How I Built A Funeral Program Collection for African Americans in Atlanta

Funeral program for Mr. Stanley Maddox

It all began with a one-sided friendly competitive thought – if Augusta could do it, so could Atlanta.  

This immediately came to mind after reading an article in Georgia Library Quarterly written in 2009 by Dottie Demarest, then the genealogy and local history librarian at the East Central Georgia Regional System (now the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library), about the Eula M. Ramsey Johnson Memorial Funeral Program Collection. 

In the article, Ms. Demarest spoke about how a single donation from Gloria Ramsey Lucas, the niece of Eula Johnson, of nearly 200 programs in 2005 became the beginning of the Library’s African American Funeral Program Collection.  The collection has since grown to more than 1500 programs dating back to the 1930s. After reading the article, I was excited that such a collection existed and had been digitized and made available through the Digital Library of Georgia (DLG). I was also inspired, knowing that we, the royal we, could create a similar collection in Atlanta.   

Funeral services for Miss Lucy Craft Laney, Thursday, October 26, 1933, 3:00 p.m., McGregor Hall. Lucy Craft Laney is Georgia’s most famous female African American educator. This is the oldest funeral program in the Eula M. Ramsey Johnson Memorial Funeral Program Collection, from which the African American funeral programs from the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library System collection is based.

It was then that the African American Funeral Program Project, as I call it, was born.   

The goals for the project were to collect African American funeral programs and donate them to the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History where they would be preserved, and people would have access to them for many years to come.  The goal for the programs was to have them digitized and added to DLG and in May 2020, that dream became a reality.  Now, several thousand funeral programs collected and housed at the Auburn Avenue Research Library are available for everyone to see.  What started as a friendly competitive thought has now become another resource for researchers as well as scholars (I am one of the latter) who are interested in the individuals and local communities represented in the individual documents. The Atlanta funeral programs collection could possibly provide the information needed by a family historian (like myself) working to piece together their family’s story.  This collection will always mean a lot to me, not only because I helped to start it but also because members of my own family are featured in the collection.  My uncle Stanley Maddox, whom I never got a chance to meet, passed away as a child.  A press release for the collection happened a day after the 50th anniversary of his death and I thought what a fitting way to commemorate that day.   

Funeral Services for Mr. Stanley Maddox, Second Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Markham Street at Northside Drive, Monday, June 1, 1970, 2:00 P.M., George W. Baker, Officiating. Stanley Maddox is the author’s late uncle.

The work continues, as there are more programs to process and to collect.  

I hope that others will be inspired by this collection and create one in their own area.   

If you cannot start a collection, check your local area or your ancestral research area to see if a collection already exists and contact them to see if they are taking donations.   

As for digitized collections, in additional to the Atlanta collection, there are a few more African American funeral program collections in Georgia, including the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center Digital Archive collection at Georgia Southern University, the African American funeral programs from the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library System and Funeral programs from the Thomas County Public Library System collections, both of which are available through DLG.   

–Tamika Strong

Reference Archivist, Georgia Archives

Wesley Chapel Genealogy and Historical Research Group

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As We Hit 2 Million Digitized Pages, Here are Five Staff Favorites

Five favorite newspaper pages of our last 2 million digitized by Digital Library of Georgia as selected by staff members Donnie Summerlin and Daniel Britt

Macon Telegraph, November 1, 1826

This is the first newspaper page I digitized when I began work fourteen years ago at the Digital Library of Georgia (DLG). The Macon Telegraph is the third oldest continuously published newspaper in the state and has a rich history of news coverage in middle Georgia. I particularly love the typeface used in the masthead on this first issue of the paper. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it used in any of the other eight hundred newspaper titles we’ve published. –Donnie Summerlin

Macon Telegraph, November 1, 1826, page 1

Louisville Gazette, January 14, 1800

As a staff member for the Georgia Newspaper Project, I had an opportunity to view bound volumes of the Louisville Gazette, and this page caught my eye because of the extra-bold columns. It was then that I learned historic newspapers used bold columns when reporting the death of prominent American figures, in this case, George Washington. Georgia’s late-18th and early-19th century newspapers fascinate me. They add a certain gravity to the state’s history, and to have a paper from Georgia’s first state capital is immensely cool. — Daniel Britt

Louisville Gazette, January 14, 1800, page 1

Flagpole, March 30, 1988

For over a century, cartoons have been a popular feature in Georgia newspapers. This uncredited cartoon from the March 30, 1988 issue of the Flagpole is one of my favorites. The Flagpole is an alternative newspaper that self-identifies as the “Colorbearer of Athens.” The paper is treasured by those that follow the college town’s famed music scene that has included such acts as the B-52s, R. E. M., Pylon, Neutral Milk Hotel, the Drive-By Truckers, and dozens of others. Music lovers will also appreciate that this issue also includes an interview with the beloved college band Let’s Active from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and an ad for Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, scheduled to play at the University of Georgia’s Legion Field. –Donnie Summerlin

Flagpole, March 30, 1988, page 12

Forsyth County News, February 15, 2004

As a fan of the Beatles, I love this story about how Forsyth County resident Paul Drew introduced the Beatles before their only concert in Atlanta in 1965. Drew was the WQXI musical director in Atlanta and struck up a decades-long relationship with the Fab Four. The story printed in the Forsyth County News includes several photos of the Beatles you won’t find published anywhere else. –Donnie Summerlin

Forsyth County News, February 15, 2004, page 8

The Great Kennesaw Route Gazette, June 1, 1886

Of all the historic newspapers I have microfilmed and helped digitize, The Great Kennesaw Route Gazette’s masthead is among one of the most ornate; it’s was extremely rare for a newspaper publisher to spare no expense for such typography. The paper circulated at each of the Western and Atlantic Railroad’s twenty-two stops, and carried editorials that set it apart from all other railroad papers. When I’m feeling particularly imaginative, I like to think about what it was like to flip through the paper while waiting for my northward or southward train. — Daniel Britt

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