AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – More than two centuries ago, the City of Augusta created an all Black cemetery, not far from where whites were laid to rest. Often times their lives were inextricably tied. And between the start of the 20th Century until the end of it, many Blacks buried at Cedar Grove helped shape the Garden City as we know and honor it today.
Anyone stepping foot inside of a courtroom in Richmond County in the late 90s may have seen Judge Evita Paschall presiding. The Thomson native and local Solicitor credits her success to a once thriving institution in Keysville.
Evita Paschall/1969 Boggs Academy Valedictorian:
“When my parents left, that’s when I really freaked out because I never imagined that I was going somewhere where I wasn’t going to see my mama everyday,” said Paschall, the 1969 Boggs Academy Valedictorian.
Paschall enrolled in boarding school at Boggs Academy, a Presbyterian school that opened in 1906. Its co-founders, Rev. John Lawrence Phelps and his wife, Mary Rice Phelps sought out the land in Burke County to start a Christian based school that would educate African American youth. Much like Mary Phelps, who at 13 years old took charge of a South Carolina school, Paschall, side stepping integration, took charge of her education at Boggs in the 8th grade.
“Everybody goes to the church services every school day and afterwards you go to your class,” she said adding that initially she told her parents she wanted to go to the white school following the end of segregation.
Paschall said students also worked jobs. Something the Howard University and UGA Law grad told us paved her pathway to success. But Boggs also built her character and pride.
“Being a dark skin person with big lips and a wide nose, there was no one saying that you had a future,” she explained.
As she reflected, Paschall learned for the first time that the woman instrumental in who she is today has her final resting place in an unmarked grave at the city-owned Cedar Grove Cemetery.
“It marks the period of Augusta’s burgeoning population as a metropolitan area,” said Joyce Law, Diversity Scholar of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Law advocates for historic preservation. She makes sure Cedar Grove, and other local cemeteries, are kept up with.
Edgar Louis Matthews III is also committed to the upkeep of Cedar Grove, cutting the grass where his family lies weekly. Buried along with Boggs co-founder Phelps is a man who very well could have been her future student, Edgar Louis Matthews Senior. The Jefferson County native also attended Boggs Academy.
“He carried a mail bag for basically his working life. He was a post man out of the post office that’s now the federal courthouse building on the corner of 8th and Telfair Street. And that is where he would walk from Carrie Street to his job,” Matthews III said adding that his grandfather lived on Carrie Street.
In addition to working a rare job for Blacks at the time, Matthews earned well too.
“The 1940 Census they did report how much you would make for a year’s salary. The average salary for anybody living on Carrie Street, in 1940, was $200 a year. As a federal employee, he earned $2,000,” he said.
A husband and father of eight children, two of them, Tuskeegee Airmen, Matthews Sr. was also a charter member of the Psi Omega Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated. It’s legacy lives on today, most notably in its youth group Omega Lamplighters.
But it was his uncle, William Banks, who played a role too. He sent Matthews Sr. off to Boggs and Lane College. The job that allowed Banks to afford that gesture was Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Company. It was the largest Black employer of that time. The Founders of the company were the Hornsby family and they are all buried at Cedar Grove.
Law said of the family, “Mamie Dugas Hornsby and Lula Matthews Banks were both classmates at Walker Baptist Institute.”
The building that once housed Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Company from 1898 until 1990 sits on the corner of 12th Street and Laney Walker Boulevard. Paying millions of dollars to thousands of Black policyholders in Augusta and across the southeast, the great grandson of the company’s co-founder, Walter S. Hornsby Sr., reflects on the legacy, one that includes a Richmond County school and a subdivision.
“Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance had a separate building, separate from the main building. It was right down the block from it. We called it the Civic Room. The Civic Room was originally the F.M. Dugas Funeral Home. So, F.M. Dugas, which was Mamie Dugas’ father, who is buried right over there, his funeral home,” Walter S. Hornsby IV told NewsChannel 6.
These families, inextricably tied, are not the only Augusta area 20th Century movers and shakers buried at Cedar grove. There are plenty more, including doctors, educators and veterans to name a few.
“Rev. Silas Floyd and also, a very close friend of his, educator, Rev. Robert McCann buried in the same section right adjacent to each other. You have Dr. T.W. Josey and Dr. Drue King together. Educator Margaret Louise Laney is buried in the Tutt family section.