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(PHOTOS) ‘There’s a lot of love in the community of Shermantown’

Stone Mountain

(PHOTOS) ‘There’s a lot of love in the community of Shermantown’

Elaine Vaughn holds a copy of a photograph of the Shermantown community’s semi-pro baseball team, the “Hard Rocks.” Her father Charlie Stewart is 2nd from right on the first row. Rev. William Woodson Morris, Sr. the only living member is at the end of the row to Stewart’s left. The date of the photo is possibly 1954. The team was organized in 1946. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Stone Mountain, GA — “A lot of people don’t know what Shermantown is, and I think about that a lot,” said Gloria Brown, a lifelong resident of the historic Black neighborhood on the South side of downtown Stone Mountain.

Two signs, one at the city’s Municipal Building parking lot and a granite marker about a half mile south and a block off Main Street point to a tight knit community in the shadow of Stone Mountain rich in history that Brown and other residents hope will not be forgotten.

Rev. William Woodson Morris, Sr. sits with a portrait of his late wife of over 50 years, Mrs. Lucille B. Morris in the living room of the house where he was born in 1928 and still lives today in Stone Mountain’s Shermantown community. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Rev. Morris is the oldest member of Shermantown’s oldest church, Bethsaida Baptist Church.

“I was born and raised in that church. My mother, grandmother, grandfather and all of them lived and died right there in the Baptist church. I joined it when I was 13 years,” he said. Rev. Morris is the only surviving member of Stone Mountain’s all-Black semi-pro baseball team.

“The old Hard Rocks. We started in 1946 right after the boys came back from the Army. I ain’t bragging but I could play. I went to school down there at the park (Leila Mason.) They burnt that school down. Segregationists, they used to have meetings there. Ku Klux burnt it down,” he said. “I went to Hamilton High (Scottdale) after we left Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain didn’t go past the 7th grade. If you wanted to go on towards the 12th grade you had to go to Scottdale or Lithonia or Decatur. I worked at Emory in the operating room for 47 years. Nowhere but in the operating room. I was a nurse and doctor assistant. Didn’t have but eight operating rooms then, moved to 12 and when I left, they had 23 operating rooms. I started Dec. 4, 1946 and left on my birthday in July 1993.”

Rev. Morris pastored Philadelphia Baptist Church in Southwest Atlanta for 50 years before retiring in 2015.

Bethsaida Baptist Church on Fourth Street, founded in 1868. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Leila Mason Park on Stillhouse Road in Shermantown. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Leila Mason Cemetery on Stillhouse Road in Shermantown. Photo by Dean Hesse.

An abandoned building, possibly once a hair salon or other business in Shermantown. Photo by Dean Hesse.

A quiet street in Stone Mountain’s Shermantown community. Photo by Dean Hesse.

The front of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church originally erected in 1917, rebuilt in 1954 and remodeled in 1984. Photo by Dean Hesse.

The moon is seen above the steeple of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church on the afternoon of Feb. 19, 2021. Photo by Dean Hesse.

The View Senior Residences were built on the site where the Victoria Simmons Elementary School building was and where Shermantown’s semi-pro baseball team once played. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Rev. William Woodson Morris, Sr. said his mother and stepfather built this structure at the corner of what is now Eva Mamie Lane and Fourth Street in 1946 and opened Gwen’s Café named after their granddaughter. Later, Rev. Morris ran Morris Bros. Grocery there and put vending machines outside after he closed the grocery. “Inflation ate us up,” he said. Photo by Dean Hesse.

In 2019 the Stone Mountain City Council voted to rename Venable Street, (on right) named after James Venable — organizer and Imperial Wizard of the National Knights of the Klan — to Eva Mamie Lane in honor of Eva Jewell Greene and her daughter Mamie Ella Lane. Both women were involved in providing humanitarian and public services to the Shermantown community. Eva Jewell Greene was a founder of the Partnership for Community Action and founder of the Stone Mountain Negro Civic League. In 1963, Mamie Ella Lane founded the House of Bethel Church seen here on the left.
Photo by Dean Hesse.

A weathered cornerstone of Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church dated 1890. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Looking out over Third Street, Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church on left, was organized by Reverend J. R. Fleming in 1890. The newly organized congregation worshiped in a nearby school building during the early years of existence. The church was damaged by a severe windstorm and rebuilt in the 1930’s. As membership increased construction of a new building and an expansion program was begun in 1954. The Cornerstone was laid in September 1960. A mortgage-burning celebration was held on September 20, 1964. (Information provided by Rev. Orea Parker, Pastor St. Paul A.M.E.)

Elaine Vaughn stands at the corner of her street in Shermantown. “I have the best view of the mountain,” she said. Photo by Dean Hesse.

“I was born and raised here in Shermantown. I’ve lived here all my life. I travelled with my husband because he was in the military, so I’ve been to a lot of places, but I came back here. My elementary school was an all-Black elementary school actually down the street from where I live right now, Victoria Simmons School. After graduating from there they had integrated the high school which was Stone Mountain High School and that’s where I graduated from. Everybody hears about the Ku Klux Klan and as children growing up, we never really had a problem. Just when they came and had their marches mom would say, “OK time for y’all to come in.” I was born in 1954. The last that I can remember when the Klan marched down through our city was around 1975 and since then if they came into our city or marched, I have no knowledge. They used to walk our street. They didn’t necessarily have to walk down the street I lived on, but they did. The street I live on now is the street I lived on as a child growing up. Some were in their trucks, standing in the back, some were walking. They had their torches, and I could hear as a child they would shout out racial slurs but like I said, my mom always made us come inside, tried to keep that away from us.

