Tuesday, May 26, 2009


The Lonnie Woodum Story

Fifty five years is a long time. But Bob Evans hasn't forgotten his best friend. He can't. Hardly a day goes by that Bob doesn't remember the good times in the Brooklyn neighborhood and at Washington Street School. Those places are all but gone now, but Evans still remembers the days when 'Jiggs" Woodum was a young boy, free of all care, running like the wind, with his whole life in front of him. Little did either of the young men realize that Jigg's life would soon end in the second worst non battle naval disaster in American history.

Lonnie Gene "Jiggs" Woodum was born to his biological mother, Miss Mary Thomas. Miss Mary was a well-built attractive woman with a beautiful bronze complexion," Evans remembered. Mrs. Gussie Woodum raised Lonnie as her own son and gave him her name. Evans recalled that Mrs. Woodum was a strong mother figure to the boys and girls in the neighborhood. Mrs. Gussie, when she wasn't working in her restaurant on South Jefferson Street next to the Express Office, kept the neighborhood kids in line. "Often he and I would fight," Bob remembered, "and she would let us," Evans said. Bob usually came out on the short end of the stick after the pugilistic playing was over.

Just how Lonnie came to be known as "Jiggs," is unknown even to his best friend Bob. It could have come from the comic book strip, Maggie & Jiggs, or maybe it was just one of those names that kids make up. The nickname stuck and Jiggs quickly became a legend around Washington Street School and in Brooklyn, the name for a neighborhood bounded on the west by South Jefferson Street and Rowe Street and Belfry and Gray streets on the east. He was strong and fast. He could outrun any kid in Brooklyn.

The inseparable Jiggs and Bob played with their close buddies Curtis Kinsey, Douglas Williams, and Ernest Smith, all of whom were separated by five months in age. They played basketball together when they could find a goal. They played football together, except for Curtis and Douglas who played for Washington Street School, the forerunner of Oconee High School.

As Jiggs began to grow, Evans noticed that Jiggs was a fully developed with sprinters' legs, a small waistline, and large muscular thighs which went along with his strong upper body frame. "Jiggs was born with speed," Bob recalled. His coaches noticed. And, Jiggs was invited to join the football team at Washington Street in 1950. Although he was only a second-string halfback, the young Jiggs often played with the junior and senior starters. Not only a talented football player, Jiggs possessed a powerful pitching arm to compliment his blazing speed on the baseball diamond. Evans, the Oconee High School Historian, rates Woodum as one the three fastest athletes in the history of both Washington Street and Oconee High Schools.

In 1951, Jiggs, rotating in and out with the other halfbacks, helped his team to win the championship. His last season for the Oconee Trojans came in 1952 when he started at halfback. Jiggs often mentored Evans and other young players by giving them constructive criticism and suggesting better ways to carry out their assignments. But Jiggs wasn't just all about football. He liked to play jokes when he got the chance on his fellow teammates.

Sometime shortly after his eighteenth birthday, Jiggs enlisted in the United States Navy. His country still at war, Jiggs wanted to do his part. Bob Evans remembered Jiggs coming home after a Mediterranean cruise aboard the U.S.S. Bennington. "He brought me some exotic cologne and two terry cloth shirts with a printed photo of the aircraft carrier," Evans fondly recalled. "He jokingly told me that the cologne would really attract the girls, which it actually did," his old friend said. Jiggs, possibly in hopes that Bob would join the Navy too, told him about the military life, its benefits and the pleasures of travel. Today, Bob Evans remains proud of Jiggs, the sailor, the American patriot.

Jiggs was assigned to duty as a TA aboard the Bennington, a World War II Essex style carrier. The Bennington had been assigned to duties in the Mediterranean Theater, where American military presence was still necessary in post war Europe and with the emerging troubles in the Middle East.

It was a average morning on May 26, 1954. The crew of the Bennington was beginning to go about their duty of conducting flight trials from the carrier deck. At 0611 hours, a series of explosions racked the forward third of the ship. Total terror ensued. Many of the men aboard were just waking up from a good night's sleep. It was not a drill. Richard Pope remembered a black man, possibly Jiggs, coming down the ladder to sick bay. Completely naked, his clothes burned off his body, the man begged Pope to go and help his buddy. Those were his last words. He died in the arms of the operating room corpsman. "In my mind, he was a hero. Whether he ever received a medal, I can't say, he was not easy to identify," Pope recalled in 1992.

