Horace King, 1807-1885, was considered the preeminent bridge builder in the South. It is believed he built over 100 bridges, most of them being in Alabama and Georgia. King was born into slavery in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. His enslaver, John Godwin, earned a bid to build a bridge over the Chattahoochee River. King moved with Godwin to Girard, Alabama, to begin the project.
In 1846, Godwin decided to no longer hold King in bondage. I have also read that King purchased his freedom. At this point, King’s services were in high demand to build bridges. He moved freely throughout the South. He is credited with building bridges at many points over the Chattahoochee River and other rivers. Outside of bridges, he built homes and warehouses. He also built the freestanding spiral staircase in the Alabama State Capitol.
In 1839, he married free woman, Frances Gould Thomas. They had four boys and one girl. For whatever reason, the grave markers for the four boys have the birthdate of 1844. Based on census records, which can be incorrect, I believe Washington King was born in 1840, Marshall in 1842, John in 1846, and George in 1850. All of the children were involved in the construction company that they called the King Brothers Bridge Company.
Gertrude “Ma” Rainey Pridgett (1886-1939) is considered the “Mother of Blues.” Columbus, Georgia was her home which is where she was born.
She started performing by the age of 14 and began touring as part of vaudeville and minstrel shows. Known for her dynamic performances, Ma Rainey made a name for herself as she toured the country.
The Ma Rainey house, now a museum, was the home that Ma purchased for her mother and where she moved into upon her return to Columbus. Initially, the home was the typical shotgun that can still be seen in the neighborhood, but Rainey had a new two-story home built. She lived there until her death in 1939. The house was saved from demolition by neglect by committed Columbus preservationists. It was put on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1992.
Ma Rainey rests in Porterdale Cemetery, which was once known as the Colored Cemetery. It was put on the NRHP in 1980.
Opened in 1924, the Liberty Theatre was a segregated theatre that hosted Ma Rainey and other Black artists. Rainey eventually purchased the theater. It was put on the NRHP in 1984.
Alma Thomas (1891-1978) was a Black artist known for her colorful and impressionist work. Born in Columbus, Georgia, she and her family lived there until she was sixteen. In 1907, they relocated to Washington, DC to escape the racial hostility and threats of violence that were directed towards the Black community at the hands of whites.
She was considered a member of the Washington School of Color. A lifelong art teacher, she was the first graduate of the art department at Howard University.
On November 22, 1915, the Con T. Kennedy Carnival Show left Atlanta for a show in Phenix City, Alabama. Unfortunately, over 50 passengers were killed when their train collided with a steel passenger train, which was significantly stronger than the carnival train. After a mass service at the Columbus First Baptist Church, there was a large funeral procession to Riverdale Cemetery, where the carnival show members were laid to rest. The Con T. Kennedy erected the “Under the Big Tent” monument in memory of those who lost their lives.