Historic Materials from the Rylander Theatre, President Jimmy Carter’s Childhood Theatre in Rural Americus, Georgia, Now Available Online

The Friends of the Rylander Theatre, winners of a 2021 Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council (GHRAC) grant, have partnered with the Digital Library of Georgia (DLG) to make materials documenting the Americus, Georgia theater’s history from 1921 to 1957 available freely online. 

Rylander Theatre Special Collections was digitized and described as part of the DLG’s competitive digitization subgrant program, broadening partner participation amongst nonprofit cultural heritage institutions across the state. 

The items in this collection show the “first life” (1921- c. 1951) of the Rylander Theatre and the various types of entertainment the establishment hosted, including live musicals, vaudeville shows, and movies (both silent and “talkies”). In addition, a 1929 school club card and a 1930 theater coupon book show a detailed picture of Depression-era Americus, the popular tastes of this South Georgia town, and details of how local businesses sought to incentivize commerce in their communities during dire times. 

Other materials, like photographs, programs, and fliers, provide factual information like names and dates on programs, visual and aesthetic information such as the design of movie advertisement floats in the lobby of the Rylander. The interior design and decoration of the soda shop owned by local businessman George Saliba attached to the Rylander Theatre (and identified in the 1937 Americus city directory as “George’s Place”) are essential to researchers who wish to fill in details related to life in south Georgia. There are also key examples of rural southern movie theater culture within the Jim Crow era, where establishments like the Rylander accommodated segregated audiences and the impact of the Hays Code (the motion picture industry’s self-imposed production code implemented between 1934 and 1968). 

Researchers interested in the early life of young Jimmy Carter (the Rylander Theatre’s most famous local patron) would also find the materials in this collection enlightening. Those researchers can dig even deeper into advertisements for Rylander Theatre programming that appear in issues of the Americus Times-Recorder digitized for presentation in Georgia Historic Newspapers. And Carter researchers will be able to connect his lifelong enthusiasm in movies to his presidential daily diary.

Jacob A. Ross, Park Ranger at the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park in Plains, Georgia, describes the importance of this collection: 

“As a park ranger for the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park, I consider the Rylander Theatre’s history of being part of President Carter’s history, as the young Carter would often attend shows at the Theatre during the same era these items were created. As a historian interested in southern American culture, this collection has been an enlightening and revealing addition to the unique entertainment and racial histories of theater venues in southwest Georgia…These items also appeal to communities looking to perform a similar restoration of their local theater.”

[View the entire collection online]

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About the Friends of the Rylander Theatre (Americus, Ga.) 

The Rylander Theater in Americus, Georgia, provides community and area visitors a theater and meeting hall for dramatic and musical stage performances, motion pictures, and lectures, with its unique architecture, artistic legacy, and social history to be interpreted through tours and other educational presentations. Read more at rylander.org

Selected images from the collection:

A black-and-white photo of the facade of the Rylander Theatre in Americus, Georgia. The marquee reads "Mon Tue Bette Davis Edw[ard] G. Robinson in Kid Galahad." A young man sits on top of a motorcycle as he looks back at the theater, and pedestrians walk along the sidewalk in front of the theater.
Title: Mon Tue Bette Davis Rylander Theatre street view. Credit: Image courtesy of the Rylander Theatre. Description: A photo of the front of the Rylander Theatre when it was owned by the Martin Theatre Company, a chain of more than sixty-five theaters owned by R. E. Martin of Columbus, Georgia. The marquee reads “Mon Tue Bette Davis Edw[ard] G. Robinson in Kid Galahad.”
Black-and-white photograph of man standing in front of a theatre placard. The movies on display include The Thin Man (1934), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy; and The Plainsman (1936), starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. The display also announces that the "Imperial Hawaiians," a group of male musicians, were scheduled to perform onstage. The "R" at the top of the display as well as the architectural details at the top of the photograph point to the location of this photo as the Rylander Theatre, in Americus Georgia.
Title: Parade of spring attractions. Credit: Image courtesy of the Rylander Theatre. Description: Original photo of movie display in the entryway of the Rylander Theatre when it was under Martin Theatre management. The Martin Theatre chain was comprised of more than sixty-five theaters in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida owned by R. E. Martin of Columbus, Georgia. The movies on display include After The Thin Man (1936), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy; and The Plainsman (1936), starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. The display also announces that the “Imperial Hawaiians,” a group of male musicians, were scheduled to perform onstage. The “R” at the top of the display as well as the architectural details at the top of the photograph point to the location of this photo as the Rylander Theatre, as opposed to the Martin Theatre that opened up across town in 1957.