When the final casualty counts were taken, one hundred and four men, including Jiggs were dead. One hundred and thirty-nine others were injured, and some suffering terrible burns over their entire bodies. Jigg's body was brought home and buried beside that of his adopted mother, Mrs. Gussie, in Dudley Cemetery in Dublin.

But Jiggs wasn't just a athlete or a sailor. He was a singer. Jiggs sung the tenor parts in the Oconee High School choir, which won many competitions during those years.

Jiggs sung the tenor parts in the Oconee High School choir, which won many competitions during those years.

Not every graduate of Oconee High School knew Lonnie "Jiggs" Woodum. But, they do know his words. Jigg's lyrics were selected to become the words for the Oconee High School alma mater; "School of love and charity, we lift our voice in praise to thee. And in our heart you are the best, we'll always love you O.H.S.. So I'll fight and win what 'er the battle be. The blue and gold thy sons shall 'er defend. And loyal to the voice of love attend,
Oconee, Oconee, Oconee, I love you."

Lonnie Woodum's non combative accidental death was none the less brave, none the less tragic. Jiggs was a victim of a war, the Cold War. And, because we were robbed of his friendship and his talents, we were victims as well. So, on this Memorial Day, let us remember Jiggs and the hundreds of other Laurens Countians who have given their lives so that we can be free.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Slave Centenarians of Laurens County

During Black History Month and Georgia History Month I have chosen to give you a few glimpses into the history of some remarkable African-American slaves who lived in Laurens County. The largest African - American families are the Stanleys, Yopps, Guytons, Kellams, Blackshears, Whites, Perrys, Thomases, McLendon’s, Moores, O'Neals, Coneys, and Troups. Unfortunately for all us, many of the stories of these people have been lost forever. I have included references if you are interested in finding out more about these people. I hope you will.

Jack Robinson was born during the French and Indian War. He lived the better part of his life as a slave. In 1865, at the age of 111, Robinson gained his freedom. He died in Laurens County in December of 1872. Jack Robinson had survived many hardships during his lifetime, but in the end the "Milledgeville Union Recorder" stated that "tobacco was what cut him down in his prime." He was only 118 years old and the oldest person to live in Laurens County. Union Recorder, Dec. 25, 1872.

One of the oldest citizens of Laurens County, was Madison Moore. Mr. Moore died on November 15, 1912, at the authenticated age of 112 years. Madison Moore had lived most of his life on the old Gov. Troup place on the east side of the Oconee River. Madison Moore, who was known as "Hatless" Moore was a body guard and coach driver for his master, Gov. George M. Troup. His nickname came from the numerous times his hat blew off while driving Governor Troup. At the time of his death, Mr. Moore's descendants numbered in the hundreds. Many of his descendants live in Laurens County today. Dublin Courier Dispatch, Nov. 21, 1912.

Frances Thompkins was born into slavery on the McLendon plantation in lower part of the county near the Oconee River. She received her freedom at the end of the Civil War. After eaving the McLendon place, Mrs. Thompkins lived on the Ann Smith place on the Old River Road and later moved up the road to the Fuller Place where Southeast Paper is located today. Mrs. Thompkins had sixteen children and outlived eleven of them. Her surviving children were Noah Thompkins, Rev. William Thompkins, Pink Thompkins, Clara Jones, and Minnie Wiggins. Her eldest son, Green McLendon, was born in the 1850s. She continued to work until a year before her death. Mrs. Thompkins died on a Saturday afternoon at the home of her daughter, Clara Jones. As near as anyone could figure on that day, September 20, 1944, "Aunt" Frances Thompkins was 115 years old, the oldest known citizen of Laurens County. Courier Herald, September 22, 1944, p. 6.

Lewellyn Blackshear was born on the plantation of Lewis Maddox in 1807, the year Laurens County was created. At the time she lived near the Washington - Montgomery County line. In 1921, Mrs. Blackshear still had vivid memories of Gen. David Blackshear going off to fight the Indians in the War of 1812. She remembered coming to Dublin by ferry to find a village of only a few houses and stores. Mrs. Blackshear was given to other members of the Maddox family ollowing the death of Lewis Maddox. She remembered her last master only as Mr. Odom. After receiving her freedom she worked for the Holmes family as a domestic servant. Mrs. Blackshear survived three husbands and five children. Despite her failing eyesight and poor hearing Mrs. Blackshear was a virtual treasure trove of information. It is too bad that more of her memories were not chronicled. The question of whether or not Mrs. Blackshear outlived Mrs. Thompkins to become Laurens County oldest living woman has been lost to eternity. Courier Herald, Aug. 21, 1921, p. 1.

