For over 80 years following the end of Reconstruction, African Americans struggled in the face of adversity. Passed in 1896, the Supreme Court Case Plessy v. Ferguson legally allowed segregation in the United States. Separate facilities for blacks and whites were prevalent throughout southern cities such as Valdosta. Most African Americans struggled under the sharecropping system and as laborers in the turpentine industry. Some however found success in Lowndes County and became role models and leaders for future African Americans.
A former slave by the name of Tom Simmons bought a portion of land from Mrs. John Myddelton in 1882. Simmons was unable to afford the price of the five acre parcel, but instead worked off the value of the land for Mrs. Myddelton. He and his wife Ann worked together to build a house out of cypress and developed his new property. This parcel of land, which today consists of that section of East Gordon and East Ann Streets at North Lee Street, is known as Tom Town, after Tom Simmons.
While men like Thomas Hudson and James Dockett succeeded in business during the 1930s, Mike Robinson succeeded in agriculture. Robinson was a poor farm laborer who worked his way into a position of owning over 1,000 acres producing cotton, tobacco, and hogs. Most of his land was dedicated to the production of naval stores and pulpwood.
Dr. James S. Johnson
Dr. Johnson was one of only a handful of “professional” African Americans when he opened his Valdosta dentist office in 1923. For 17 years Dr. Johnson served the Valdosta community His office was located at 219 1/2 South Patterson Street. He died on November 18, 1941. He is buried in Sunset Hill Cemetery.
During the 1930s, James Norman made his rounds daily, selling peanuts to the people of Valdosta. Despite his inability to see, he succeeded as a peanut vendor and also turned the “big wheel” of the press at the Times printing plant. He was a familiar face to many Valdostans and was remembered as having the ability to recognize every coin, tell you where he was, and the time of day whenever you met him.