Canopy Atlanta asked over 50 Lakewood Heights residents about the journalism they needed. Several of those respondents requested to see more information and acknowledgment of the neighborhood’s history.
While reporting in Lakewood Heights, Canopy Atlanta’s inaugural Reporting Resident Ann Hill Bond wonders who will pass down community stories to ensure that future generations will know the importance of the ground where we stand. She is also the community chair for the Fulton County Remembrance Coalition. Learn more about the Reporting Residency here.
Lately, as I’ve wandered through parts of Atlanta’s Lakewood Heights neighborhood, I’ve found myself humming the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Four years ago, the community of Lakewood Heights invited me to sing the hymn along with other members of the Fulton County Remembrance Coalition (FCRC). We joined the neighborhood in an effort to honor Fulton County’s known lynching victims. I collected 64-ounce jars of soil from the sites of their deaths and organized long overdue vigils in remembrance of them.
My first soil collection was in 2019. I reported to Pryor Street to honor Floyd Carmichael, a 22-year-old Alexander Lumber employee who had only moved to Lakewood Heights two weeks prior to his death on July 31, 1906, the date inscribed on his jar. I wondered, what is it about this community that allowed a man to be killed in such a public and horrific way?
Today, Lakewood Heights is part of the National Register of Historic Places and known for being a historically Black neighborhood. Back in 1886, 12 years after the Lakewood Heights developed as a neighborhood around a waterworks, the area became home to Atlanta’s first Black-owned cemetery. Historian D.L. Henderson has called South-View “an African American City of the Dead.” Its founders, formerly enslaved people, objected to how African Americans were treated at segregated cemeteries and opened South-View with a mission for dignified burials for their community.
Their mission for dignity would prove more clear and necessary. Between the years 1877 and 1950, more than 4,000 African Americans were lynched across 12 Southern states. Nearly 600 of those lynchings took place in Georgia, with 36 in Fulton County.
Lakewood Heights is one of many neighborhoods in Atlanta that carries this quiet legacy of racial terror that has been lost in time. Carmichael was one of the most talked about lynching victims at the time, his death preceding the Atlanta Race Massacre by just two months. During the massacre, a white mob killed dozens of Black Atlantans and attacked their businesses, including prominent Black businessman Alonzo Herndon’s “whites only” barbershop.
The morning of July 31, 1906, a white teenager named Annie Laurie Poole reported that on her way home from a neighbor’s house, a Black man dragged her into the nearby woods, choked her, tore the clothes off her body, and threatened to kill her if she screamed. A white mob organized by some of Poole’s family members formed in search of a suspect. Two men were arrested for fitting the description. The mob found a third, Floyd Carmichael, inside a nearby shanty and dragged him back to the alleged victim’s home off South Pryor Street.
“Today, walking the streets of Lakewood, I share Carmichael’s story with community members to ensure that his life is brought back to public memory; so that he is not forgotten but instead is remembered forever for the life he led.”Ann Hill Bond, reporting resident
Doctors didn’t find any evidence of Poole being assaulted. But, before they left, when Poole identified Carmichael as the perpetrator, the mob shot him, firing 40 bullets by the Atlanta Constitution’s estimation at the time. Carmichael later died in a wagon the mob wheeled into downtown Atlanta to show Poole’s father what they had done, according to Rage in the Gate City: The Story of the 1906 Race Riot by Rebecca Burns. There was no trial, because African Americans weren’t presumed innocent until proven guilty.
It was cloudy in Lakewood Heights as I walked down Pryor Street toward the parking lot where Carmichael’s vigil was being held. I felt overwhelmed, uncertain of who would show up and how the community would respond to knowing that a lynching had taken place in their safe haven of Lakewood Heights. Placing one foot in front of the other, I walked onto what immediately felt like hallowed ground.
In a circle stood a diverse group of a little over a dozen observers. At the head of the circle was a table with white flowers, and the jar with Carmichael’s name and date of death inscribed in white letters. Just underneath the table was a bucket of soil from where he died.
I found my place and removed my shoes to ground myself in the deep understanding that Pryor Street, in some way, was a cemetery in its own right, and reverence was necessary. Reality set in on me that this was the legacy of Atlanta, of Georgia, of America.
I bowed my head and closed my eyes to take in the sweet sound of community voices singing. “Lift every voice and sing, ’til earth and Heaven ring / Ring with the harmonies of Liberty / Let our rejoicing rise high as the list’ning skies / Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”
Not knowing the rest of the words, I opened my eyes. The ground was now covered in white petals from the flowers in our hands.
With each passing line—“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us / Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us”— I realized we were sending Carmichael off, though this time in a manner filled with joy, hope, and dignity, allowing his spirit to experience a “good death.”
An Institute of Medicine report published in 1997 first defines a “good death” as one “free from avoidable distress and suffering for patient, family, and caregivers, in general accord with the patient’s and family’s wishes, and reasonably consistent with clinical, cultural, and ethical standards.”
In 2016, the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry established 11 conditions of “successful dying” to identify ways to address what patients need and make the dying process better for them. The criteria include but are not limited to: “having control over the specific dying process, pain-free status, having a sense of life completion or legacy, having a choice in treatment preferences, and experiencing dignity in the dying process.”
Carmichael didn’t get to “die well.” He is among 36 African Americans in Fulton County during the lynching era who were not granted a “good death.”
Back at the soil collection with the FCRC in 2019, I realized not all will die well, but some will have a good death in the after. Today, walking the streets of Lakewood, I share Carmichael’s story with community members to ensure that his life is brought back to public memory; so that he is not forgotten but instead is remembered forever for the life he led, and the smiles he shared while at work. Carmichael now has a true and just voice that is his acclaimed human right—Maa Kheru.
Most importantly, when I closed my eyes and heard the community in unison singing—“Facing the rising sun of our new day begun / Let us march on ’til our victory is won”—I heard how that victory was truly won. At last, Floyd Carmichael experienced a good death through his community’s remembrance of him.
Editor: Christina Lee
Copy Editor & Fact Checker: Adjoa D. Danso
Canopy Atlanta Reader: Stephanie Toone
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GCPS Board of Education announced it would stick with a similar calendar to previous ones for the next two academic years.
“If you look at the threads of the history of Atlanta, they’re woven into that place.”