Isaac Jackson died in Montgomery County at the age of one hundred and twenty two. Isaac was a former slave of Gov. George M. Troup of Laurens County. "Old Isaac" appears in a mortgage of slaves at Troup's Valdosta Plantation in 1846. Isaac Jackson is credited with being the last surviving slave of President George Washington. Hawkinsville Dispatch, Oct. 19, 1876.

Tempy Stanley died in October of 1905. She had been a slave of Ira Stanley, whose plantation was located in northern Laurens County. At the time of her death, she was living on the John C. Register place in the Burgamy District of Laurens County. Mr. Register had known Tempy since he was a little boy in the 1830s. According to Register she was old then. According to some Tempy Stanley was 114 years old at the time of her death. Dublin Courier Dispatch, October 6, 1905.

The 1860 census of slaves did not list the name of each slave. The only information given was the age, sex, and whether or not the person was Black or Mulatto. However, one person was named in the 1860 Slave Census of Laurens County. Her name was Marilla and she was owned by William McLendon. What is remarkable about this lady is that she was 100 years old. There were four other slaves in Laurens County that year who were over 90 years of age. One was a female owned by Everard Blackshear. The other three males were two men owned by John M. McNeal and one man owned by Daniel Anderson. 1860 Slave Census, Laurens County, Georgia.

"Uncle Jerry" Lowther was known to have been the first blacksmith in Laurens County. Jerry Lowther was born a slave just before 1820. His master, John Lowther, was a merchant in Dublin and a speculator in mineral rights all over the country. John Lowther had Jerry educated in the art of blacksmithing. After the Civil War, Jerry Lowther operated his own blacksmith shop on the Hawkinsville Road west of Dublin. During that time, the far western edge of Dublin was the creek that crosses Bellevue Avenue at the Chamber of Commerce. The area was known as "Sandy Bottom." During the winter and after a summer freshet, crossing the creek became nearly impossible. Jerry Lowther's house was located on the spot where the home of Richard Graves now stands. His shop was located just to the east on the adjoining lot. Jerry Lowther died in 1922 at the estimated age of 105.

Sam Linder, a former slave of General David Blackshear, helped to build Fort Hawkins in 1806. He lived to be over one hundred years old - dying in Laurens County in the 1880's. Other slaves, like Ringold Perry (also owned by General David Blackshear) Crawford Lord, Rev. George Linder, Madison Moore, and the Rev. Daniel D. Cummings established large farms and prosperous businesses in the decades following their freedom.

These are just a few of the stories which are worth preserving. They only scratch the surface of the deep roots of the county’s heritage. I hope they will inspire other stories to come forth. All history is worth preserving. Let us all dedicate not only the month of February, but all twelve months of the year to preserving our heritage. After all, it is the only one we have.

Sunday, May 10, 2009



George Linder, born into slavery, grew up in Laurens County in the last three decades of the pre Civil War South. Over the next eighty years or so, George Linder, through his determination to learn and his dedication to hard work, rose to become one of the most respected men in 19th century Laurens County. In the process, he established at least three churches and served as Laurens County's only Black legislator. At the same time, Linder maintained a farm and raised and educated a large family.

George Linder was born in February of 1834. He grew up in the Buckeye District in the 1830s. George was probably named for George Linder, one of the original Linders who settled along the Milledgeville-Darien Road in the 1810s. He had at least one brother, Jerry, who was two years his junior. George's master named the boy after himself and saw to it that he had the best education available, teaching little George how to read and write. George Linder entered the ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Rev. Linder founded Strawberry A.M.E. Church, the oldest African-American church in Laurens County, in 1859 on the old Cooper Plantation. The church is still in existence on Country Club Road. During the second year of the Civil War, Rev. Linder and Ezekiel Pullen founded Mt. Pullen A.M.E. Church on the Wrightsville Road. The church was composed of former members of Boiling Springs Church. Seven years later, Revs. Linder and Pullen organized New Bethel A.M.E. Church on the Buckeye Road.

