Notes from A Forerunner

By Don Rhodes
Photos courtesy of The Augusta Chronicle Archives

Augustans Silas X. Floyd and J.C. Mardenborough were pioneering Black journalists in the South who authenticated Black community stories in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Floyd, the principal protégé and biographer of Tabernacle Baptist Church founder and international evangelist Reverend Charles T. Walker, began writing stories for The Augusta Chronicle in 1903. In 1915, he started a weekly column in the Sunday edition called Notes Among Colored People.  

Rather than being a straight news story, Floyd infused his stories on the lives of local Black citizens with his public personality. The column included weddings, out-of-town guests, organizational meetings, obituaries, business and educational happenings, sports and church news. A preacher and school principal, Floyd founded the Negro Press Association of Georgia in 1892.

“Notes was more than just a column,” observes U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Joyce Law, a historic preservation advocate and consultant. “Given its regularity on Sunday and the comprehensive topics covered, it was actually a section within the newspaper for a selective audience.”

She adds, “One of the main features that sets The Augusta Chronicle’s version of Notes Among Colored People apart from others produced in Georgia is that the page went beyond church topics — still serving as an indispensable source of information about social history.”

When Floyd died in 1923, the column, without interruption, passed to Clarence Tyson Woodland, a Delaware Army National Guard artillery officer stationed in Augusta. For a little more than a year, Woodland continued to write the Sunday column, expanding its size.

When Woodland moved to the Winston-Salem, N.C. area, a young black educator named John Charles Mardenborough Jr. told his readers that he had been “assigned the task of writing the notes each week for everybody and about every bit of news of value.”

A page from The Augusta Chronicle on Sunday, February 9, 1980.

Mardenborough was born into a prominent family near Beaufort, S.C. He graduated from Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth in Savannah and then named Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He continued his studies at New York University where he was selected as his class orator. From March 1925 until his untimely death, roughly three weeks before his 40th birthday, Mardenborough expanded the readership and importance of his Sunday Notes Among Colored People column.

Whereas Floyd primarily had been a minister, educator and journalist, Mardenborough and his wife had a deep love for the fine arts, especially music and theater. The couple became part of a community players group that put on the House of Mystery drama in the Lenox Theatre in 1922.  “J.C.,” as his articles were bylined, even wrote about Augusta’s theatrical history. 

Mardenborough covered concerts coming to Augusta’s churches, schools and theaters including opera contralto Marian Anderson’s performance at the Haines Institute in 1927, which was 12 years before her legendary Easter Sunday concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

He championed Georgia-born opera lyric tenor Roland Hayes (the first Black person to sing with a major orchestra and give a command performance before the British Royal Family). He also covered news on the athletic success of former Paine College student Phil Cockrell, who played for several major Black baseball teams and pitched the winning game in the first Negro World Series.

Mardenborough became one of Augusta’s most popular guest speakers and served as president of the Lincoln League and of the Epworth League organization. He pioneered hard-hitting columns praising the unsung devotion of mothers, stressing the importance of voter registration and criticizing children who weren’t in school. His courageous stances also strongly supported women’s rights outside of the home.

“There are men and women who think that the only place for [a] woman is that of a domestic regulator,” Mardenborough wrote in 1929. “Men have not been willing to concede to [a] woman’s place in church or state even up to this day. The progress she has made along these lines has been largely due to her own efforts … the truth of the matter is women should have a place wherever capable and sex should not be a barrier.”

Mardenborough’s reputation with The Augusta Chronicle ownership and with his readers was such that he was allowed to produce a Prosperity and Progress Edition, showcasing Black-owned businesses and the histories of Black churches.

His photo was published on the front page of the special edition with The Augusta Chronicle calling Mardenborough “one of Augusta’s best known and most outstanding Negro citizens.” The article noted that Mardenborough had “endeavored to create a clearer and healthier Negro community; keeping his people in touch with school, church, business and social activities of his race.”

Editorial contributions provided by Joyce Law, former staff historian at the Lucy C. Laney Museum, Central Savannah River Region board member of the Georgia African American Historic Preservation Network and National Trust for Historic Preservation Diversity Scholar.

Seen in the November/December 2023 issue of Augusta magazine.

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