Friday, May 29, 2015



      Another day dawned this morning and Jeralean Kurtz Talley turned 116 years old.  Mrs. Talley, a native of Montrose, Georgia, holds on to her official title as  the oldest living person in the world..

Mrs. Talley was born on May 23, 1899 to Samuel James Kurtz and Amelia Kurtz.  William McKinley was President of the United States.  On May 23, 2014, some nineteen presidents, fourteen hundred plus full moons and 42,000 sunsets later, Ms. Jeralean  reaches yet another milestone in the time line of her longest life. 

Jeralean, who was among a dozen children of Samuel and Amelia Jones Kurtz, grew up in the outskirts of Montrose, Georgia in western Laurens County, Georgia.  Her grandfather, Andrew J. Kurtz, husband of Rachel Kurtz, was most likely a slave owned by Dr. William J. Kurtz,  who owned nearly two dozen slaves during the Civil War.

Jeralean and her family moved to Inkster, Wayne County, Michigan during a vast migration of African-American farm workers who left Laurens County in the 1920s for Detroit, Michigan. That group includes the family of world champion boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson and Ford Motor Company inventor and innovator, Claude Harvard.  

Jeralean married Alfred Talley, who died in the 1980s.  Although she was from large family,  Jeralean had only one child, a daughter, Thelma Holloway, who is now seventy-five years old. She has three grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren. 

As for Talley, she credits her God for her longevity.  When asked by Congressman John Conyers as to what her secret to a long life was, she pointed upward and said, "The good Lord up above. If it wasn't for Him, none of us would be here."

Talley was almost 107 before she moved out of her home and into her daughter's home.  She gave up bowling when she was a mere 104.   And, she scored a very respectable 200 in her last game.
With 116 years behind her Jeralean has many stories to tell.  One of her favorites is the tale of her first and only attempt to drive a car. 

"I tried that one time," in her 30s, she said. 

"I  didn't hit the right one to make it go forward and it went backwards," Talley told Elisha Anderson of The Detroit Free Press.

When her husband Alfred yelled at her, she opened the door and got out of the car and never drove again.

A verified supercentenarian is a person who is at least 110 years old and whose age is documented by at three or more reliable documents as determined by an international body - the most respected organization being the Gerontology Research Group.

The world's oldest verified person ever was a French woman Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122 years, 164 days.

Happy Birthday Ms. Jeralean! 

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Laurens County African American Farmers.

For more than two centuries they have toiled in the fields, first as slaves, then as sharecroppers and, eventually, as owners of farms.   Throughout our past the contributions of these men, and women too, have left an invaluable impact on our local economy and our way of life.  This is the story of the African American farmers of Laurens County.

When Laurens County was created in 1807, the first black farmers were slaves.  Three years later the first census of the county enumerated 485 slaves.  Most of these people lived in the northern regions of the county on the large plantations.   By 1860 that number had increased to nearly 3,300 persons, some of whom were employed in non-agricultural positions or were too old or too young to work in the fields.

The end of the Civil War brought about the liberation of the black farmers. While many farmers were relegated to living and sharecropping on the lands of their former masters, some were given land or were quickly successful enough to buy their own piece of land.  In 1870, there were fifty black farmers who were more than just farm laborers.  Among these, David Lock, William Coats, Jacob Coney, Moses Yopp, S. Ellington, Sandy Stanley, Robert Stanley, J. Yonks and Jordan Burch owned their own land.  The granddaddy of these farmers was 80-year old William Coats.  Harriett Harvard was the only female farmer in that census year.

During the latter decades of the 19th Century, the leading black farmers included Ringold Perry, Daniel Cummings, Hamlet McCall, D.  McLendon, Jacob Fullwood and many members of the Yopp and Troup families.  Adam McLeod, of Lowery's District, was so successful that he was known to have been the first black man to buy a car in Laurens County.  

In 1910 near the zenith of cotton production in Laurens County, there were 2266 black farmers in Laurens County, ten more than their white counterparts.  In that year, 274 farms were owned and cultivated by their black owners.  Nearly three fourths of all of Laurens County's five thousand farms were cultivated by tenant farmers, 2027  of them were black.  Though the net wealth of a black farmer was less than $40.00 per person, farm ownership increased by 76% in the first decade of the
Twentieth Century.   

