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

Share

Making an Active Historic Church’s History Available Online

The Digital Library of Georgia recently worked with Susan Yarborough to add a collection of documents from Saint Paul’s Church, Augusta, Georgia. Founded in 1750, Saint Paul’s is a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia and the first church and formal institution established in Augusta. The DLG collection includes church registers from 1820 to 1937, minutes of the Vestry from 1855-1923, early church histories, and miscellaneous documents related to the church and diocese history.

Yarborough, chair of the church’s History Committee, notes that Saint Paul’s is still an active church. “Our archives are part of the church’s daily life and play a role in our governance, building maintenance, and even our worship. At the same time, we have a responsibility to the larger community to make available those resources with historical significance.”

“The earliest entries in the oldest Saint Paul’s register are more than two centuries old. Our historic materials are valuable but also fragile. They’ve held up beautifully because they are not regularly handled. Digitization is the best way to make it possible for historians to examine these precious records.”

“The early church registers record baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funerals of church members, including enslaved and free people of color. Many history queries we get at Saint Paul’s have to do with genealogy. So having the registers hosted by DLG allows genealogists and family historians to go directly to the source. They can also explore more than one family name at a time. Plus, they have almost unlimited access, which would not be possible otherwise.”

“At Saint Paul’s, we are so pleased that DLG saw the potential of this material and awarded us the subgrant to digitize and host it.  Many local institutions do not have the expertise or funding to make their historical documents widely available. I really appreciate the way DLG simplifies the sub-grant application process. They provide guidance with model applications and on-line coaching, and DLG staff are happy to answer questions by phone or email.”

“Best of all is the satisfaction of knowing that Saint Paul’s materials are now freely available to teachers, students, and public library users. DLG helps bridge the digital divide for those who rely on schools and public libraries for their research needs. It is so important for people’s understanding of their lives and worlds to have access to information about their family and community histories.”

Parish register, 1820-1868 (page 50 of PDF)
St. Paul’s Church of Augusta Collection
Holding Institution: St. Paul’s Church (Augusta, Ga.)
https://dlg.usg.edu/record/spcag_spcagc_spc14

Yarborough has selected Page 122 from the Parish Register of Saint Paul’s Church for 1864 (this is page 50 of the PDF available for Parish register, 1820-1868), which shows the baptismal records for Rose, a daughter born to Cyrus and Mary, the slaves of Mrs. Elizabeth Bowen, who is serving as baptismal sponsor. Two rows below is the baptismal record for Elisa Jane Beard (colored), daughter of Thomas P. and Carolina Beard, who were free persons of color. In 1868, Thomas P. Beard would become the first African American from Augusta to be elected to the Georgia House of Representatives.

Further down the same page is the baptismal record of Col. Archibald Willingham Butt (1864-1912), a military aide to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft, who died on the Titanic when it sank. He is recorded as having threatened to kill any man who tried to board the lifeboats before the women and children were rescued. Yarborough adds: “That’s probably folklore, but it is a thrilling story.” Circumstantial evidence suggests that Col. Butt was gay. Augusta’s Butt Memorial Bridge, which routes 15th Street over the Augusta Canal, is dedicated to his memory.

Share