Project to digitize slavery-related documents showcased at Tubman Museum

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Open book of historical documents
Pages inside one of the Bibb County deed books from the 1800s. Photo by Bekah Howard

MACON — Mercer University’s collaborative project to digitize historical documents from 1823 to 1865 related to slavery is being showcased in a new exhibition at the Tubman Museum. The exhibition titled The Enslaved People Project, 1823 – 1865: Selected Records from Bibb County Superior Court Clerk, Erica L. Woodford, Esq., Clerk explores and celebrates the joint efforts of Mercer’s Department of Africana Studies, Mercer University Libraries and the Bibb County Superior Court Clerk’s Office.

For the project, researchers have been studying and cataloging the contents of Bibb County deed books from the 1800s, which include the sale and lease of enslaved people alongside transactions of land, horses and other property. Those records have now been digitized and a searchable database created to share the untold stories of these African Americans and allow the public to learn more about the history of their ancestors as well as Macon.

“We have to be transparent, and this project is the epitome of transparency, whether we like it or not. We’re giving accurate, primary source records of this county,” said Bibb County Superior Court Clerk Erica L. Woodford. “We’re proud of the project and know it’s going to be of benefit to the community and the world.”

The project has been a decade in the making. Woodford, who earned bachelor’s degrees in African American studies and political science at Mercer in 1997, discovered slave records within the deed books while conducting inventory in 2013. She shared her findings with Dr. Chester Fontenot Jr., director of Mercer’s Africana studies program and Baptist Professor of English.

“This is the most important research that I’ve done in my career so far,” Dr. Fontenot said. “I’m going to pay tribute to my ancestors by doing them right. Whether they’re in these books or not, they’re still my people.”

Woodford will be the special guest at a reception on Sunday, July 23, at 3 p.m. hosted by the Tubman Museum to celebrate the exhibition. The Enslaved People Project will be on exhibit through Aug. 14. Admission to the reception is free for museum members, $5 general admission. Contact the Tubman Museum (478) 743-8544 for more information about this exhibition and special event.

To view the scanned pages, create a free account at bibbclerkindexsearch.com/external, and then click on the “historical records” tab.