Paswell Purvis (1921-1937)

Paswell “Paz” Purvis, of Ray City, GA. Son of Guy Marvin Purvis and Arlie M. Guthrie

Paz Purvis was born March 5, 1921. His parents, Marvin and Arlie Purvis, were long time residents of Ray City and operated Purvis Grocery Store there.

Paswell “Paz” Purvis, son of Arlie and Marvin Purvis, Ray City, GA

In 1937, just days before Paz’s 16th birthday, he rode with Charlie J. Shaw and June McGee to see the Ray City girls’ basketball team play in a tournament at Pearson, GA. Basketball was the sport at Ray City School, and the girls’ and boys’ teams were the pride of the town. Shaw was a next door neighbor of the Purvises and an automobile mechanic in Ray City; his daughter was playing in the tournament. McGee was the owner of the June Cafe, one of the Ray City historic businesses.

June McGee was driving that night. The route from Ray City to Pearson was about 40 miles. A little before 8:30 pm the men were passing through Willacoochee, GA. As they exited the town they approached the railroad crossing of the Georgia & Florida Railroad. In the dark they didn’t see the train that was stopped on the tracks.

The Butler Herald edition of March 4, 1937 reported the fatal automobile accident which occurred on February 24, 1937, in which Paz Purvis, Charlie J. Shaw and June McGee were killed.

MARCH 4, 1937

Willacoochee, Ga., Feb. 25.—Three Ray City men were killed Wednesday night when their auto plunged into the cars of a freight train, stopped at a water tank at Willacoochee. The grade crossing at which the accident occurred is located in the city limits. The dead: Charles Shaw, June McGee and Paz Purvis. Shaw and McGee were instantly killed and Purvis died half an hour later en route to a Douglas hospital. The auto was demolished in the crash. The three men were en route to Pearson to attend a basketball tournament in which Shaw’s daughter, Gwendolyn, was to take part.

The three men were buried at Ray City, GA. Paz Purvis was interred at New Ramah Cemetery. It seems that the monument on his grave was not added until some years later, as it incorrectly gives the date of his death as February 24, 1934.

Grave of Paswell “Paz”Purvis with incorrect death date. Source: Robert Strickland
Paz Purvis
Paz Purvis

Paz Purvis and his parents now rest together at New Ramah Cemetery, the former site of New Ramah Primitive Baptist Church, at Ray City, GA. The burial grounds are quiet except for the susurrations of the south Georgia piney woods.


Charles Jones Shaw (January 24, 1901 – February 24, 1937)
Son of Susie Bullard and Jesse Shelby “Dock” Shaw. Survived by his wife, Marie Dudley Shaw, and daughter, Gwendolyn Shaw. Interred at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA

June Ruffus McGee (March 3, 1910 – February 24, 1937)
Son of Mary Jane Bostick (1875-1941) and David Judson “Jut” McGee (1876-). Survived by his wife, Edith Della Gaskins (1914-1999) and daughter, Hazel Ida McGee (1931-2015). Interred at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Paswell “Paz” Purvis (March 5, 1921 – February 24, 1937)
Son of Arlie Guthrie (1890-1976) and Guy Marvin Purvis (1899-1975). Brother of Treswell Purvis (1917-1968) and June Errol Purvis (1928-2002). Interred at New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

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Married on Thanksgiving

Paul Payne Patten

Paul Payne Patten, son of Ida Lou Hall and James Marcus Patten of Ray City, GA, married Marion Inez Lanham of Atlanta. 

On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1936,  Ray City, GA and the rest of the country were still in the midst of the Great Depression.  Ed Rivers had just been elected governor of Georgia and Franklin D. Roosevelt re-elected to his second term. It was the first Thanksgiving ever celebrated by a U.S. president abroad; Roosevelt had Thanksgiving dinner in the south Atlantic on board the battleship USS Indianapolis on his way to the Inter-American Peace Conference in Buenos Aires.  Marion Inez Lanham and Paul Payne Patten celebrated Thanksgiving by getting married. 

Marion Inez Lanham engagement photo 1936

Marion Inez Lanham engagement photo 1936


The bride was the 24-year-old daughter of Charles Marion Lanham and Myrtle I. Prichard.    Her father was a dispatcher or “trainmaster” for steam trains on the Seaboard Rail Road. He was a Presbyterian and a member of the W. D. Lucky lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons. Her mother was Myrtle I. Prichard, daughter of Dr. John Emory Prichard.  Marion Inez Lanham was a graduate of the Girls High School, an all-white, girls-only public high school which had been established in Atlanta during Reconstruction.

Girls High School building, Atlanta, GA. Photographed 1956.

Girls High School building, Atlanta, GA. Photographed 1956.

The groom was Paul Payne Patten, born July 4, 1910, the son of educators who taught at the Ray City School and other community schools in the area. He was 5’6″ inches tall, 150 pounds, with brown eyes, brown hair and a ruddy complexion. Paul and his brother Edwin James Patten attended the all-white Georgia School of Technology, now Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, GA; The brothers graduated together in 1934, both receiving degrees in mechanical engineering. 

Paul Payne Patten of Ray City, GA

Paul Payne Patten of Ray City, GA


Georgia School of Technology, now Georgia Tech, Atlanta, GA

Georgia School of Technology, now Georgia Tech, Atlanta, GA

After graduation, Paul Patten obtained a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service. He worked at Camp Lucretia, near Villa Rica, GA, which was part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs to provide work for unemployed men. During the Great Depression, the unemployment rate was at 25 percent. The camp was one of the 2,650 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps that employed more than 600,000 men across the nation from 1933 to 1942. Ray City men served at the CCC camp at Homerville, GA.  Even though the federal law creating the CCC declared “no discrimination shall be made on account of race, color, and creed,” the National Park Service documents how in Georgia, African-Americans were excluded from CCC camps. The CCC opportunities were for white men.  According to Georgia Department of Transportation archeologist Terri Lotti, the work at “Camp Lucretia included seed collection, building terrace outlets, gully control and road construction within a 10-mile radius of the camp in Carroll, Haralson, Paulding and Douglas counties. The young men of the camp also built furniture using lumber from land-clearing operations in the area, selling the furniture in town…vocational training and other education was one of the most important aspects of CCC camp life [at Camp Lucretia] because it gave the enrollees a better chance to find a job when they discharged. Education initially included courses on adult literacy, typing, first aid, salesmanship, citizenship, arithmetic, reading, writing and leathercraft, but were later expanded to include algebra, astronomy, civics, auto mechanics, carpentry, cooking and photography.

