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.