Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Americus is a city in Sumter County, Georgia, United States. The population was 17,013 at the 2000 census. Americus is the home town to Habitat for Humanity International's international headquarters, the famous Windsor Hotel, Fuller Center for Housing international headquarters, Glover Foods and many more well known organizations.
The city is the county seat of Sumter County.
Americus, Georgia was named and chartered by Sen. Lovett B. Smith in 1832.
For its first two decades, Americus was a small courthouse town. The arrival of the railroad in 1854 and, three decades later, local attorney Samuel H. Hawkins' construction of the only privately financed railroad in state history, made Americus the eighth largest city in Georgia into the twentieth century. It was known as the "Metropolis of Southwest Georgia," a reflection of its status as a cotton distribution center. In 1890, Georgia's first chartered electric street car system went into operation in Americus. One of its restored cars is on permanent display at the Lake Blackshear Regional Library.
The town was already graced with an abundance of antebellum and Victorian architecture when local capitalists opened the Windsor Hotel in 1892. A five-story Queen Anne edifice, it was designed by a Swedish architect, Gottfried L. Norrman, in Atlanta. Vice-President Thomas R. Marshall gave a speech from the balcony in 1917 and soon to be New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke in the dining room in 1928.
On January 1, 1976, the city center was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Americus Historic District. The district boundaries were extended in 1979.
For the local black community, Rev. Dr. Major W. Reddick established the Americus Institute for Secondary Education (1897–1932). Booker T. Washington was a guest speaker there in May 1908. Rev. Alfred S. Staley was responsible for locating the state Masonic Orphanage in Americus, which served its function from 1898 to 1940. Both men engineered the unification of the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia in 1915, the former as president and the latter as recording secretary. The public school named in honor of A.S. Staley was designated a National School of Excellence in 1990.
Two other institutions of higher learning were also established in Americus, the Third District Agricultural and Mechanical School in 1906 (now Georgia Southwestern State University), and the South Georgia Trade and Vocational School in 1948 (now South Georgia Technical College).
In World War I, an Army Air Corps training facility, Souther Field, was commissioned northeast of the city limits. Charles A. Lindbergh, the "Lone Eagle," bought his first airplane and made his first solo flight there during a two-week stay in May 1923. Recommissioned for World War II, Souther Field ended the war as a German prisoner-of-war camp.
Into the 20th century
Koinonia Farm, an interracial Christian community, was organized near Americus in 1942. Founder Clarence Jordan was a mentor to Millard and Linda Fuller, who founded Habitat for Humanity International at Koinonia in 1976 before moving into Americus the following year. In 2005, they founded the Fuller Center for Housing, also in Americus. Koinonia Partners is currently located southwest of Americus on Hwy. 49.
The Civil Rights Era in Americus was a time of great turmoil; violent opposition to Koinonia by racist elements led to the bombing of a store uptown in 1957. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent a weekend in the courthouse jail in 1961, after an arrest in Albany. The "Sumter Movement" to end racial segregation was organized and led by Rev. Joseph R. Campbell in 1963. As a direct result, two Georgia laws were subsequently declared unconstitutional by a federal tribunal meeting in Americus. Color barriers were first removed in 1965 when J.W. Jones and Henry L. Williams joined the Americus police force. Lewis M. Lowe was elected as the first black city councilman ten years later. With their election in 1995, Eloise R. Paschal and Eddie Rhea Walker broke the gender barrier on the city's governing body.
In 1971, the city was featured in a Marshall Frady article, "Discovering One Another in a Georgia Town," in Life magazine. The portrayal of the city's school integration was relatively benign, especially considering the community's checkered past on race relations. Americus' nadir in this respect had occurred in 1913, when Will Redding was lynched by a mob uptown because he had shot Police Chief W.C. Barrow, who later died of his wounds.
Public schools in Americus include Americus-Sumter County High School, Cherokee Elementary, Sumter Primary, Sumter Elementary, Sumter Middle, Sarah Cobb, and Staley Middle School.
The current superintendent is Dr. Dennis MacMahon. He succeeded Dr. Franklin Perry in 2005.
In 2004, Sumter County High School and Americus High School merged, becoming Americus-Sumter County High School; the South Campus houses grades 10-12 while the North Campus (formerly Sumter High) serves as the 9th Grade Academy, the Performance Learning Center, and the alternative school. At the time of the merger, Juanita Wilson was the principal of the South Campus. She retired in 2005 and was replaced by Tony Overstreet for the 2005–2006 school term. The current principal is Dr. Larry Moore.
The school competes in the AAAA classification in athletics. Before the merger, Americus High School won state championships in football in 1962, 1965, 1974, 1975, 2000, and 2001. NFL player Leonard Pope was a member of the championship teams in 2000 and 2001. Fabian Walker, the starting quarterback for Florida State University in the 2003 Sugar Bowl against the University of Georgia, also graduated from Americus High. Former NFL coaches Chan Gailey and Dan Reeves are graduates and former football players at Americus High.
The first merged football team was led by Coach William Clark. He was succeeded by Coach Mark Wilson in 2006.
Georgia Southwestern State University and South Georgia Technical College are also located in Americus.
Americus was the target of a tornado around 9:15 P.M. on March 1, 2007. The EF-3 tornado was up to one mile wide, and carved a 38 mile path of destruction through the city. Over 500 homes were affected, with around 100 completely destroyed. Several businesses throughout the town were seriously damaged or destroyed as well. Among the businesses suffering major damage were Winn Dixie supermarket, Wendy's, Zaxby's, McDonald's, Dominoes Pizza, and several local businesses. The Winn Dixie was completely destroyed. Dominoes Pizza has since reopened, and Winn Dixie is currently being rebuilt and scheduled for open in the spring of 2008.
President George W. Bush visited the area on March 3, calling what he saw "tough devastation."
Americus has been facing a large bat infestation since the mid-1990s; millions of bats are estimated to reside in the historic mansions there.
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