Camp Lucretia, SCS-4, Villa Rica, GA

Men of Camp Lucretia. During the Great Depression, Camp Lucretia SCS-4, provided work and education for unemployed white men in Villa Rica, GA.


Marion Inez Lanham and Paul Payne Patten had announced their engagement in the October 18, 1836 edition of the Atlanta Constitution.

Engagement of  Marion Inez Lanham to Paul Payne Patten 1936

Engagement of Marion Inez Lanham to Paul Payne Patten 1936

Atlanta Constitution
October 18, 1936
Miss Lanham Weds Mr. Patten at Thanksgiving Ceremony

Miss Marion Inez Lanham

Announcement is made today by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Marion Lanham of the engagement of their daughter, Marion Inez, to Paul Payne Patten, the marriage to take place on Thanksgiving Day.
Miss Lanham is the eldest of three daughters, her sisters being Misses Carolyn and Eleanor Lanham. Her mother was formerly Miss Myrtle Prichard, daughter of the late Dr. John E. Prichard, prominent north Georgia physician, and the late Mrs. Sallie Prichard. The bride-elect graduated from Girls High School.  Mr. Patten is the son of Mr. and Mrs. James M. Patten, of Ray City, Ga. His sister is Miss Ruth Patten, and his brothers are Hall Patten, of Ray City; Edwin Patten of  Villa Rica. His mother was before her marriage Miss Ida Lou Hall. He is a graduate of Georgia School of Technology, in the class of 1934, and is connected with the United States Department of Agriculture.

Six weeks later the couple were married.

Marriage of Marion Inez Lanham and Paul Payne Patten reported in the Atlanta Constitution, November 27, 1936.

Marriage of Marion Inez Lanham and Paul Payne Patten reported in the Atlanta Constitution, November 27, 1936.

Miss Lanham Weds Paul Payne Patten At Home Ceremony

Of interest was the marriage Thanksgiving afternoon of Miss Marion Inez Lanham, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Marion Lanham, to Paul Payne Patten, which was solemnized at 5:30 o’clock at the home of the brides parents on Wesley avenue, in the presence of an assemblage of friends and relatives. Dr. E. T. Wilson, pastor of the Peachtree Road Presbyterian church, performed the ceremony.
A musical program was rendered by Mrs. J. Stephen Hughes, pianist, and J. G. Bentley, vocalist, sang “I Love You Truly,” “Because” and “The Sweetest Story Ever Told.” The improvised altar in the living room was banked with foliage plants and palms and combined with pedestal basket trimmed with Easter lilies and pompoms and seven-branched cathedral candelabra holding burning white tapers.
Miss Carolyn Lanham, sister of the bride, was maid of honor. She was lovely in a princess model of pale green brocaded satin and she carried talisman roses. Little Miss Ann Lou Patten, niece of the groom, who was a flower girl, wore a princess model of pink taffeta and she carried a nosegay.
Entering with her father, by whom she was giving in marriage, the bride was met at the altar by the groom and his brother, Edwin Patten, who was best man. The bride wore a beautiful gown of white satin, made with a tight-fitting jacket of lace which extended in the back to the full length of her long train. Her bridal veil of misty white tulle was held to her hair by orange blossoms. She carried a bouquet of bride’s roses and valley lilies.
Mr. and Mrs. Lanham entertained at an informal reception after the ceremony. Assisting in entertaining were Mesdames Hall Patten, Edwin Patten, Luther Hamilton, R.R. Lanham and Misses Ruth Patten, Maybelle Prichard, MayBeth Prichard and Mary Curtis. Miss Eleanor Lanham, sister of the bride, kept the bride’s book. She wore peach taffeta. Mrs. Lanham was handsomely attired in a wine velvet gown and she wore a shoulder bouquet of white rosebuds. Miss Ruth Patten, sister of the groom, wore royal blue velvet and her corsage was pink rosebuds.
Mr. Patten and his bride left for their wedding trip to Florida and upon their return they will reside with the bride’s parents on Wesley avenue. For traveling the bride wore a smart three piece suit of gray wool trimmed with Persian lamb and her hat and accessories were gray.

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Black Doughboys and White Sparrows

 Edward James Cobb (1889-1956)

During World War I, 404,348 black troops served in segregated units of the US army. There were 639 African-American officers, over 100 black physicians were officers in US Army Medical Corps, and 12 black men served as dental officers. 

Edward J. Cobb was one of the 12 black officers in Dental Reserve Corps.

Edward James Cobb, First Lieutenant, Dental Corps, United States Army during WWI was born at Valdosta, GA.
Edward James Cobb, First Lieutenant, Dental Corps, United States Army during WWI was born at Valdosta, GA.

According to later passport documents, Edward James Cobb was born on April 20, 1889 at Valdosta, GA. His brother, Morris H. Cobb, taught in Berrien County, GA and was later a doctor in Valdosta, GA. Another brother, Richard H. Cobb, was a dentist in Columbus, GA.

In the segregated U.S. Army, black soldiers served in the two WWI African-American combat divisions, the 92nd and 93rd, and also in other army units.  In fact, the majority of black troops in World War I were in the support units, mainly quartermaster, stevedore, labor, and pioneer infantry regiments.  Dental officers were needed for these men also. Edward J. Cobb would serve overseas in World War I in the 92nd Division. Another area soldier in the 92nd Division was Carlos J. Boggs, of Ray City, GA.

