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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A Georgia Newspaper Journalist Uses DLG Resources

Augusta Chronicle writer Bill Kirby recently wrote an article delving into the history of Augusta’s Woodlawn School, which educated the children of Augusta cotton mill employees, using the DLG’s newly released collection of historic Augusta newspapers, The Augusta Herald, 1898-1908, The Augusta Daily Herald, 1908-1914, and The Augusta Herald, 1914-1924

Kirby describes the importance of having access to these historical newspapers here:

“Those of us who write about the history of our communities know there is no better source than the local newspapers. They are like battlefield reports from the front lines of daily life. 

Yes, we usually know the outcome of the story they report, but in reviewing their details we sometimes see how that result came to be.

The Digital Library of Georgia’s effort to make available the Augusta Herald issues in the early years of the previous century is invaluable in that it offers another perspective of life in Augusta. It is sometimes different from the one presented by its longtime rival The Augusta Chronicle, whose pages have been digitally available and searchable for two decades.

Best of all, this project is offered free to the public and it is hoped they will use it to see how the past has shaped their present.”

–Bill Kirby, Metro Editor, Augusta Chronicle

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