About a month ago I decided to dine at a local restaurant on the Square in Covington, and afterwards I took a stroll in the “Park on the Square” where I observed many people taking pictures at the base of the Confederate monument, and others were doing the same at the War Memorial obelisk honoring fallen heroes in other wars, beginning with World War I and going through to the conflict in Iraq known as Desert Storm.
I thought that this monument should now include the 20-year war in Afghanistan and that if any names on the previous wars were left off, then the names should be added regardless of race, religion or national origin.
This brought to mind a letter I had read in The Covington News by Bill Nash, dated Dec. 25-26, 2021. He emphasized the opportunity the Newton County Board of Commissioners had to honor local historical Black citizens with monuments, plaques or other noteworthy memorials. My vision at the moment was that the Confederate memorial (commemorating the dead) could be “The” pivot point leading to other memorials of local, state or national interest.
Mr. Nash suggested a well-deserved individual by the name of Forrest “Preacher” Sawyer, Sr., be so commemorated in the Park on the Square by erecting a monument. I would like to add the name of Dr. T.K. Adams, a pillar of this community as an educator, musician and creator of the Covington Community Band. His passing was just last month, and he will be sorely missed by all. We also can add to that memorial the name of Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr., a very honored and respectful judge by everyone who passed away only a short time after being promoted to a higher court. Let us not forget the name of Mr. Almond Turner, who served this community as a highly respected law enforcement officer and devoted school board member. His tragic death was mourned by thousands.
These are just three others to be added to the list honoring Forrest “Preacher” Sawyer, but after reading some Black history in the “History of Newton County,” published in 1988 by the Newton County Historical Society, there seems to be others to be commemorated in the Park on the Square. Keeping up with the month of February being Black History Month, I would like to enlist two other names that need recognition.
The first family that impressed was the descendants of ex-slaves Tom and Betsey Johnson. The most noteworthy of which was Phillip Daniel Johnson, better known as “P.D.” Johnson. He was raised as a sharecropper in the Legion area of Newton County, south of the city of Covington. According to historical reports, P.D. was an ambitious man. He believed in having something and he believed in education. He attended Clark University in the 1880s and married Louise Callahan who attended Spelman College and was a teacher. He was teaching at the time he married Louise, but he quit to go back to farming. He believed in farming by science and not by the signs. In the 1900s, he was appointed farm agent, the first Black farm agent in Georgia. P.D. would later own property and businesses on Washington Street in Covington. However, because of the boll weevil and the decline of the cotton industry, P.D. and his partners John Bentley and Bud Gilstrap lost most of the properties. He was able to save his home and farm, and he and Louise returned to teaching before their retirements.
The second family that impressed me was that of the Allen Lackey family and his descendants. Allen Lackey was a sharecropper in Jasper County. Sometime in the late 1800s he and his wife, Adeline Strong, with seven children, moved to the Leguinn area of Newton County. There he eventually acquired his own property and by hard work and determination acquired extensive land holdings. Foremost among his children was Ike Lackey, who like his father continued to farm the land. With a business partner Stacky Sanford and Ike becoming a mortician, they opened up a funeral home off Washington Street, now known as Fowler Street. The business flourished and is still in business today, known as Lester Lackey and Sons Funeral Home on Reynolds Street.
Ike’s sons Phelm, Wavy and Walter worked in the funeral home and continued to pass it on down to their descendants. Ike’s third child was a daughter, Susie Kate. She married Fred Johnson (possibly related to P.D. Johnson) and they had two children, including Horace James Johnson, Sr. Susie died of meningitis on April 16, 1931, about four years after the birth of her son, Horace. Horace would later move in with his grandparents, Ike and Mattie. This arrangement would later provide him the opportunity to receive degrees from Clark College and Atlanta University. He would later marry Lottie Broadnax of Madison. They had two children, Horace Jr. and Yvette, according to the “History of Newton County.” The two farms, Johnson Farm and Lackey Farm, still exist today on Lackey Road off Hwy. 36 South of Covington. Many more names need to be added to this place of honor on the Square, or in municipal buildings. So let’s do the research and get it done. Hopefully by next February we can see some positive results from some creative people in this community.