Americus, GA: African American History, a Spirit of Giving, and Two National Parks

Like many cities in the South, Americus, Georgia, contains a vibrant African American history. The county seat of Sumter County saw one of the most pivotal Civil Rights marches, including a visit from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Before the marches began, Koinonia Farms broke through race constraints and later, President Jimmy Carter took the White House with a platform based on equality.

Because of this unique history, Americus saw the birth of Habitat for Humanity International and Café Campesino, Georgia’s first and only 100 percent fair trade, organic specialty coffee company.

Americus, GA: African American History, a Spirit of Giving, and Two National Parks
Courtesy of Visit Americus GA

Important Sites in Black History

Before the Civil Rights and Supreme Court action changed race relations in the United States, Americus and the state of Georgia operated as a “separate but equal” society. Rev. Clarence Jordan fought that edict by establishing Koinonia Farms just outside Americus.

The name is Greek for commune or community, mentioned in the Bible as a place for Christians to share their resources in unity. Blacks and whites lived and worked the farm since its inception in 1942, and suffered violence because of their stances on non-violence and equality, including supporting and housing Civil Rights members.

One of Koinonia’s members, Millard Fuller, went on to establish Habitat for Humanity International.

Today, visitors may tour the farm, join members for lunch or purchase items in their gift shop. Koinonia is known for its pecans, chocolates and dessert breads and cakes.

Civil Rights protests occurred in Americus from 1961 to 1965, organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and NAACP to demand equal voter registration and integrated education. The movement was largely composed of preteen and teenage students.

In December 1961, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in nearby Albany but held in the Sumter County Jail. The courthouse and jail have been rebuilt since the 1960s but a historical marker and the door to King’s cell are on display in front of the new courthouse.  

At the turn of the 20th century, African American residents of Americus were not allowed in the local hospital. A “Colored Hospital” was built in 1923 to not only serve them, but train African American doctors. The building is currently being restored to become the Americus-Sumter County Civil Rights and Cultural Center. There will be historic photographs, original hospital beds and equipment, and serve as a place for community events.

The Victorian Gothic Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church next door, designed by L.H. Persely, Georgia’s first registered African American architect, is scheduled for renovations and renewed operations as well.

The Rev. Pearly Brown, otherwise known as Blind Pearly Brown, spent most of his life in Americus performing gospel blues, spirituals and country on a bottleneck slide guitar. The self-taught artist and minister was one of the first African American performers at the Grand Ole Opry. Brown is buried at East View Cemetery along with local honored African American residents, such as Elbert Head, a prominent business owner so well liked that 2,000 people came to his funeral.

As a tribute to Georgia Music Hall of Famer Rev. Pearly Brown, the city’s largest community park will open in his name. The park, when finished soon, will include a 35,000-square foot amphitheater—one of the largest in the region—a dog park, a children’s playground and open space. Fundraising is ongoing to complete the project through One Sumter Economic Foundation.

Giving Back

Giving back is a creed in Americus, where two organizations work to make the world a better place.

You might know of Habitat for Humanity through the volunteer work of former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, but the organization grew out of Koinonia Farms where members Millard and Linda Fuller learned of “partnership housing,” working side by side with new homeowners to build affordable homes for no profit. A missionary trip to Africa heightened the Fullers’ resolve and they turned their dream into a worldwide venture.

The business idea for Café Campesino, a coffee company created for “human connections, conscious consumption and extraordinary coffee,” came about in 1998 after cofounder Bill Harris Jr. met a coffee farmer in Guatemala during a Habitat for Humanity trip. Cafe Campesino, Georgia’s first and only 100 percent fair trade organic coffee company, will soon offer tours, and a café is scheduled to open next to the roastery.

2 Parks Honoring Prisoners and a President

Two national parks exist within Sumter County, one the deadliest ground of the Civil War and the other a tribute to the 39th commander in chief, President Jimmy Carter.

Andersonville National Historic Site once served as a stockade to hold Union Army prisoners during the Civil War. Camp Sumter, as it was called, was built to hold 10,000 prisoners yet at one time it contained 32,000 men. Nearly 13,000 men died here and most are buried in the Andersonville National Cemetery on site. In addition, Andersonville offers the National Prisoner of War Museum to honor all U.S. prisoners of war.

In nearby Plains, the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park offers several sites to learn about the president from Georgia. The former Plains High School serves as a museum and visitor’s center, the Plains Train Depot showcases Carter’s life and political career and outside of town visitors may walk through Carter’s boyhood home and farm. For a bit of history and railroad fun, the historic SAM Shortline Train departs from Cordele and Americus for a ride to Plains.

Plan a Visit

Americus, GA: African American History, a Spirit of Giving, and Two National Parks
Courtesy of Windsor Hotel

The bestway to enjoy Americus and the surrounding region is to make a basecamp at the historic and dramatically beautiful Windsor Hotel. This 1892 five-story Victorian masterpiece rises above downtown Americus like a castle, complete with towers containing specialty suites such as the Carter Presidential Suite.

The recently renovated hotel features 53 guest rooms, a three-tier atrium lobby, marble floors and crystal chandeliers and historic photos of Americus lining the walls. Dining experiences range from Southern elegance at Rosemary & Thyme Restaurant to pub fare on the veranda at Floyd’s Pub. It’s no wonder this architectural gem attracted the famous, such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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Americus, GA: African American History, a Spirit of Giving, and Two National Parks