Black History in Pickens: Part II
Workers at the Georgia Marble Company and Jasper
By Dr. Kathleen Thompson
[This article is the second 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.]
A year after the arrival of the railroad in Tate and Jasper, the Georgia Marble Company was chartered in 1884. A 1902 account in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper records that Blacks had been employed in the marble industry for 15 years. That would mean that the first Black employees were hired in 1887, before Colonel Sam gained control of the Company in 1905.
The article also refers to the Black workforce as holding jobs as “workers in the rubbing beds and as truck men.”
Old photos, preserved on a state run website called Vanishing Georgia, document the type of work of Black employees provided. Captions and notes clarify work seen in the photographs. A picture taken in 1890 of the entire workforce of the Blue Ridge Marble Company in Nelson clearly shows Black workers.
Three photos, shot in the 1930s of quarry workers in Tate and Marble Hill, confirms Black work crews doing tasks such as “attaching cable to a marble block to be lifted out the quarry.” Teams of mules and men are seen in another photo and include a Black employee. These teams “transferred marble from the stock yard to the plant and back.”
Beginning in 1906 Willie Sanford Green (father of Willie Mae Weaver) worked at the quarry. One of his duties was to check on Sunday afternoon to make sure that the pumps were properly removing ground water. One day Willie arrived at the work site and found that the creek had flooded, swamping the pumps and filling the quarry. He had started the sirens in order to get help from other employees. The sirens always signaled an emergency such as a home fire, accident at the company, or other serious problems.
By the 1930s Colonel Sam Tate had developed the Georgia Marble Company to a size that required 1,030 workers. It is estimated that 15 percent of that work force was Black. That would be around 160 workers, most of whom lived nearby with their families.
The Black population of Pickens County in 1930 included 426 Negro males counted on the census.
As an employee of the Marble Company family men were provided housing.
In fact one was not allowed to buy land and build one’s own home if you worked for Colonel Sam Tate. According to Steve Griffith, Sam Tate believed, “If he owned the land, he had the power to remove someone he considered undesirable at any time.”
In addition to family housing, single Black men could stay at a boarding house for colored workers that was provided by the Georgia Marble Company.
It was located in the Lower Whippowill section, near the creek and quarries. According to Nelson resident Willie Mae Weaver, many of the Black men were from Dahlonega. They would walk home to their families in Lumpkin County on Friday and walk back to the Tate boarding house Sunday afternoon.
When Colonel Sam Tate took over the marble company in 1905 he began recruiting Black workers from other areas of Georgia.
The first employees came from Lumpkin County. Willie Mae Weaver’s father, Willie Sanford Weaver, walked to Tate to become a quarry worker around 1906. She explained that in rural Lumpkin County the only choice was to work at farming.
In Tate the pay was better and one could get company housing for their families. Willie Green met Kittie Mae Roach, married her, and moved from the workers boarding house to a home in Upper Whippowill.
Additionally Black workers from the areas around Sandersville, Georgia came to Tate to toil with marble and to Jasper to work in the sawmill industry. They heard of employment opportunities from relatives and friends who had already moved to Pickens County.
Roderick Moore’s father moved to Jasper because an uncle had already relocated and got a position at a sawmill. One of the reasons for this migration was the lack of industry and jobs in rural South Georgia
At the pink marble mansion Colonel Sam, his sister, and brother Luke were attended to by several Black employees. An ex slave, Jeff Strickland, was Colonel Sam’s first valet and lived in servant’s quarters in the basement of the house.
Three Black families lived near the mansion in company homes build on orders from Colonel Sam. Just outside the gate of the Tate House one can locate what was once a residence. It has recently been expanded for use as part of events held at the house.
This was the home of the Roach family. James Roach was the chef at the Tate Mansion. He and his wife Dora raised their children in this home including; James (Chester), Mary Lois, Grady, Preston, and Truman. Son Preston Roach (Sr.) worked for Steve Tate until Steve’s death in 1958. Preston worked managing the Tate property at Lake Sconti (Today’s Big Canoe). Brother Truman Roach also worked for the Georgia Marble Company.
While the home no longer exists, just up the road from the mansion toward Smokey Hollow, on the left, was the residence of Temp Echols and his wife Mattie Frances. Temp was Colonel Sam’s chauffer and Mattie was a school teacher.
The Collins family lived in a company house on the opposite of the road from the Echols family. George Collins was a brick and stone mason and carpenter for Sam Tate and was foreman of the crew that built the mansion.
His wife Katherine worked at the Tate House as housekeeper taking care of Sam, Miss Flora, and brother.
When George’s health precluded stone work, Colonel Sam had a store constructed in Smokey Hollow for George to run. The “Stand” was a landmark in the community for years (More about the Stand in a later installment.)
African-American citizens have worked in Pickens County for as far back as the 1830s, when they were slaves to Cherokee landowner James Daniels. In the marble industry Black workers were so valued that Colonel Sam Tate sought out company employees in South Georgia and other locations. The Tate family had a group of loyal employees that lived near the mansion.
In Jasper Black workers worked in the sawmill industry, at the Roper Hospital, in local homes, and other businesses. While the numbers and percentages of Black residents was and still is small, they have been and are a valuable part of the community.
Next installments: The Historic Black Communities in Tate Jasper’s Black residents & Community