18. March 7 – March 21

Spring break put a pause on my writing, but the opportunity to step away from the deadline a bit has given me a chance to rethink the angle of my last chapter. As I increasingly see King as the anchor of this story, it makes more sense to end the narrative with the Atlanta School of Sociology. While this decision requires a great deal of new research, I think it provides a useful chronological framework. However, I have a lot more writing to do.

As I delved deeper into King’s sociological experience, I discovered that she had been interviewed by Ridgeley Torrence for his autobiography,¬†The Story of John Hope. As Hope’s elementary school teacher, King had an enormous impact on the young man, which he immortalized in a speech¬†thanking King for her role in his moral courage and temperance. In addition, the Torrence papers contain a summary of the author’s conversation with King which helps to flesh out her life and her values. Given that the papers were located at Princeton and I had a free day of vacation, I took a roadtrip and discovered a few gems in the archives. Of particular interest:

  • King confirms that her father was white – and discusses Hope’s light skin tone as well. A great deal of the papers dealt with what it meant to be mixed-race in Augusta in the Reconstruction years, which could be an interesting subject to explore in chapter one.
  • I learned that King was sent to Atlanta University when she was only 12 years old – much younger than I had previously assumed. She must have attended the model school before graduating into the normal school program.
  • The summary revealed that she had been recruited to Augusta’s new African American school system by Rev. WJ White, and taught first in a “slum” before moving to the nicer Fourth Ward district after her talent for teaching was observed through a window by the white superintendent. Thus not only was she amongst the elite in Atlanta post-marriage, but even found her way there as a teacher in a city far from home.
  • King confirms the date at which she was married and the termination of her teaching career. Before, the sequence of her move to Atlanta, her marriage to Mr. King, and the end of her teaching days was a bit mixed up: now I can pinpoint these key moments to 1881.
  • Interestingly, King admits that her temperance activism with the WCTU angered her husband, whom she describes as a “mean man.” This is fascinating – even while her male colleagues celebrated her success, Mr. King resented her political activity, which took her across the state and into the political sphere.

As a side note, John Hope repeatedly describes the impact of the Hamburg Massacre on his racial identity and personal development. Notably, King was Hope’s teacher in 1876, the year that the young boy describes hearing the gun shots from across the South Carolina-Georgia border (the Savannah river). The 1876 incident was formative for the young Hope: how might King have remembered it as a young woman? Would she and Hope have recalled this violence almost exactly three decades later as their new home in Atlanta was battered by the race riot?

Overall, I’m very excited about the documents I found at Princeton and I’m hopeful about further incorporating them into my work.