The rapid growth in the impact of the black farmer came to a screeching halt in the next decade when the boll weevil came to Laurens County and all but eliminated cotton as the most important part of the local farm economy.  By the mid 1920s, many of the tenant farmers were leaving in masses for the North and better paying and more reliable industrial jobs.  One notable migrant was Walker Smith, Jr., father of boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson, who moved to Detroit to make $60.00 per week as opposed to $30.00 per month on his Laurens County farm. 

In effort to lessen the devastation of the coming of the boll weevil, Laurens County hired the first black farm agent, a man known only as Mr. Robinson and later Mr. Carlton of Tuskegee.  Essex Lampkin took over the duties in 1930.  Five years later, Emory Thomas came to the county and organized community farm clubs and 4-H clubs throughout the county.  The work of these pioneers continues today under the leadership of Gary Johnson and his staff and volunteers.

These farm programs worked and worked well.  Emmett Hall won national recognition for his planning and budgeting procedures.    With the aid of Farmers Home Administration and Georgia Extension Service, Hall, a tenant farmer for twenty six years, bought his own farm.  Through careful planning and hard work, Hall not only managed to pay off the farm's debt in five years, he bought two more farms.  Hall and his sons built nearly six miles of terraces to prevent erosion on their hilly farm north of Dublin.  Hall needed the extra money, for had eight children to feed.

Henry Josey followed Emmett Hall's example.    In a good year as a sharecropper, Mr. Josey would make about $5.00 a week.  With the aid of extension agents P.L. Hay and Luther Coleman and state leader P.H. Stone, Josey turned a hilly farm, with most of its top soil eroded down to the clay, into a highly profitable six thousand dollar a year enterprise.  Josey built terraces and planted lupine, kudzu and legumes to halt erosion.  He added to live stock to supplement his field crops.  Josey's yield of corn increased five fold.  After saving up enough money to put down on a farm, Josey said, "We had $29.00, 35 bushels of corn, and a broken down mule to make a crop with."    But Josey and his wife persevered.  The former sharecroppers paid off their loan in a few years, and increased their acreage from 40 to 184 acres by the end of World War II.   After thirty years of struggling to make a living on the farm, life was good for the Henry Josey family.

During the war years farm production was critical to the war effort.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt organized the Farm Security Administration to ensure increased production.  The Federal agency gave out awards to families who had gone above the goals set by the department for food production for home use and marketing with a special emphasis put on hogs, poultry and peanuts.  In 1942, six black farmers - Dempsey Wright, Johnny Beard, Jordan Wright, Ed Mathis, Emmett Hall and Bob Blackshear - were awarded certificates of merit for food for freedom production in a special ceremony held in the Laurens County Courthouse.

The location of the Georgia 4H Club for black youth in Dublin only helped the work of 4H programs in the community.  Willie Brantley lost his father and had to drop out of school in the 8th grade.  With no hint of hope in sight, Willie turned to Emory Thomas and his friends in 4H.  With their encouragement, Brantley worked hard and gradually began to increase his production of corn and livestock.  He served as chairman of the Laurens County 4-H Council for three years and garnered several awards.  In 1940, all of Willie Brantley's hard work and prayers were answered when he was awarded a scholarship as the state's most outstanding 4H club member. 

With the advent of the Civil Rights movement, black farmers, and especially their children, were afforded opportunities outside the farm.  Tenant farming was becoming a part of the past.  Farmers, like Robert Coleman of Dudley, took jobs in industry and worked on their farms on a part time basis. Coleman told a reporter for the New York Times in 1992, " It's twice as hard for the black farmer. We lose our land after a bad year or through bad management practices.  Some of us just can't afford new techniques to produce higher yields.  As for me, I'd have lost my farm if it wasn't for my job at the mine."  Fifteen years after the New York Times predicted that the extinction of black farmers was near, there are now less than sixty black farmers left in Laurens County.

Though the time of the black farmer in Laurens County may be coming to an end, their legacy of their steadfastness, dedication and hard work will endure for centuries to come.      