Edward J. Cobb studied dentistry at the University of Iowa. On April 6, 1917, just weeks before he was to graduate, the United States formally declared war on Germany and entered World War I. The country rushed to mobilize an army and prepared to fight the war. Cobb completed his studies and entered the Army’s first black officers’ training program, The black Provisional Army Officer Training School  at  Fort Des Moines.  The training camp was conducted under the leadership of white officers, with General Charles Clarendon Ballou in command. The camp formally opened on June 15, 1917. The training would last 90 days and would prepare black officers to command all-black units of the segregated US Army.

World War I recruiting poster aims to encourage African Americans to enlist. In the poster, “Colored Man Is No Slacker,” a black soldier takes his leave against a background of African American patriotism, self-sacrifice, and courage. Image source: Library of Congress.

At the very time when African Americans so wanted the opportunity to demonstrate that their patriotism and abilities equaled those of white troops, racial violence flared throughout the country. That summer in East St. Louis, IL tensions escalated from labor disputes, to drive by shootings, to what the press called the East St. Louis Race War.

July 3, 1917. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reports the massacre of African-Americans in East St. Louis, KY.
July 3, 1917. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reports the massacre of African-Americans in East St. Louis, KY.

Racial tensions began simmering in East St. Louis—a city where thousands of blacks had moved from the South to work in war factories—as early as February 1917… In the spring, the largely white workforce at the Aluminum Ore Company went on strike. Hundreds of blacks were hired. After a City Council meeting on May 28, angry white workers lodged formal complaints against black migrants. When word of an attempted robbery of a white man by an armed black man spread through the city, mobs started beating any African-Americans they found, even pulling individuals off of streetcars and trolleys. The National Guard was called in but dispersed in June. On July 1, a white man in a Ford shot into black homes. Armed African-Americans gathered in the area and shot into another oncoming Ford, killing two men who turned out to be police officers investigating the shooting. The next morning, whites pouring out of a meeting in the Labor Temple downtown began beating blacks with guns, rocks and pipes. They set fire to homes and shot residents as they fled their burning properties. Blacks were also lynched in other areas of the city…By early Monday morning, the whole neighborhood was on fire. By the end of the three-day crisis, the official death toll was 39 black individuals and nine whites.

Smithsonian Magazine

Hundreds more people were injured in the East St. Louis Race Riot. Property damage was estimated at $373,000 in damages (which would be over $100 million measured as relative project cost in 2021 dollars).

After the massacre in East St. Louis, the white community in Des Moines worried about relations with the black soldiers at Fort Des Moines. In a gesture of good will Holmes Calper, Dean of the Institute of Fine Arts at Drake University, invited the camp command to bring the black cadets to perform at a White Sparrow concert. The White Sparrows were Sunday afternoon concerts sponsored by Drake University for the benefit of a local charitable organization. Calper later reflected on the occasion:

At the beginning of the war a Colored Officers Training Camp was organized at Fort Des Moines. Twelve hundred of the pick of the colored race of America were stationed there. As some of these had already had misunderstandings with the townspeople at theatres, etc., many people wondered whether this aggregation was desirable. Several of us called upon their commanding officer to see if he would allow his men to participate in a “Sing” at the Stadium. He readily consented. The street car company transported the men into town, and as those twelve hundred colored men marched onto the gridiron, fifteen thousand people stood and cheered them to the echo. During the afternoon the men went through several drills and three hundred of the best singers stepped out and sang some of the famous negro melodies…The singing that day, with the assistance of the colored troops, was unusually good, the accompaniments being played by two bands… The affair closed with the ceremony of the lowering of the flag and from that day to this nothing but kind words are said of those splendid fellows.

Papers and proceedings of the Music Teachers’ National Association. (1919)
Sunday, July 22, 1917. African-American officer candidates from Ft. Des Moines perform at the stadium of Drake University.
Sunday, July 22, 1917. African-American officer candidates from Ft. Des Moines perform at the stadium of Drake University.

The “White Sparrow Patriotic Ceremony” was presented July 22, 1917 at Drake University stadium. At the event the black cadets marched and sang “Negro melodies” for a crowd of 15,000 spectators.

While the relationship between black soldiers at Fort Des Moines and the white population of city of Des Moines remained civil, this was not the case everywhere in America. One hundred and fifty-six black soldiers were implicated the Houston riot of August 23,1917; 11 white civilians, 5 white police officers, and four black soldiers were killed in the riot. One hundred seventeen black soldiers were court-martialed and 110 were convicted. Thirteen black soldiers were executed in a mass hanging and six more were hanged later; 91 were sentenced to various terms of confinement at the U.S. Penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 

At the Fort Des Moines Provisional Officer Training School, Edward J. Cobb and the other officer cadets completed 90 days of rigorous technical and physical training. On October 15, 1917,  638 African-American captains and lieutenants received their commissions, including Lieutenant Cobb, and were dispatched for basic training at a variety of camps. For this accomplishment General Ballou, the white commander of the Provisional Army Officer Training School at Ft. Des Moines, enjoyed immense popularity among the African-American population at-large. But a few months later the black community was called for Ballou’s resignation after he gave orders telling black soldiers in the African-American 92nd Division to stay out of white establishments “where their presence will be resented…[the] public is nine-tenths white. White men made the Division, and they can break it just as easily if it becomes a trouble maker.”

Insignia shoulder patch for the 92nd Infantry Division. National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Buffalo Soldiers Division
In June, 1918, Lt. Cobb and the 92nd Division embarked at Hoboken, NJ. for the voyage to France. Hoboken was one of the great WWI embarkation points for American troops bound for overseas duty in France. It was the same port of embarkation from which Carlos J. Boggs, of Ray City, GA would depart to join the 367th Infantry, the Buffalo Infantry, 92nd Division. The ill-fated HMS Otranto would embark from Hoboken carrying a large contingent of Georgia troops, including a number from Berrien County, GA. Lawson Rentz of Ray City, GA was a medical officer in the Embarkation Service at Hoboken.

