In observance of Black History Month, I would like to pay tribute to two area natives who rose from humble beginnings and made significant contributions to our country and town.
In 1897, President William McKinley had considered naming Judson Lyons the postmaster of Augusta. Under the heading, “Not a Negro,” the Birmingham (Ala.) Age-Herald reported, however, that Augusta would not have a “colored postmaster” because Postmaster General James A. Gary stated that it would cause trouble.
Instead, McKinley named Lyons register of the U.S. Treasury in 1898, thus making him the highest-ranking African-American in government at the time. He served admirably for eight years and won many praises from the president and his subordinates.
Lyons was born outside of Augusta in 1860 and grew up on a farm. He didn’t begin formal schooling until he was 15. He taught himself to read while working. He attended the old Ware High School and Atlanta Baptist College. He finished Howard University Law School in 1884 and passed the bar that same year.
He became a leader in the Republican Party, rising to chairman of a national committee.
He returned to Augusta in 1906 and practiced law, becoming Georgia’s first African-American attorney. He became president of the Haines Normal Industrial Institute Board of Trustees and helped educator Lucy C. Laney solicit funds from wealthy donors throughout the country.
He died in 1924, and is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery.
William Carpenter was born in Edgefield, S.C., in 1873. He became an astute farmer and businessman. He operated a small farm in Aiken County and worked diligently to acquire more land. At one time, he had accumulated more than 500 acres, which were later developed into a town called Carpentersville.
He operated two grocery stores – one in South Carolina, and one on Broad Street in Augusta that sold groceries, meats, farm supplies and animal feed. He also was proprietor of furniture, financial and clothing businesses, and started the Georgia-Carolina Investment Co.
Carpenter was a partner in the Penny Savings and Loan Bank in the early 1920s, and served on the advisory committee of the Gwinnett Street branch of the Georgia Railroad Bank and Trust Co.
He was a deacon, trustee and big donor at Tabernacle Baptist Church. During the Depression years, he increased his church tithes and supported Tabernacle with various loans. There was a legend for years that he loaned the city of Augusta $8,000 during the Depression.
Committed to using his wealth to benefit his community, his life was defined by his humility. He died in 1959.
Tracy E. Williams Jr.