Document collection shines light on Cherokee's Co.'s black history
by Kristal Dixon
kdixon@cherokeetribune.com
November 13, 2009 01:00 AM | 2266 views | 1 1 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cherokee County Historical Society volunteers, from left, Doris Finley of Canton, Frances Vaughn of Canton, Mary Johnston of Woodstock and Faye Evans of Canton organize documents from the Magnolia Thomas collection on Thursday morning. The late Ms. Thomas was a beloved school teacher for African-American students who lived in Woodstock until her death in the 1980s.<br>Photo by Samantha Wilson
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A legendary Woodstock resident's personal belongings are being preserved for current and future generations to see.

The Cherokee County Historical Society is working to catalog and digitize the City of Woodstock's Magnolia Thomas Collection.

The collection, which mainly contains letters to and from Ms. Thomas and her insurance records, photos, a ration card from World War II, and old newspapers and magazines, are being photographed and entered into the society's database.

"We were interested in the collection because we don't have much information relative to African-Americans in Cherokee County," historical society Executive Director Stefanie Joyner said. "This will help shed light on that part of (our) history."

Magnolia Thomas was born in 1890 in Canton, according to the local history book, "Georgia's Woodstock: A Centennial Tribute."

She moved to Woodstock at a young age to her home on what's now Arnold Mill Road. The home, where Mrs. Thomas lived from about 1915 until her death at the age of 98 in the 1980s, later was bought by the city.

The city most recently leased the space to the owners of The Magnolia Thomas Restaurant. The house was gutted by a fire in February 2008, but reopened after renovations in May of this year.

"Miss Magnolia," as her students knew her, was a graduate of Spelman College and beloved school teacher for African-American students during segregation, when black students were taught in separate schools from the white children in the city.

Ms. Joyner said a few volunteers have signed on to help the project. More volunteers are needed to help take photographs of the collection and download them into the database. For information or to volunteer, call (770) 345-3288.

Many of the letters are correspondence between Ms. Thomas and friends she met while at Spelman College.

In her letters, she talked about the 1918 flu epidemic among other historic events.

Surprisingly, Ms. Joyner said, there was very little revealed about living under Jim Crow in Cherokee County.

"There wasn't a lot of strife here," she added.

Through the letters, Ms. Joyner said, she and volunteers learned Ms. Thomas was a "fascinating" person.

Ms. Joyner said she hopes more descendents of African-Americans in Cherokee will submit information about their ancestors' lives to the historical society.

"Hopefully we can add to our African-American historical documents in our archives," she said.

Volunteers said they feel honored to help with the collection.

A love of history compelled Canton resident Doris Finley to help with the project.

"This has been a good history lesson for me," she said.

Mary Johnston of Woodstock said she was interested to learn more about Ms. Thomas.

Mrs. Johnston said she was surprised to learn some facts, such as how educated she was and how she loved fashion.

"She was far ahead of any woman, regardless of race," she said.
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Eric 451
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November 13, 2009
Just because she didn't discuss the hardships of living under Jim Crow in her correspondence doesn't necessarily mean that, "... there wasn't a lot of strife here". It may mean that she was simply too refined or perhaps too strong of character to dwell on such hardships and preferred rather to focus on living her life to the best of her ability under the circumstances she had to deal with!
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