Monday, May 11, 2015


Georgia’s Second Female African American Dentist

Dr. Annie Yarborough may or may not have been the first African-American female dentist to practice dentistry in the State of Georgia, but she was certainly the second African-American woman ever to be awarded a license by the state.  Dr. Yarborough was the first woman ever to practice her profession outside of Athens, Georgia, where Dr. Ida Mae Hiram hung her out her shingle in 1910.

Born Annie E. Taylor on July 18, 1882 in Eatonton, Georgia, Dr. Yarborough was the mulatto daughter of the Rev. Hilliard Taylor and Anna E. Pennaman.  Her maternal grandfather, Morris Penneman, was a successful farmer and mill right and for his time a large landowner among a small group of former slaves who owned land in post Civil War Georgia.

Annie attended the public schools of Eatonton. After she graduated from high school in 1896, Annie enrolled at the Atlanta University.  Life was difficult for Annie and her family after Rev. Taylor died all too young.    She was educated in the field of education and took her first job in her hometown.    Miss Taylor moved out of town and taught in the Putnam County schools before moving to Jasper, Dodge and Laurens Counties.   In her spare time and between school terms, Annie was quite a successful dressmaker and fancy seamstress.

It was during her tenure in Laurens County that Annie met Dr. Adolphus Yarborough.  They fell in love and married on February 22, 1906.    Adolphus Yarborough learned his dental skills while working as an office boy.   Before he entered Dental School, Adolphus worked as a porter.   He was regarded by many as the best mechanical dentist of his race in Georgia.    Adolphus Yarborough, born in September 1881,  was a son of Nelson and Charley Yarborough and was the first African American dentist to practice in Laurens County.  When they first got married, Adolphus and Annie lived in his father's home on Marion Street in Dublin. 

Annie longed to work beside her husband.  Adolphus' office hours and home visits rarely allowed the couple to see each other, so Annie made up her mind that she was going to become a dentist.  There was only one problem.  There were no black female dentists and Georgia and no black dental schools in the state either.   

Annie had to leave Dublin and move to Nashville, Tennessee where she enrolled at Meharry Medical College.  During her first year at Meharry, Annie was elected to teach sewing and domestic science at Walden University.  In another rarity, Annie was both a student and a teacher at the same time.  

In the spring of 1910, Annie Taylor Yarborough walked across the stage and accepted her diploma as a graduate.  Dr. Ida Mae Hiram, credited as the first female African-American dentist in Georgia was also a member of Class of 1910.    Later that same year Dr. Hiram passed the dental board examinations and joined her husband in their dental office in Athens.    It would be another year before Dr. Yarborough would be officially licensed to practice in Georgia.

Dr. Yarborough was active in the Baptist Church.  She was an outstanding member of the Household of Ruth and the Court of Calenthe.  

The onset of World War I provided new opportunities for dental students and practicing dentists as well.  Black dentists finally thought this may be their chance to expand their practices beyond their own race.  Applications to the newly created Dental Reserve Corps poured in.  Annie Yarborough was one of the first to apply.  On June 6, 1917, just two months after the United States officially entered the war, Dr. Yarborough volunteered for service.  Her two brothers had served in the 9th and 10th Cavalry during the Spanish American War and at the age of thirty four, Annie believed it was her duty to serve her country.  She informed the Army that she was one of the few female dentists in her state (either black or white) and had completed four years of dental education at Meharry College.

Four weeks later, the office of the Surgeon General of the Army issued its standard denial of all women applicants, though the offer was appreciated.  As the war progressed, the policy of no women in the Dental Corps changed. 

During, or shortly after the war, the Yarboroughs divorced.  Annie, with no children, changed her name back to her maiden name and lived in a house at 626 South Jefferson Street in Dublin with her mother and her sister Leola Smith and her husband Henry.

Following the 1920 Census, Dr. Annie Taylor seems to vanish from Dublin.  I could find no records of her.  Perhaps she, like her father, died young.  Maybe she moved to another town.  Who knows?  If you know, contact me immediately.

Dr. Annie Taylor Yarborough was a woman of high integrity, high education and one whom all of Laurens County can rightfully and deservedly be proud of.