“Even after I moved to a segregated high school there was a local café in the community. I do remember my best friend’s grand mom worked there as a cook, but still even when we went there to eat or see her, we always had to go to the back, upstairs in the back. Like I said at that time we knew how it was. Not all the stores I had to go to the back. The local shoe store, the local dress shop, the local drugstore, I was able to go in and go through the front. I had to stand back though and wait till they called me to the counter.” – Elaine Vaughn

Elaine Vaughn holds a copy of a photograph of the Shermantown community’s semi-pro baseball team, the “Hard Rocks.” Her father Charlie Stewart is 2nd from right on the first row. Rev. William Woodson Morris, Sr. the only living member is at the end of the row to Stewart’s left. The date of the photo is possibly 1954. The team was organized in 1946. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Former Stone Mountain city councilmember Beverly Jones stands on Lucille Street in Stone Mountain’s Historic Shermantown community. Photo by Dean Hesse.

“I’ve been living in the city of Stone Mountain for over 20 years. I came here shortly after the (1996) Olympics. I ran for Stone Mountain City Council in 2007 and I did one term and then I resigned my seat to run for mayor. I have grown to know and love everyone in the Shermantown community. I feel like Shermantown has so much history and so many stories to tell. But more than history there’s a lot of love in the community of Shermantown. Everyone knows everyone. They grew up with everyone. They know the family lineage. I’m really proud to be a part of the city of Stone Mountain. I’m proud that they elected me to be on the city council. I look forward to the revitalization of Shermantown. I’d like to see beautification in the community. This is an old established community and I’d love to see some medical facilities in here like maybe a pharmacy so those who do not have transportation do not have to rely on other people. I would like to see maybe some more doctors come here. We are an old established community and we do need health care. That’s one of my passions. We have to have something for the young people to do. I would like to see mentors come into this town. We need community services for the children. We need more parks, we need people coming in organizing basketball teams, organizing baseball teams, organizing after school programs. I would like to see more organizations not only investing in the city but investing in our children. I hate to use the old cliché that the children are our future, but they are.” – Beverly Jones

James Clark, 73, stands near where Ku Klux Klan rallies were held in Stone Mountain. Photo by Dean Hesse.

“On Labor Day weekends, the Saturday preceding Labor Day, the Klan met at this location for many years. The owner of the land, his name was James Venable, and he owned the land, but he was also the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Where it’s overgrown now was actually pastures with horses up in the area where the barn was located. They had a PA system that was out of this world and you heard the message two and a half miles from here loud and clear. The Klan did not bother us as a family and in fact Mr. Venable, the Grand Wizard assured my mother that we wouldn’t be bothered, and we were not.” – James Clark

Gloria Brown at Leila Mason Park for Stone Mountain Day in 2017. Photo by Dean Hesse. 

“My family came here from Newton County, out of Covington, Georgia. I can’t tell you what year. I understand I had a cousin already here and my granddad came up here and went to work for the Venable masons, he farmed there down off Stonehaven (Drive.)

“I went to school at Stone Mountain Colored Elementary School located right where Leila Mason Park is. That land was donated by the Venable masons for the Black community and a school was built there and it was a very nice school. The reason I said it like that, was Black elementary schools, they were either in churches or they had one room. we had four rooms.  I went to high school in the 9th grade and I went to Avondale Colored High School.  The name was changed about two years after I went there to Hamilton High which was named for a lady that used to be the principal that actually lived in Stone Mountain. Her name was Miss Maude Hamilton.

Before I went to high school, they had to ride the bus and they gave them a dime a day to ride the bus with. But the very year I went to high school they got a school bus. Let me tell you about the school bus.  They got one school bus. The school bus picked up here in Stone Mountain on Fourth Street. We went from here to Tucker then we came back to Clarkston and we picked up in Clarkston and then we went to high school. Were we crowded? Yes!  We were running over each other. It didn’t bother us who lived down here because we was the first ones that got on the bus, so we got to sleep. Coming back, it was chaos. I finished Hamilton High in nineteen hundred and fifty-eight. I grew up here in Stone Mountain and I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else. Shermantown to me, and it has always been this way, it was like one big happy family, but everybody here was not related. That’s just the way it was. Even down to the churches they staggered the Sundays they had church.  Easter Day programs and Mother’s Day programs, we all did them together. It was a town that if I didn’t have a piece of bread my neighbor gave me a piece of bread. It was always a caring community to me.” – Gloria Brown

A 1917 map of the Stone Mountain’s Shermantown community. (courtesy Mary Beth Reed, New South Associates)

“After the Civil War there were many Shermantown’s throughout the South and it was just an indication of a Black community. The best way to chart the growth of Shermantown is to look at the population census and if you do that, in 1880 for instance you don’t see a strong segregated community such as Shermantown here yet. It may have been there but it’s not showing. As you went down the street, you’d be more likely to see white family, white family, Black family, white family, Black family. If you worked for a family, you lived near them rather than in a separate neighborhood. The separate neighborhood of Shermantown is pretty much there by the turn of the century and particularly by the 1920’s you see the census taker actually putting down Shermantown on the side of the sheet by the different streets. So, I think basically as segregation became stronger through the early 20th century you really see it. Also, (people coming to work at) the granite industry on that side of the mountain. Those two things go hand in hand.” – Mary Beth Reed, President and Director of History for New South Associates and President of the Stone Mountain Historical Society.

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