During the days of Reconstruction, the Republican Party and the Federal Government governed the state of Georgia. Rep. Linder was one of twenty four black representatives elected to the Georgia Legislature in 1868. They were not independent. They had a voice, but the Republican Party was controlled by a few white outsiders. Representative Linder was one of many A.M.E. Ministers in the Georgia Legislature. Of those whose occupations are known, eighty percent were A.M.E. ministers.

George Linder was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1868. Linder was one of thirteen black men who served in the Constitutional Convention and Georgia Legislature. He was the only black man in our area to be elected. The closest others were Daniel Palmer of Washington County and Isaac Anderson of Houston County. Linder, known as "Uncle George Linder," was respected by both races in Laurens County. Rep. Linder and all of the other black Republicans were unseated on September 9, 1868. Rep. Linder was replaced by E.D. Barrett, who doesn't appear to have been from Laurens County. Racism was tearing Georgia apart. The Klu Klux Klan, was turning more violent, getting away from its original purpose of protecting white "victims" of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Each member was given one hour to speak before being expelled from their seats. George Linder, while not to the point of threatening war with the white population, said "Roust us from here and we will roust you!" Racial incidents, while few in number, broke out in the state. Some of Linder's colleagues were threatened with violence. One was killed and a few were injured. On October 22, 1869, Congress enacted the
Congressional Reorganization Act of 1869, through which Linder and the other black representatives were reseated. George Linder served the remainder of his term until the legislative election of 1870, when the Democratic party gained control.

George Linder was a family man. He married his first wife in the mid 1850s. Since census records did not enumerate slaves by first names, the first Mrs. Linder's name will probably never be known. She appears to have died in the mid to late 1870s. George and his first wife had at least six children, namely, Charlie, Annie, James A., William, Isabelle, and Martha. A seventh may have been George W. Linder. Rev. Linder married again in 1880 to Mary, who was twenty seven years younger than he. George and Mary had ten children, namely John W., David B., Sarah J., Hansel, Alice, Mary D., Thomas, Joseph, Kathi, and Etta M. Rev. Linder, like so many other farmer-preachers, always had a ready made group of field hands, who would go a long way to filling up the Church on Sundays. George and Mary made sure that their children received an education. Sarah was teaching school at the age of seventeen. John W. Linder was a successful physician in the city of Atlanta.

In 1874, Rev. Linder began to accumulate a large farm just above the old Blackshear Mill Pond. His good friend, David S. Blackshear, sold him forty six acres on Parrot's Creek, which fed the mill pond, now Ben Hall Lake. In 1883, Rev. Linder bought the home of David S. Blackshear, which was surrounded by seven hundred acres of land on the waters of Big Creek. Over the next twenty-five years, Linder purchased another five hundred acres or so. It appears that he had to sell most of his lands, either to pay the bills after bad crops years or to support his large family. In 1907, Rev. and Mrs. Linder moved to Dublin. He bought a house near the southwest corner of South Jefferson Street and Rowe Street. The house, 803 S. Jefferson Street, still stands and is currently owned by Carrie Moss.

Rev. Linder served the Lord until his death on the last day of January in 1915. When he died, he had only his home and a one hundred and nine acre farm in Buckeye. His property had to be sold to pay the debts of his estate. Much like another George, George Bailey of "It's a Wonderful Life," he was one of the richest men in Dublin. He was loved and respected by thousands. Rev. Linder is buried in the Linder Cemetery north of Ben Hall Lake. It is disappointing that Rev. Linder's grave remains unmarked - a woefully lacking tribute to a man who meant so much to his community - a man like, George Linder, Gentleman.

Sunday, May 3, 2009



With the turning of the 20th Century, the African-Americans of Laurens
County found themselves beginning to move up on the economic and educational ladders. Formal education was finally the norm. Thousand of families lived out on the farms. One popular event of the first decade of this century was the annual county fair. The fairs, usually held in October and early November, were designed not only to entertain, but to educate as well.

The first recorded fair was held at the Dublin City Pavilion from October 3rd through October 10th of 1905. The pavilion was located just off East Madison Street, where the City Water Department is now located. Prizes were awarded for agricultural products, home demonstration projects, and sewing. There was ball playing and horse riding each day. Music was provided by the Acme State Band of Macon.