When the Buffalo Soldiers Division (92nd Division) arrived in France, they were shunned by American leaders at the top.  “The mass of the colored drafted men cannot be used for combatant troops”, said a General Staff report in 1918, and it recommended that “these colored drafted men be organized in reserve labor battalions.” They handled unskilled labor tasks as stevedores in the Atlantic ports and common laborers at the camps and in the Services of Supply in France.  Historian David M. Kennedy reports,

“Units of the black 92nd Division particularly suffered from poor preparation and the breakdown in command control. As the only black combat division, the 92nd Division entered the line with unique liabilities. It had been deliberately dispersed throughout several camps during its stateside training; some of its artillery units were summoned to France before they had completed their courses of instruction, and were never fully-equipped until after the Armistice; nearly all its senior white officers scorned the men under their command and repeatedly asked to be transferred. The black enlisted men were frequently diverted from their already attenuated training opportunities in France in the summer of 1918 and put to work as stevedores and common laborers.”

Kennedy, David M. 1982. Over Here: The First World War and American Society

The division did not receive assignments with the American Expeditionary Force, rather:

General John “Black Jack” Pershing was more than willing to lend [the division] to the French army to fight under the French command and flag. Parts of the 92nd would see combat action in France…These African-American soldiers would wear the American uniform, but would don the blue French helmet and utilize French military equipment. They quickly dispelled the American Army’s belief that they were inferior soldiers as they heroically and valiantly fought in fierce combat throughout the war. As a result of their actions, France would award several honors and medals upon multiple regiments in [the division]. Some of these noble awards were equivalent to the U.S. Medal of Honor. Several soldiers received the coveted French Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) medal for their exemplary and heroic fighting during WWI.

National Park Service. (2018) The Buffalo Soldiers in WWI.

Edward J. Cobb served in France throughout the war. After the Armistice he was transferred to the Medical Detachment of the 816th Pioneer Infantry. According to historian, Dr. Christopher Bean, after hostilities ceased, thousands of Pioneer Infantry men of the 813th, 815th and 816th were assigned the sobering task of collecting bodies, and body parts, from the battlefields of France as winter encroached and prepare them for burial. The 816th Pioneer Infantry was detailed to the Graves Registration Service at Romagne and was tasked with building the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, the largest American cemetery in France. Twenty-one thousand American soldiers were buried there.

The 816th Pioneer Infantry returned to the US in July 1919 aboard the USS Manchuria, departing from St. Nazaire, France on July 8 and arriving at Hoboken, NJ on July 18, 1919.

Although research found no records of military awards to Edward J. Cobb, the WWI Victory Medal was awarded to military personnel for service between April 6, 1917, and November 11, 1918.

The Victory Medal was awarded to military personnel for service between April 6, 1917, and November 11, 1918.

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J.M. Knight left the “Goober State” for Miami

James Madison Knight (1879-1953) grew up in the Rays Mill District of Berrien County, GA; He was a great grandson of William Anderson Knight, pioneer settler of the district. His father was Ulysses A. Knight (1859-1934); his mother Mary J. Baskin (1861-1902). His father briefly served as postmaster of Rays Mill, GA. After attending Grand Bay School, near Ray’s Mill (now Ray City, GA), J.M. Knight attended Stanley’s Business College at Thomasville, GA. Other Rays Mill students at the college were Lane Young and W. D. Sloan. In 1904 J.M. Knight moved to Florida where he became a general contractor.

A biographical sketch of James M. Knight appeared in Cuthbert’s History of Florida, Volume 3, published in 1923:

James M. Knight, prominent contractor and builder at Miami, is a master of several of the basic arts involved in the building construction, and long mechanical skill and experience give him great advantage in directing his present organization and equipment for handling every class of building construction.
Mr. Knight was born near Valdosta, Georgia, in 1880, and represents a lineage that has been in Berrien County, Georgia, from earliest pioneer times. One of the earliest settlers there was his Great-grandfather [William Anderson] Knight, a rifle maker, who made many of the guns with which warfare was carried against Cherokee Indians. Mr. Knight’s ancestors were soldiers in the Indian wars, the Revolution, and later on the Confederate side in the war between the states. His two grandfathers, Jonathan H. Knight and J. N. [James Madison] Baskin, built the famous and historic school at Grand Bay, in Berrien County. Mr. Knight’s father, [Ulysses] Hugh A. Knight, came to Florida some years ago, and owns one of the finest farms in the state, a large place near Arcadia, stocked with fine cattle and containing citrus groves.
James M. Knight grew up on a Georgia farm, and from an early age took his place between the plow handles. His excellent education was due largely to the splendid Grand Bay school mentioned above. There he was an appreciative pupil under Dr. R. C. Woodard, then principal. Doctor Woodard was a teacher of genuine distinction, one who not only instilled learning, but character, into his pupils. After an honorary career as a school man Doctor Woodard took up the practice of medicine, and is now highly esteemed in his profession in Miami. James M. Knight also finished a course at Stanley’s Business College at Thomasville, Georgia.
His years were industriously spent on the farm until he was twenty-three. Then, in 1904, having learned the trade of stone mason, he came to Florida, locating at Tampa, and made the building trade his permanent business. After spending several years in building operations in and around Tampa and after a short period in the central part of the state, he came early in 1917 to Miami. Here he has been one of the busy contractors. One of his first large jobs as superintendent of construction was the Clyde Court Apartments. His business has involved both business and residence structures at Miami and Miami Beach. A few examples of his work that may be mentioned as an indication of the character and scope of his business include two large residences for Carl Fisher at Miami Beach, the beautiful home of E. B. Kurtz in Magnolia Park, the plastering and masonry contracts on the Ohio Hotel, the Keystone Hotel, the Leamington Hotel, the new building of the South Atlantic Telephone Company, and he was the builder of the drug store of Dr. D. S. Boles on Northeast Second Avenue, the Llewellen Building on North Miami Avenue, the Bishop Apartments on Miami Beach, the Municipal Warehouse, Municipal Dock for the City of Miami, and many other noted structures.
Mr. Knight is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Stanton Memorial Baptist Church. He married Miss Mary J. Swann, of Savannah, Georgia. They have three sons, G. B. [Girth Baskin Knight], U. A. [Ulysses A. Knight] and J. E. [James Earle] Knight.

