For this Fast Friday pictured is the tombstone of Augustus Thompson, which can be found in the African American section at Oakland Cemetery (read about Oakland Cemetery here). Augustus the man presents an interesting story in Atlanta history, one of a former slave building a successful business in a time of great inequality and racial violence.
In 1837 Augustus Thompson was born in Mississippi to a slave mother and a free father. Soon after his birth, Thompson’s mother was willed to a Mr. Julius Sappho in Georgia. The family unit was broken; Augustus moved with his mother to Georgia, while his father stayed in Mississippi. Growing up the young slave eventually became a blacksmith’s apprentice and learned the trade.
With the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865 Augustus Thompson was now a free blacksmith, and sometime in 1870 he moved to Atlanta and opened up his own shop. He was quite successful, making many connections, both in business and in politics. He ran for office several times, but never won an election.
Augustus Thompson founded the Grand United Order of the Odd Fellows in Atlanta; the “Triple-Links” logo of the Odd Fellows on his gravestone gives away his membership in this fraternal organization. Sources indicate he initiated 25 members into the Atlanta chapter which would grow into one of the largest and strongest in the nation. The District Grand Lodge No. 18, known as the Odd Fellows Building and Auditorium (also known as the Tower and the Annex), are two iconic and historic structures located at 228-250 Auburn Avenue in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood.
Augustus Thompson died on March 12th, 1910, two years before Booker T. Washington’s opening speech at the dedication ceremony for the Odd Fellows Building in 1912. His gravestone in Oakland Cemetery is one of the oldest African American tombstones that is still legible; most of the contemporaries buried around him have seen their headstones deteriorate for various reasons. Go pay this historic item in Atlanta History a visit!