A few days after the fair ended, R. Evans, S.H. Hunter, J.B. Wright, Ivery Clay, and L. Pinkerton of Laurens County petitioned the Superior Court to incorporate the Georgia Colored Fair Association. The objective of the corporation was "to carry on and conduct fairs throughout in Laurens and throughout the state for the purpose of exhibiting the commercial and industrial development of the Colored race along the lines of agriculture, manufacturing, mechanical, arts, and sciences, ... to enlighten, inspire, develop, and encourage said race." Of course, entertainment and the selling of merchandise was also authorized.

For the next decade, most of the fairs were held at the Harriett Holsey Industrial College in northeast Dublin. The Negro Farmer's Institute held a fair on October 20, 1915. In 1916, the 12th Congressional District Fair was held for the first time at its permanent home on Telfair Street. The site was located on Telfair Street between Troup and Joiner Streets. Rev. William Gaines and H.H. Dudley were chosen to manage the 12th District Colored Fair, which would run from November 22nd to November 25th. Rev. Gaines and Mr. Dudley invited all the people of Dublin and Laurens to come out and see the entertainment, which featured a big brass band.

In 1917, the Central Colored People's Fair was incorporated by E.L. Hall, J.I. Clark, E.D. Newsome, Seaborn Daniels, Freeman Hill, C.B. Adams, H.N. Clark, M.H. O'Neal, W.A. Kemp, Thomas Mitchell, R.W. Thomas, Joe Hall and Frank Kilo. The second annual fair was held in November of 1917. E.D. Newsome was chairman of the event. Highlights of the fair included a parade, agricultural exhibits, the Ging Carnival Company, and a "Wild West" Show. Thirty one hundred people showed up on Wednesday of the six-day fair.

In 1918, the Fair Association elected W.L. Hughes as President of the fair. Other fair officers were: E.L. Hall, Secretary; J.W. Dent, Secretary to Board of Directors; and E.D. Newsome, Manager. The board was composed of W.L. Hughes, J.W. Dent, E.L. Hall, W.A. Jenkins, E.J. Newsome, D.F. Kemp, W.T. Wood, Major Thomas, and E.D. Newsome. That year's fair was scheduled for November 4, 1918. In April of 1918, another fair association was organized. The new organization was known as the Oconee Fair Association. It was incorporated by J.J. Jenkins, Dr. H.T. Jones, T.C. Kinchen, William May, and W.F. Robinson. The group decided to purchase their own land and to custom build their fairgrounds to suit their needs. In June, the association purchased a three acre tract on the east side of Washington Street from J.M. Page. The new fairgrounds were opposite Washington Street School, which was located between the Katherine Gray Library and Howard Chapel Church.

The fairgrounds stretched from South Washington to South Decatur Street and featured a one-half mile race track. The track was four sided with the southern end being slightly longer than the northern end. At the entrance to the fair grounds was a two-story exhibition hall. A half-dozen livestock sheds were scattered around the sides of the track. The Association fell on hard times in 1924. The property was sold for taxes by the city and the county. President R. Perry and Secretary B.D. Perry stepped in and repurchased the property. The whole county was experiencing a devastating depression. The local economy was destroyed when the boll weevil came to the county in 1918. Farmers, especially the African-American tenant farmers, were
leaving the county in masses. In 1924, Laurens County still had over four thousand farms. The money, however, was not so plentiful. In 1930, President J.S. Edmond and Secretary D.C. Lampkin secured a loan from C.W. Brantley to keep the fair operating. Once again in 1934, the fairgrounds were sold to pay the taxes. The Interstate Bond Company, a company which specialized in grabbing up lands near railroads, purchased the property. President B.D. Perry made the necessary arrangements and bought the property back in 1935.

During the war years, the fair was probably suspended. It was around this time that the association turned its thoughts to buying a new place to hold their fairs. The Association sold the Washington Street fairgrounds to the City of Dublin Housing Authority. At that time Dr. B.D. Perry was still serving as President. O.N. Lewis was the Vice-President. John Stanley served as the Secretary-Treasurer. John Stanley secured a site on the corner of South Decatur Street and Garner Street near Oconee High School. Stanley sold it to the Association for $4,000.00. Fairs were held on the site until the early 1960s. By that time the fairs were almost exclusively for entertainment only. Mid-ways with games and rides had replaced the agricultural and cultural exhibits. Once integrated fairs began on the lot behind the County Agricultural Center, the South Decatur fairgrounds were abandoned. The county fair, a symbol of Fall, is long gone now. The smells - hay, animals, cotton candy, candied apples, and popcorn. It was a time when the county fair was one of most anticipated and favorite events of the year.