Clyde Court Apartments, Miami, FL, 1921. Constructed by James Madison Knight, great grandson of William Anderson Knight, early pioneer of old Lowndes County, GA.

In 1920, J.M. Knight formed a partnership with George Lomas and for four years did business as the firm of Knight & Lomas. The company completed a large number of buildings before dissolving in 1924.

On New Years Day, 1924 The Miami News-Metropolis did a piece on the firm, in which it was observed the company was doing much to build up the city. About Knight, it was said,

J. M. Knight is a native of Georgia, in which state, in his earlier days, he followed the plow in fields of cotton, sugar cane and sweet potatoes, but as long as the demand continues in Miami for new buildings he has no intention of returning to the Goober state and the fields. He has his comfortable home in Miami, and prefers this to all localities he has seen.

But J.M. Knight was proud of his Georgia heritage. He and his sons were prime organizers in the Dade County Georgia Society. In 1922, the society put on a huge barbeque for the 4th of July. Among the south Georgians who removed to Miami were Lester Griffin & family, Lawson S. Rentz, Dr. D. Frank Rentz, and Benjamin L. Wilkerson.

During the Miami boom years from 1923 to 1926 J.M. Knight partnered with his brother Oliph May Knight under the name of Knight Construction Company. O.M. Knight invented and patented a cruise control device for automobiles, and built a manufacturing plant in Atlanta, GA.

The boom period in Miami construction ended with the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. The Conners, of Ray City, GA were among Berrien County residents vacationing in south Florida when the storm hit. Lester Griffin’s family, who had moved to Fort Lauderdale, FL narrowly escaped the disaster, as they were visiting relatives in south Georgia; Lester Griffin rode out the storm in Fort Lauderdale.

The 1926 storm was described by the U.S. Weather Bureau in Miami as “probably the most destructive hurricane ever to strike the United States.” It hit Fort Lauderdale, Dania, Hollywood, Hallandale and Miami. The death toll is estimated to be from 325 to perhaps as many as 800. No storm in previous history had done as much property damage. 

1926 Miami: The blow that broke the boom

About 1928, James Madison Knight left Miami and moved to Birmingham, AL.

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J.T. Wilkes at James Millikin University

.James Thomas Wilkes (1902-1962) was born February 14, 1902 at Adel, GA.
His father, J.T. Wilkes, Sr (1859-1920), a merchant at Adel, was invested in community affairs. J. T. Wilkes Sr served as Mayor of Adel for the 1891-92 term of office. J.T. Wilkes, Sr was a charter member of Adel First Baptist Church, organized about 1890-91. Wilkes and Joel J. Parrish donated a site, and Wilkes was instrumental in the construction of a church building. He was a stockholder in the Adel Electric Light & Power Company, which made the first effort to bring electricity to the residents of Adel. J. T. Wilkes, Sr. was a fellow investor with Dr. R.C. Woodard in commercial projects in the community.

James Thomas Wilkes, Senior photo at James Millikin University. 1924

In 1924, Wilkes was a student and an instructor at James Millikin University.

Wilkes attended Davidson College, Davidson, NC in 1919-1920. In Fall of 1920, he transferred to Bowling Green Business University, Bowling Green, KY where he attended through the summer of 1922. He completed the Bachelor of Science in Commerce and Finance at James Millikin University, Decatur, IL and earned the Master of Accounts degree.

James Thomas Wilkes, of Adel, GA, graduated in 1924 from James Milliken University with a Bachelor of Science in Commerce and Finance.
1923 Tau Kappa Epsilon at James Milliken University. James Thomas Wilkes, of Adel, GA was a member of the fraternity.
James Milliken University, Decatur, IL 1923
1924 Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity house at James Milliken University

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Early Automobiles in Berrien County, GA

Country doctors in the early 1900’s depended on the rural roads to see their patients. Doctors were frequently among the first in the community to purchase automobiles and were among the promoters of road and transportation development.

Dr. Pleasant H. Askew’s REO two-seater is believed to be the first automobile in Berrien County, GA. Dr. Pleasant H. Askew was a prominent physician, businessman and landowner of Nashville, GA. In the 1920s he purchased a farm from Sullivan J. Knight along Cat Creek about five miles north of Ray City, GA; it was one of several Berrien County properties he owned.

Dr. P. H. Askew and Delilah Hinson Drawdy, circa 1904.
Dr. P. H. Askew and Delilah Hinson Drawdy riding in an REO two-seater automobile circa 1905. The REO Motor Car Company produced automobiles and trucks from 1905 to 1975. Image courtesy of
Newspaper clipping. Owner of first automobile. Dr. L. A. Carter, in car at right, was the first car owner in Nashville, GA. He is shown in the car, a Maxwell roadster. At left is a Valdosta, GA mechanic who drove up to repair Dr. Carter's car. A mechanic was not available in Nashville.
Dr Lafayette Alonzo Carter (1858-1932), the first automobile owner in Nashville, GA, drove a Maxwell Roadster. Image courtesy of

The second gas vehicle in Berrien County was said to be a Maxwell car owned by Dr. Henry W. Clements. Henry W. Clements was a Physician who lived and practiced in Ray City, Georgia during the early days of the town.  He was one of the many Medical Men of Ray’s Mill (now Ray City), who served the community over the years.

The Maxwell Motor Company produced a model called the Doctor’s Roadster, marketed especially to medical men, as seen in this advertisement from The Medical World magazine.

Advertisement for the Maxwell Motor Car in The Medical World Magazine. Dr. Henry W. Clements, of Ray City, GA owned a Maxwell.
Advertisement for the Maxwell Motor Car in The Medical World Magazine. Dr. Henry W. Clements, of Ray City, GA owned a Maxwell.

