Valdosta Daily Times

March 28, 2014

South Georgia explores slavery legacy


The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta-based Mary Turner Project holds a community forum, 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 1, Magnolia Room, VSU University Center. The subject will be “Coming to Terms with Slavery in South Georgia.”

The Mary Turner Project has also embarked upon a landmark effort to digitize the 1860 Slave Census for the state of Georgia with the plan to make it public and searchable at a new website: www.slavecensus.com. The forum will share some initial conclusions from this research effort in addition to a panel discussion on whether the institution of slavery still has an effect on contemporary life in the 21st century.

Panelists include education professor Dr. Calvin Walker, historian Dr. Tom Aielo, sociologist Dr. Dana Williams, and the Lowndes Southern Christian Leadership Conference President the Rev. Floyd Rose.

The Slave Census digitization project is an effort of the racial justice organization the Mary Turner Project that formed in 2007 to research and commemorate one of the most violent incidents of racial violence in the Valdosta area. As historian Dr. Christopher Meyers described, that event involved a 1918 “lynching rampage” that resulted in the murder of a pregnant black woman named Mary Turner and at least 13 other black residents from the region.

“When we talk with people about our ongoing work, many people bring up the issue of slavery,” said Mark George, project coordinator for the Mary Turner Project. “Many black folks express frustration with not knowing who any of their ancestors are, due to how records kept during slavery omitted the names of enslaved people. Additionally, white folks in the region often have no idea whether or not their ancestors owned any slaves. Since the issue of slavery is still coming up whenever Americans discuss race, we thought it was time to analyze the historical records that were kept and make them available to everyone to research their family histories.”

The forum will be the first opportunity for South Georgians to publicly discuss slavery, while having actual historical evidence available.

“This is, to our knowledge, the first effort anywhere in the United States to attempt a dialogue about what slavery meant in the mid-19th century and what it means for us today,” long-time Mary Turner Project member John Rogers said. “Nearly 46 percent of the total population who lived in Lowndes County in 1860 was enslaved. Where did all those people go? How well are their descendants doing today and what of the descendants of the slave owners?”

This event is being co-sponsored by VSU’s African American Studies Program, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and the university’s Sociology Club. Anyone interested in helping with the Slave Census Digitization project or wanting more information about the public forum on April 1, can visit www.maryturner.org or email the project at info@maryturner.org.