Anna Smith Brown was born in Houston County, Centerville, Georgia in May 1868. She was the second daughter of Isaac and Mary Smith. Isaac, born in 1834, had been a slave in Virginia, while Mary, born in 1855, had been a slave in Houston County, Georgia where, it appears, they met and married. The 1870 US Census for Houston County Georgia shows that Isaac and Mary could not read or write, yet owned personal property valued at 300.00. Isaac, a laborer in 1870, and Mary, "keeping house," were raising seven children in Perry, Georgia.
Their daughter, Anna, at the age of 15, married Elias Brown on December 24, 1885. Together, although they, "had no schooling or college," raised seven children and, for a time, three of their grandchildren. Annie would survive all but two of her children. According to Census Returns the couple was, in 1920, "share renting" in Houston County. By 1930, after Elias's death in 1928, Annie had moved north to Macon, Georgia where she was renting a house for 15.00 located at 717 Daisy Street.
On October 24, 1930, Annie or "Big Mama," as she was affectionately called, would welcome her first great-grand son, Lewis Hamlin, Jr., as Annie was now the "head of a household," that included her grand daughter, Ruby, and son-in-law, Lewis Hamlin Sr. Unfortunately, in 1931, Annie would be saddened by the death of her first great-grand daughter, Rosa L. Hamlin. But by 1940, she had
welcomed the arrival of four additional great-grands; Herman Henry, Ruby Jean, Clinton, and Annie Delores Hamlin, and was now residing in an area of Daisy Street that would later become the historic Tindell Heights Housing Projects.
Business Directories for the City of Macon show that by 1956, five generations of Brown/Hamlins resided in Tindell Heights just doors from one another: Annie in 17D; daughter, Mamie (a widow) in 17D; Mamie's daughter and son-in-law, Ruby and Lewis Sr. in 17E; and Ruby's son and daughter-in-law, Lewis, Arlivia, their two children, Arwyn and Lewis D., and a third on the way, Deborah Patrice, in 17F. "Big Mama" survived the worst of times, yet was determined to maintain the family tradition. A lesson for us all.
While Annie's life may not appear remarkable to some, she was an extraordinary woman determined to establish and maintain generational bonds of black family, sisterhood, and support.
Although born free, she experienced the degradation of wage slavery, well aware of the violence and intimidation associated with the Post-Civil War/Reconstruction era (circa. 1865-1877) . She witnessed the onslaught of segregation as made plain in the Plessy vs. Fergusson case of 1896: the separate but equal doctrine which remained in tact well into the 1960s. She welcomed the legal demise of segregation evidenced by the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision, and lived to see the rise of a younger generation who understood that black must become beautiful to blacks before a change could truly come for all people.
Annie would not participate in the Civil Rights Movement, see the ratification of the 19th Amendment, or the Civil and Voting Rights Acts signed, on the afternoon of June 3, 1956, but she would know that her great grand children, Lewis Hamlin Jr., Herman Henry Hamlin, Arlivia Elaine Hamlin, and, perhaps, others, graduated from Fort Valley State College with BS degrees in Music or Education. As an uneducated woman who had been the daughter of an uneducated women, Annie's greatest joy may have been witnessing the academic accomplishments of her great grand children.
"Big Mama" died in 1958 at the age of 90. She and Elias shared what historians often describe as an "industrial partnership," a marriage defined by collective work towards a common, larger goal. We at the BRONZeTONE Center salute Anna Smith Brown for her strength, her courage, her generosity of heart, her loving spirit, her faith, her perseverance, her "soul food," and for having demonstrated long before popular, what it really means to be black and beautiful.