In Berrien County, GA the Maxwell line of cars was handled by W.P. Tittle & Co., a Nashville, GA firm from 1911 to around 1925. The firm, owned by  William Price Tittle, his brother Devlin Dunbar “Deb” Tittle, and brother-in-law Charlie G. Starling, was the first automobile dealer in Berrien County, GA.

Automobile dealership in Nashville, GA circa 1915 showing men and automobiles on the car lot.
Automobile dealership in Nashville, GA circa 1915

William David Sloan, born March 12, 1879 in the “Rays Mill District” (1144 Georgia Militia District), was another early car owner in Berrien County, GA.

Dr. William David Sloan and Julia Knight Rigell Sloan. (Image courtesy of
Dr. William David Sloan and his wife Julia Knight Rigell Sloan in an REO two seater. (Image courtesy of
Dr. William David Sloan and his automobile. Dr. Sloan was born and raised in the Rays Mill, GA vicinity.
Dr. William David Sloan and his Ford automobile. Dr. Sloan was born and raised in the Rays Mill, GA vicinity.

Dr. R. C. Woodard, of Adel, GA, acquired a Paige touring car, built in Detroit, MI. Robert Crawford Woodard was born in 1867 near Ray’s Mill (now Ray City, GA). He became an important an important figure medicine and education in Wiregrass Georgia. Henry W. Clements roomed with Dr. R. C. Woodard while the two were medical students at the medical college in Augusta, GA.

1917 Paige-Detroit Motor Car advertisement. Image courtesy of Bill Roberts. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License .

Dr. George Hill Folsom owned a Ford Model T “Tin Lizzie” Touring Car.

Dr. George Hill Folsom & Family in their 1914 Ford Model T “Tin Lizzie” Touring Car. Dr. Folsom practiced medicine in Berrien and Lanier counties. He resided in Ray City, GA in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

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Early Schoolhouses in Georgia

The memoirs of Judge Augustin H. Hansell (1817-1907) describe his experiences as a student in a common school of the Wiregrass Georgia frontier. He started his education in 1822 at Milledgeville, GA at the age of five or six.

Engraving of early log schoolhouse with children playing at recess
Engraving of early log schoolhouse with children playing at recess

Judge Hansell was known to everyone in Wiregrass Georgia and had defended, prosecuted or presided over the most prominent court cases of Rays MillTroupvilleNashville, and other south Georgia towns.  As a young attorney Augustin H. Hansell put up a sensational murder defense for Jim Hightower (aka James Stewart); as Solicitor General he won an equally sensational murder conviction against Jonathan Studstill, which was later pardoned by the state legislature. As judge of the Southern Circuit of the Superior Court, he presided over the trial of Burrell Hamilton Bailey and of James T. Biggles, who gunned down Madison Pearson on the front porch Henry H. Knight’s mercantile store at Ray’s Mill, GA. He represented Thomas County, GA at the Georgia Secession Convention of 1861, and signed the Georgia Ordinance of Secession along with John Carroll Lamb, of Berrien County.  He was a member of the Constitutional Convention of the of 1877, along with Ray’s Mill (now Ray City) resident Jonathan David Knight.

In his memoirs he describes the schoolhouse of his childhood.


About this time and when only in my sixth year, I started to school…The school was about two and a half miles from our home, and the walk seemed rather long for a five year old.  Our nearest way took us off the public road and directly through the extensive orchard and yards of my grandfather…But let us get back to school. The house was about 25 x 20 feet in size.  The roof was of boards held in place by small logs laid across them and held in place by wooden pegs.  The floor was of puncheons and on two sides of the room a log was sawed out to give light, especially for writing, and boards were fastened inside so that they could be drawn up and fastened by leather thongs. These were tied to wooden pegs, as there were no nails used in the building, which was literally built by hand, and no nails, glass or brick were found there. In one corner stood a large block about two feet high and known as the “Dunce Block,” upon which some unfortunate boy had to stand often for an hour, and if it was a bad case, a dunce cap made of paper and about three feet high was placed on his head.  And in addition, a pair of spectacles with bark in the place of glass, was placed over his eyes. The only door  was of boards and was fastened by a chain and padlock and the key kept by the teacher.

Hansell also talks of ghostly encounters walking home from school. He mentions that schooling continued even in the Summer and that the Fourth of July was expected as a school holiday.

Early schools were also a subject of the 1894-1895 report on the state of education in the United States produced by the Commissioner of Education, William Torrey Harrison. This was only the second such volume that had been produced. A chapter on early educational life in Georgia addresses the period before the Civil War and describes the typical common schoolhouse of the time in rural Georgia, which was to say in all of Georgia except perhaps Savannah and Augusta.


A place was selected on the edge of a wood and a field turned out to fallow, sufficiently central, hard by a spring of purest fresh water, a loghouse was put up, say 30 by 25 feet, with one door and a couple of windows and shelves, with benches along the unceiled walls, and the session began. Most families breakfasted about sunrise, and a brisk walk of three-quarters of an hour brought even remotest dwellers to the early opening. The one who happened to reach the schoolhouse first on winter mornings kindled a fire. This was before the date of lucifer matches. In winter half-burned logs were so disposed beneath ashes on the huge fireplaces as to preserve fire through the night, which was quickly rekindled by the aid of pine knots always on hand. To provide against failure, the master and some of the larger boys carried a small piece of rotten wood -punk- obtained from a decayed oak, which, being held under a flintstone and struck with a steel blade of a pocket knife, produced sparks, igniting the wood. There was seldom any suffering from cold.
At noon a recess of two hours was allowed for dinner and sports. On days when the sun shone, the hour was made known by its reaching a mark on the floor by the door or one of the window-sills. In cloudy weather it was guessed at. The idea of a schoolmaster owning a watch did not enter anybody’s mind. When the day was done, dismissal was out and out. There were no keepings-in at noon or evening tide. Each day had its own history and no more; whatever was done was done for all henceforth – recitings, good or bad, punishments big or little, became things of the past, though their likes were sure to be enacted on every day thereafter. The meaning is that nothing was put off, no more than a breakfast, for the morrow. The master went silently to the house where he boarded, and the pupils, boys and girls, whipped and unwhipped, turning their backs upon everything, journeyed leisurely along, boys anon rallying one another on the day’s misadventures, personal and vicarious, and the girls behind laughing at them, occasionally lingering to gather and weave into nosegays wild flowers, that in all seasons, except the depth of winter, bordered their way along roads and lanes.

