Some of the earliest African American families in Decatur include:
Henry Oliver (1826-1904)
One prominent early African American of Decatur was Henry Oliver. A blacksmith by trade, mystery surrounds the man, who is mentioned in Mary Gay’s Life in Dixie During the War as “Decatur’s Henry Oliver” (p. 145). Local legend tells that Henry Oliver, which was a name he chose for himself after emancipation, at some point was given a large portion of land in Decatur by his enslaver who was also his father. He continued his blacksmithing but also sold much of this land to both black and white residents and was known as a successful businessman.
He was such a respected figure in Decatur during his lifetime that a major road, which runs through the center of town, was named Oliver Street after him in 1902. This name stayed in place until 1984 when the town commission voted to change the name to Commerce. As of 2018, a conference room at the Courtland Atlanta Decatur hotel is named after him, as is a senior living center named Oliver House, which is located in what was once the Beacon community.
Sallie Thomas Durham (~1850-1934)
Sallie Durham was born Sarah Thomas to mother Clarissa Thomas and an unknown father in Athens, Georgia. Born into slavery, she first appears free, along with her children Clara and Mark, in 1870 in Athens as a domestic for lawyer and two-term US Congressman Junius Hillyer.
In the 1870s, at approximately the same time that Hillyer moved to Decatur, Georgia, Sarah (now Sallie) also moved to Decatur with her two children. In 1874, she married Sylvester “Vesta” Durham in DeKalb County. She began her own successful catering business in Decatur with clientele consisting of well-established white residents, including some of her own family members. You can learn more about Sallie and her descendants in the documentary 5 Generations: From Enslavement to Public Service in Atlanta.
Joseph Samuel Ebster (1902-1995)
Joseph Samuel Ebster was born in Decatur in 1902. His mother was Fannie Paschal, the daughter of Frank Paschal, an early reverend and founder of Thankful Baptist in Decatur, and his father was Deacon Donald Grant “D.G.” Ebster of Thankful Baptist, for whom Ebster Park and Recreaction Center are named. D.G. Ebster was a charter members of the DeKalb County NAACP in 1955.
Joseph Ebster attended Morris Brown College, where he was a pitcher for the school’s baseball team, a member of the Glee Club, and chapter president of Omega Psi Phi, a historically African American fraternity. In 1926, he married Jessie Mae Ware of Atlanta and they moved to Chicago looking for a better life.
Stay tuned for upcoming family biographies