SAVANNAH WITH THE SECRETARY OF WAR AND MAJOR-GEN. SHERMAN. HEADQUARTERS OF MAJ.-GEN. SHERMAN, Savannah, GA Census and purchase records from the 1870s and 1880s confirm that former slaves and their descendants purchased land on or near their former plantations. In Harrington, the largest African American community on St. Simons Island, they worked as farmers, fishermen, laundresses, carpenters, …

Week 5 – COMMUNITIES – Introduction

African American communities in coastal Georgia were settled for land, labor, and legacy. St. Simons Island’s Harrington and South End were settled by families descended from those enslaved on the Couper, Butler, Retreat, and Gould plantations. Harris Neck and Hogg Hammock likewise began with freedmen from nearby plantations. Jewtown on St. Simons Island, Dixville, and ARCO on Brunswick were built for workers at nearby factories, mills, or docks. The community consisted of related families, a church, a small grocery, a barber shop, a school, a juke joint, a café, maybe a gas station. An African American community was the basis of the proverbial “It takes a village to raise a child” often illustrated when your mama and daddy knew what you…

Week 4 – FOOD – Restaurants

In the 1980s and 1990s if you had business guests or family members visiting St. Simons Island or Sea Island in the 1960s you took them to Alfonza’s Olde Plantation Supper Club in Harrington. If you were an African-American traveling down the Dixie Highway to a gig in Miami and found yourself playing at one of the South End juke joints on St. Simons Island, you joined South End community at Hazel’s Café for the weekend low country boil. Olde Plantation Supper Club Alfonza Ramsey worked at Don Gentile’s Bennie’ Red Barn with other Harrington residents. They wore white jackets and recited the menu. In 1979 Alfonza opened his own restaurant on Harrington Lane, just a half mile from Bennie’s and deep in the African-American community where h…

Week 3 – FOOD – Recipes

Southern cooks are known for not using written recipes, opting for “a smidge of this and a good bit of that.” In the Georgia Sea Island kitchens it was the same. Recipes were rarely written down: they were kept alive in an oral tradition of watching and asking the cook. Sometimes a cook might omit a step to preserve his or her reputation. The reputation of coastal African American cooks may be traced back to Cupidon (chef to Marquis de Montalet on Sapelo) and his protégé Sans Fox (chef for the Coupers at Cannon’s Point on St. Simons Island) in the 18 th century. Sans Foix’s technique for deboning a whole turkey was a never-told secret. The St. Simons African-American Heritage Coalition’s annual festival “A Taste of Gullah” brings to gue…

Week 2 – FOOD – Grow, Fish or Hunt

WEEK 2 “When I was growing up in Georgia I guess we were supposed to be poor…but we weren’t poor. We had all the crab and fish and vegetables that we could eat.” NFL great and St. Simons Island native Jim Brown In the Gullah Geechee communities of coastal Georgia accessibility to food sources offered healthy meals year-round. From the years of freedom through civil rights (1865-1965) most African American homes had vegetable gardens or small farm plots with rice, corn, peas, and greens. Apple, orange, or fig trees grew along the clapboard homes. Muscadines trailed in a nearby arbor. Chickens scattered around the swept yards, and pigs and a cow or goat stood in household pen. Residents harvested seafood and freshwater fish, oysters, shell…