United States. 1896. Report of the Commissioner of Education for the year 1894-1895, Volume 2.

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The Small Pox in Berrien

The Small Pox in Berrien

In 1900, the threat of a smallpox outbreak alarmed the citizens of Berrien County, GA. Local outbreaks of smallpox had been reported in cities and communities across the region. African-American neighborhoods were particularly affected. In some cases infected houses were burned to contain the disease.   “Because smallpox requires a human host to survive, it smoldered in densely populated areas, erupting in a full-blown epidemic every ten years or so. Wherever it appeared, smallpox caused blindness, sterility, scarring, and death.” – Smithsonian

A year earlier, Berrien County men serving in the Spanish-American War had been vaccinated against smallpox prior to shipping out to Cuba. In some towns, local authorities strongly encouraged all citizens to get vaccinated, some even provided free vaccinations. Residents sick with smallpox were quarantined in “pest-houses.” Those who had been in contact were placed under observation in a “detention house” for 14 days. Visitors found to be infected might be driven out of town.

Smallpox vaccination scene. National Library of Medicine.

Before smallpox was eradicated, it was a serious infectious disease caused by the variola virus. It was contagious—meaning, it spread from one person to another. People who had smallpox had a fever and a distinctive, progressive skin rash.

Most people with smallpox recovered, but about 3 out of every 10 people with the disease died. Many smallpox survivors had permanent scars over large areas of their body, especially their faces. Some were left blind.

Thanks to the success of vaccination, smallpox was eradicated, and no cases of naturally occurring smallpox have happened since 1977. The last natural outbreak of smallpox in the United States occurred in 1949.  -CDC

In 1900, Berrien County commissioners looked to Dr. Robert C. Woodard, a recent graduate of the Medical College at Augusta, GA (now Augusta University) to treat the sick. Local authorities enforced quarantines with guards around infected homes and considered compulsory vaccinations.

Tifton Gazette
January 26, 1900

The Small Pox in Berrien

Hon F. M. Shaw, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, was in Tifton Tuesday. He came here to meet Dr. Woodard, of Adel, who came up on the noon train, and was carried to Brookfield and Enigma, where five cases of small pox are reported, one at the former place, and four at the latter.
The cases were reported Monday, and Coms. Shaw and Dorminy went at once to the scene of the trouble. Guards were put around the houses infected, and a strict quarantine inaugurated. The services of Dr. Woodard were secured by telephone, and the cases placed in his hands.
The disease is confined entirely to negroes, and is supposed to have been brought from Irwin or Coffee by migratory hands. One of the negroes at Enigma is reported dead.
The action taken by our commissioners deserves the highest praise. The best way to stamp the disease out is to isolate each case, and this they propose doing. A few dollars spent in this way will save the county thousands that would be required should the trouble become epidemic. They should be given every encouragement in their efforts, and the support of every loyal citizen.
As yet, no alarm has been felt in Tifton, and no further action has been considered necessary by the city authorities than that taken yesterday in establishing a pest house and notifying the police and all physicians in the city to keep a sharp lookout and report any suspected cases. Should any appear, they will be at once isolated, and vaccination made compulsory.

Despite the attempts at quarantine, smallpox continued to threaten Berrien County. So much so that Judge Augustin H. Hansell determined a large public gathering would be imprudent, and cancelled the March term of the Berrien Superior Court.

Tifton Gazette
March 16, 1900
Superior Court Postponed.
At Chambers, Thomasville, Ga., March 12th, 1900:
For providential causes, consisting in the prevalance of small pox in various portions of Berrien, making it improper to bring the people together, the March Term, 1900, of Berrien superior court is hereby postponed to meet on the first Monday in June next, at 10 o’clock a.m. and all jurors, witnesses and parties interested will attend at that time.
Aug. H. Hansell,
Judge S.C.S.C

By the end of March 1900, smallpox was spreading across Georgia and neighboring states.  Savannah, GA had had a compulsory smallpox vaccination requirement since 1877, but compliance was less than complete. With the pox running rampant, the city moved for strict enforcement of vaccination for all residents.

Office of the Mayor
Savannah, Ga., March 27, 1900.
The following is published for the information and guidance of the public:
As a precautionary measure, and in view of the fact that small-pox prevails in many of the counties and towns of Georgia and the surrounding states, and can be transmitted through the medium of the mails, express packages, freight, etc., notice is herewith given by the Sanitary Board of the city of Savannah, that every person resident in the city of Savannah or the county of Chatham, must be vaccinated within the next ten days, ending April 6, 1900, and that after the expiration of that time the law will be rigidly enforced as to all persons found not vaccinated, as follows:
“Section 62, MacDonell’s code (acts of 1877: Vaccination Compulsory: Vaccination shall be compulsory upon all persons living in Chatham county, and any person or persons who have not been vaccinated, and who, after the 19th of February, 1877, fail to be vaccinated, shall, upon conviction for the first offense, be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars or imprisonment in the county jail for not longer than one month.”
The city physicians will vaccinate free of charge, any persons resident in the city of Savannah or county of Chatham, who are paupers or unable from poverty to pay for the same.
Mayor and Chairman of Sanitary Board.