 

 

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Birth Registers From Historically Endangered Georgia Nursing Home For Expectant African American Mothers Now Available Freely Online

The Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home in Camilla, Georgia, and the Digital Library of Georgia have worked together to digitize and present online the birth registers of the mothers and babies born at the Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home between 1949-1971. 

This nursing home, located at the home of state-certified midwife Mrs. Beatrice (“Miss Bea”) Borders (1892–1971), was the first and only professional birthing center in the rural South where African American women were allowed by local doctors to receive midwife delivery for their newborns during segregation, Jim Crow depression, and medical deprivation in the 20th century. 

“Miss Bea” and her assistants oversaw over 6,000 births and provided a safe place for African American mothers who had nowhere else to go.

These birth records were recorded in mid-century composition notebooks and contain essential genealogical information. 

Depending on the volume, some entries include the mother’s name, the date she entered the facility, the time of the birth, the baby’s weight, the baby’s gender, and whether there were any complications such as stillbirths. Some entries include additional genealogical information such as occupation, age, and address, birthplace, number of children in the family, and the name of the father.

Melissa Jest, program coordinator for African American Programs at the Georgia Historic Preservation division of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs says: 

“The digitization and cataloging of the records from this Black-owned/operated business present an opportunity for students and researchers to learn about this historically significant place and the people who entered its doors. 

It is our hope that this project will bring awareness to Mrs. Borders and will build support for the physical preservation of where she did her work.

The Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home in Camilla, Georgia survives as a very rare example of a professional birthing center run by Mrs. Borders, a state-certified midwife.  Increased access to the business records and related documents generated between 1941 and 1971 will assist hundreds of people researching their genealogy and roots in Mitchell County, Georgia.”

View the entire collection online

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About the Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011 and named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2021, the Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home in Camilla, Georgia was the private residence and nursing center for a third-generation African American midwife Beatrice Borders (1892-1971), in Camilla, Georgia who provided safe, patient-focused health care for expectant African American mothers during segregation in the 20th century. Learn more at beasbabies.org.  

About the Digital Library of Georgia

Based at the University of Georgia Libraries, the Digital Library of Georgia is a GALILEO initiative that collaborates with Georgia’s libraries, archives, museums, and other institutions of education and culture to provide access to key information resources on Georgia history, culture, and life. This primary mission is accomplished by developing, maintaining, and preserving digital collections and online digital library resources. DLG also serves as Georgia’s service hub for the Digital Public Library of America and as the home of the Georgia Newspaper Project, the state’s historic newspaper microfilming project. 

Visit the DLG at dlg.usg.edu.

Facebook: http://facebook.com/DigitalLibraryofGeorgia/ 

Twitter: @DigLibGA

Selected images from the collection:

Image courtesy of Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home
Title : Book O, 1957 Deliveries
https://dlg.usg.edu/record/gwnh_gwnh_book-o-1957 
Description: Birth register completed by Beatrice Borders, an African American state-certified midwife who established the Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home in Camilla, Georgia, a professional birthing center that served African American women during segregation in the twentieth century. This register accounts for 26 deliveries that took place in 1957. It also lists the “Ga. B. Williams Nursing Home” street address at 176 Dyer Street, Camilla, Georgia.

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