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Hancock County: 1944

Hancock County: 1944

Hancock County, Georgia, circa 1944. "House, Sparta vicinity." 8x10 inch acetate negative by Frances Benjamin Johnston. View full size.


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The face of rural poverty

Sparta and its black inhabitants weren't always symbolized by this image. Sparta was once a boom town, in the heart of the cotton industry after the Civil War. David Dickson, Georgia's leading planter for years, found ways to employ freedmen and regained his wealth lost in the war. When he died in 1885, he left his whole estate to his daughter Amanda America Dickson, whose mother had been a household slave. By the time of her death in 1893, Dickson was widely acknowledged as the richest African American woman in the country.

But the boll weevil and the post-Great-War cotton crash destroyed its primary industry in the late 1910s. Its bank collapsed, local depression ensued and the people that could move away, left (approximately one-third of the population).

Today it's a town with about 1200 residents, an 85 percent African-American population, and a median household income of slightly more than $21,000. Most of them work at the state prison in Reidsville, about 75 miles away. A Google Map trip down Sparta's roads shows that this house could very well still be standing - only abandoned, and with a double-wide in the front yard.

Why would Johnston have chosen to stop in this disintegrating hamlet? Perhaps she had read about it previously. Jean Toomer had taught school on Sparta in 1921 to work as a substitute principal in the black industrial schools located there. His experiences formed the basis of the Harlem Renaissance classic "Cane."

Thanks again, Dave, for a photo that is always the cover of a history book, if one only starts to read the contents.

Dream Home

This is what happens when you win a dream house on one of those reality shows, but don't have the income to maintain it.


I see three chimnees, but with all the holes in the walls, it won't matter how many chimnees you have, it's still gonna be cold in the winter.

[Better to be the chimner than the chimnee. - Dave]

The kitchen

The room to the right would be the kitchen, or at least the summer kitchen. Keeps the heat of cooking out of the house. Earlier they were often completely detached, because kitchens had a nasty habit of burning down.

Nobody move!

I've got a chicken & I'm not afraid to use it!

They gave

The Red Cross has been by this house as well.


Need to get on their no doubt absentee landlord to do some repairs, but then again when you're poor, you don't have much leverage.

Ubiquitous Shoe

Let's play "find the orphan shoe" in the photos of the old houses. Seems there usually is one if you look hard enough. Also see "sleeping dog."

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