During 1900 to 1904, cases of smallpox continued to be reported in Berrien County and all over the state.  On June 21, 1901, the Tifton Gazette reported, 

The carelessness of some of [Berrien’s] neighboring counties in dealing with small-pox is little short of criminal. Wednesday [June 19, 1901] a white man came to Tifton in a car crowded with people, and stopped with crowds on the streets until it was noticed that he was thickly pitted with small-pox. Even when notified to leave town, he was sullen and slow about going until he found that he was confronted with the pest house. The state needs a quarantine law to take hold of these cases that refuse to take any measures for their own protection or that of their neighbors.

From 1900 to 1904 an average of 48,164 cases and 1528 deaths caused by smallpox were reported each year in the United States. The pattern in the decline of smallpox was sporadic.  The last case in the United States was reported in 1949. Smallpox was completely eradicated worldwide in 1979, because of the mass vaccination efforts of the World Health Organization. Smallpox is the only disease that has been eradicated.

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Jonathan Perry Knight Backed Creation of Lamar County

Jonathan Perry Knight (1872-1953)

Jonathan Perry Knight, Representative from Berrien County, GA was celebrated as one of the instrumental men in creation of Lamar County, GA. Barnesville News-Gazette, August 26, 1920.

Knight of Berrien, as he was known in the Georgia legislature, Jonathan Perry Knight served multiple terms as a Representative from Berrien County and as state Senator from the 6th District. He served as Mayor of Nashville, GA, Judge of the City Court of Nashville, Judge of Alapaha Judicial Circuit, and sought a nomination to the state Supreme Court. Returning to the state legislature he became one of the instrumental supporters for the creation of Lamar County, the effort being led by Dr. Robert C. Woodard.

Jonathan Perry Knight (1872-1953) and Robert C. Woodard (1867-1949) were both born at Ray’s Mill, GA (now Ray City).

Jonathan Perry Knight was born on March 14, 1872, a son of John Graham Knight and Mary A. Davis.   He was a grandson of Levi J. Knight, pioneer settler of Ray City. J. P. Knight was educated at the public schools of Berrien County and attended North Georgia Agricultural College in Dahlonega, GA (now the University of North Georgia). He later attended Law School at Mercer University in Macon, GA. Prior to entering state politics, he served as the Clerk of the Superior Court in Berrien County during the sensational trial of James Thomas Beagles, who gunned down his brother-in-law at Ray’s Mill.

As a freshman assemblyman, Knight chastised his fellow legislators for outright “drunkeness” in the Georgia House of Representatives. He promoted prohibition legislation so vigorously, even the production of Coca-cola was threatened.

In the campaign of 1920, Jonathan Perry Knight was willing to “vote the women,” if that was what it took to win the election. He was an ardent campaigner in Tom E. Watson’s successful bid to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. Watson had identified as a white supremacist and ran as such during his failed presidential bid in 1908; Watson used his highly influential magazine and newspaper to launch vehement diatribes against blacks, Catholics and Jews. Knight continued his relationship with Watson until the latter’s death in 1922.

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Vidalia Union Station

Thomas Babington McCauley, Engineer on the Georgia & Florida Railroad
Thomas Babington McCauley, Engineer on the Georgia & Florida Railroad

Vidalia Union Station on the Georgia & Florida Railroad

In 1908 the Georgia & Florida Railroad became Ray City’s rail connection to the world.  Within a few years, G&F trains stopped at Ray City several times a day, with freight and passenger service.  Ray City had its own train depot, and section houses for railroad employees and their families.  One of the locomotive engineers on the Georgia & Florida Railroad was Thomas Babington McCauley, who resided at Douglas, GA about 40 miles up the track north of Ray City.

G. Lloyd Preacher

In 1912, the Georgia & Florida Railroad constructed a Union Depot at Vidalia, GA about 100 miles above Ray City. The station would also serve the Seaboard Air Line Railway and the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad, creating a significant transportation hub. The station building was constructed at a cost of $12,000 dollars and included the passenger depot, baggage room, express office and a restaurant. The facility was undoubtedly segregated, as were the Jim Crow passenger cars of the G&F Railroad.

The brick and stone building was designed by Geoffrey Lloyd Preacher (1882-1972), a prominent architect who later designed many Atlanta buildings including the Atlanta City Hall. Throughout his career, Preacher designed 417 structures in seven states, including 45 schools in Atlanta.

Georgia & Florida Railroad announces it will construct a Union Depot at Vidalia, GA. Railway Age Gazette, July 28, 1911.

Some time before 1920, Engineer McCauley moved from Douglas to Vidalia, GA, making his home depot the Vidalia Union Station. Anyone travelling from Ray City to points north would have passed through Vidalia.

Vidalia Union Station viewed from the southwest. Vidalia Union Station, built in 1912-13 at the junction of the tracks of the Georgia & Florida Railroad (right) and Seaboard Air Line Railway (left).Image source:

Located in the triangular area bounded by the tracks of the G&F, the S.A.L, and Leader Avenue, Union Station was a fishhook-shaped building dominated by its two-story corner tower with bellcast conical roof. It also featured dormer windows, wide overhanging eaves with brackets, and a Ludowici tile roof. The tile was produced at the “Dixie” plant of the Ludowici Roofing Tile Co., at Ludowici, GA, (formerly known as Johnston Station on the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad.)

1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Vidalia, Toombs County, Georgia showing location of Union Station at the junction of Georgia & Florida Railroad, Seaboard Air Line Railway, and S.A.L’s Macon, Dublin & Savannah Railroad.

The depot water tower, which was the tallest structure in the area for nearly forty years, stood almost directly in front of Vidalia Union Station. The tank’s swiveling hoses pivoted almost 360 degrees, enabling trains to be serviced from either side of the structure.

To the northeast, the depot faced across the tracks of the S.A.L., paralleled by Railroad Avenue (now NW Main Street), where stood the Colonial Hotel and the New Vidalia Hotel. East of Union Station along Railroad Avenue was Vidalia’s first freight depot.

Union Depot, Vidalia, GA, circa 1913.

Today, there is no remaining sign of Vidalia Union Station. The building was torn down around the 1970s to make way for US Highway 280. Vidalia, GA residents still remember the Union Station fondly.

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