Fulton County court finds 200-year-old records exposing history of slavery in the South

Fox 5 News Book

Fulton County court finds 200-year-old records exposing history of slavery in the South

November 27, 2023

Hundreds of historic documents dating back to slavery have been discovered among Fulton County Probate Court records.

Inside the records room of Fulton County’s Probate Court, the recent discovery of 200-year-old court documents provides new insight into the told, and untold, history of slavery in the old South.

Fulton County’s Chief Probate Judge Kenya Johnson said she and her staff stumbled upon hundreds of stories found within marriage licenses, estate planning documents and wills dating as far back as the 1840s.

"We were able to uncover some interesting stories about slave owners," Johnson told FOX 5. "A story that I hadn’t heard before: Slave owners paid for their slaves to go back to Africa."

Among the remarkable findings – documents signed by Coretta Scott King in the months after her husband’s assassination in 1968, and even further back – documents that determined the fate of slaves after their owners passed.

"I began to have the staff look at the wills to see if there were any bequests, and within the first ten minutes, we identified several wills that gave away slaves to their loved ones, so I realized this was Fulton County back then. Back then, it was Campbell County," Johnson explained.

Records supervisor Candace Davis said those findings were bittersweet – a disheartening reminder of the struggles her ancestors faced and a testament to how far we’ve come.

"We discovered that we were treated like property, like with cows and with furniture," Davis said. "Some counties don’t have those due to floods [and] fires, but to see that Fulton County still had those documents was amazing to me," she added.

Now, Johnson is hoping to get the documents restored and into the right hands. She said the restoration process could cost anywhere from $8,000 per document.

The chief judge said her goal is to start a fundraising campaign and share some of the pages with other groups that may be interested in taking a lesson in Fulton County’s history.

Click the link to watch the full story