Recently, a do-gooder transplant to our city from Washington D.C. by the name of Marin Rose Correa was strolling along Broad Street when she encountered a plaque commemorating writer William Makepeace Thackery’s visit to our fair city in 1856. She says she was horrified at the quote from Thackery that was included in on the marker.
The offending quote read: “Nice quaint old town Augusta, rambling great street 2 miles long, doctors and shopkeepers the society of the place, the latter far more independent and gentlemanlike than our folks, much pleasanter to be with than the daring go ahead northern people. Slavery no where repulsive, the black faces invariably happy and plump, the white ones eager and hard. I brought away 60 Guineas for 2 hours talking, a snug little purse from snug little Augusta.”
Correa decided to take action and wrote a letter demanding the marker be removed and it was. She must have felt a good sense of accomplishment at having such offensive language removed from public view, after all, school aged kids could have read that and make the mistaken conclusion that slavery was a great thing! William Makepeace Thackery said so!
Only, he didn’t.
What Correa doesn’t know and obviously did not take the time to research for herself was that Thackery’s quote was absolutely correct and should be a source of pride for all Augustans. The black faces Thackery encountered were ‘happy and plump’ BECAUSE THEY WERE FREE PEOPLE! Yes, you read that right.
In 1856, you would only rarely encounter a slave in downtown Augusta. The village of Springfield right in the heart of the city was home to one of the largest free black communities in the Antebellum South. The people of Springfield were skilled artisans and most were literate. We know that because archeological digs have turned up scores of used ink wells from their trash pits. These were the same people responsible for designing and building the Augusta Canal.
Yes, naturally, slavery was practiced here, but it was confined to the rural plantations outside of Augusta. That story of the Haunted Pillar you have always heard is nonsense. No, a black minister in protest of slavery did not curse that pillar. The old Augusta market of which that pillar was once a part was not a place where slaves were bought and sold. Rather, those transactions occurred near the 5th Street Depot out of the view of polite society.
The quote from Thackery is one we should all cherish and be proud of because our city was one of the very few places in the old south where people of African heritage integrated into a free society and were considered valued members of the community. Do-gooders like Correa think they are doing the right thing by having a knee-jerk reaction to something they find offensive and attempt to erase history by having the offensive language removed from public view when they are actually allowing their ignorance to unfairly blight our city’s wonderful rich history.
The black people of Augusta in 1856 would want our generations to know that their faces were ‘happy and plump’ and they were because they were hard working and free thinking people.
I urge you to write a quick note to the Department of Natural Resources and ask that the marker commemorating Thackery’s visit be restored to its location on Broad Street. And to Ms. Correa, I would like to say welcome to Augusta! I hope you find our community to be a comfortable and inviting place. But please, don’t try to do us any more favors.