At various times since last October, I’ve spoken about my various inspirations for Virgil Smithson (the hero of The Preacher’s Promise). Another real life figure that inspired my character (blacksmith, preacher and emerging political figure) is William Golden (also known as Golding). After the Civil War, in Liberty County, he inspired the formerly enslaved, to believe that gaining an education meant everything to the forwarding of the race, even as he himself, Golden, was illiterate. This desire to encourage others has always been an interesting phenomenon since I’ve known several illiterate individuals across my life. How does an individual like Golden still encourage people to attain the the education that he didn’t?
Golden was a member of the constitutional convention of 1867-68, where measures befitting the Radical Reconstruction were written into a new constitution after the war. He was also a member of the Georgia House of Representatives between 1867-70. In 1870, he transcribed a letter to the American Missionary Association to ask them for a teacher. They sent Eliza Ann Ward, a New England teacher who had previous teaching experience in Savannah and Hilton Head. He, along with his family, donated land to the building of a school– Dorchester Academy– on the grounds of the old family plantation. They were willing to share the land that had been deeded to them by relatives of the Gaulding family–the former people who had owned them.
His few years of political power meant that the academy had a solid basis from which to grow on in the early years. Ward left within a few years’ time, due to poor health. In 1874, they attempted to get her back but although she showed a fondness for the people in the area (she sent clothes), she did not return. The AMA arranged for a minister-principal to show up and take Golden’s place. Even after the replacement came, Golden did continue to obtain extra resources for the school. Golden was willing to go the extra mile for education for others.
The political machinations of expelling African Americans from the Georgia State House began after 1870, and he was no longer in office. Golding fades from history after that, unfortunately. I suspect that when the tides of Reconstruction changed back to favor Democrat rule, there was some kind of campaign to omit the histories of the short-lived political careers of Negro men who tried to bring some order to the lives of the formerly enslaved. Dorchester Academy, built in Golden’s Grove, existed as an educationalentity into the 1940’s. The buildings still exist as a museum and community service centers.
One biographer, according to the Liberty County History Society, has Golden working as a janitor in Savannah toward the end of his life. Is that a defeat or did Golden have the ultimate victory of making a stand for education? The website says he almost certainly has descendants in Liberty County. Does Golding’s legacy in the insistence of education live on in them? I hope so.