The Passing Parade (1939-1940)

It was in 1939 that the Liberty County Board of Educa­tion commenced making plans to establish a public high school for black students. The Liberty County Training School, across the road from the Liberty County Training Center, opened in 1942 and replaced Dorchester Academy. It was located on site of Malmaison Academy in the Cross­roads community near Riceboro. It was replaced by Liberty County High School, located between McIntosh and Midway, in 1951.


Dorchester Academy after 1942 was used as a center for cooperative efforts by black citizens of Liberty County. It was the first home of the Liberty County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peo­ple . The American Missionary Association established the center in the hope that such cooperative efforts would awaken in black Liberty Countians the realization of how much could be accomplished if each of them worked toward a common goal.


Black ventures had failed in Liberty County because of a lack of capital, so encouragement was given to secure sufficient capital before commencing such ventures. A credit union was established which grew in strength. The coopera­tive center, in fact, became the most inclusive organization in Liberty County. It cut across denominational, social, and political lines. It represented, literally, all of the black people of Liberty County.


The credit union assumed oversight of the vacated Dor­chester Academy, reported its activities to the American Missionary Association, and paved the way for cooperative projects which embraced not only commercial but political areas as well. The project kindled pride in the black com­munity, and made them more aware of how much could be accomplished by use of the ballot box.


A Northern teacher at Dorchester Academy wrote this about black Liberty County people: “One thing is certain to strike the observer-their pride in the place of their birth. One colored man said that he was born and raised in Liberty County with the same kind of pride as that which a New Englander speaks of his connection with Plymouth Rock. The spirit is one and has come down from the common fountain of the Puritan faith and culture.”


In December 1939 German troops invaded Norway and Denmark. In March 1940 more than 300,000 British and French troops were successfully evacuated from the beach at Dunkirk after an abortive attempt to launch an invasion of the continent. Adolf Hitler’s conquests, unequalled since the days of Napoleon, shocked America out of its isolation stand.


It was in May 1940 that the War Department asked the U.S. Congress for $3.5 million with which to purchase 550,000 acres of land for “expansion and improvement of five military reservations.” Colonel R.W. Collins, commander of the Fourth Coast Artillery at Fort McPherson , Georgia, came to Savannah, Georgia, and said he was “looking over” areas along the Atlantic seaboard as possible sites for the establishment of an anti-aircraft training and firing center. He further stated that the War Department was considering the purchase of 525,000 acres of land adjacent to Savannah, Georgia, for the site.


The establishment of an anti-aircraft training center, and proving ground “about 18 to 30 miles generally west of Savannah” was approved by the military affairs committee of the House of Representatives on June 24, 1940. The bill authorized the expenditure of between $2.5 million and $3.5 million for the purchase of 525,000 acres of land near Savan­nah for the purpose.


U.S. Congressman Hugh Peterson said “this is only the beginning” and added that Savannah’s new Hunter Field Airport and Fort Screven could be included in the program, and that establishment of the new site “will mark the begin­ning of intensive anti-aircraft defense works.”


President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 1, 1940, ap­proved the purchase of 525,000 acres of land near Savannah, Georgia, for establishment of the anti-aircraft training and firing center. The War Department at the same time said that the “Savannah development” would be operated by the coast artillery, which would train at the new center, person­nel permanently stationed at other army posts. It said that only temporary buildings would be constructed at the site, and that little equipment would be kept there on a regular basis. It emphasized that no specific site had been selected at that time, adding that “only a general location was in­tended when the Savannah area was specified in the bill.”


By the middle of August 1940, Major C.J. Harold of the quartermaster general’s office, War Department, and others, were in Savannah, Georgia, making initial plans for “nego­tiating leases and acquiring land for the training center” which they already were calling “The Savannah Area Anti­-Aircraft Training Center.” They said it would be established by October 1, 1940, and that “several thousands of soldiers” were expected to be training by that date “in the huge development to be located in five counties adjacent to Savannah, Georgia.”


There is good reason to believe that the War Department as early as the summer of 1939 had already decided to build an anti-aircraft training center in Liberty, Evans, Bryan, Long, and Tattnall counties, with its headquarters located near Hinesville. By September 1939, carpenters were at work building wooden “pup tents” and a small headquarters for a military police organization from Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. The military police occupied the small camp in October 1939. It was around this small camp that the main post of Camp Stewart was built in less than a year.


The War Department announced on August 23, 1940, that it had completed the leasing of 5,000 acres of land centering around Hinesville for the “Savannah Anti-Aircraft Training Center.” It said at the same time that a party of surveyors from Washington, D.C., was already at the site laying out the headquarters, with work to start on necessary buildings so as to have the camp ready for the reception of 12,000 soldiers by October 1, 1940. Lease of the property, the War Depart­ment said, was for one year with an option to purchase.


Thomas Gamble, mayor of Savannah, Georgia, in late August 1940, wrote a letter to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, urging that the anti-aircraft training center be named in honor of Major General George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, and former commander of Fort Screven, Georgia. The War Department did not act favorably on Mayor Gamble’s suggestion.


U.S. Congressman Hugh Peterson announced on Septem­ber 4, 1940, that the War Department had just advised him that more than $3 million would be spent on the construc­tion of the anti-aircraft training center. He also said that the War Department had agreed to give contracts to local firms to do the construction, using local labor to the fullest extent possible.


On September 12, 1940, the War Department announced that a contract for construction of the “Savannah Anti-Air­craft Training Center” in the amount of more than $2.5 million had been awarded to the J.B. McCrary Engineering Corporation, the A.K. Adams Construction Company, and the W.C. Shepard Contracting Company, all of Atlanta, Georgia. The announcement said that C.F. Wagner, chief engineer of the J.B. McCrary Engineering Corporation, was already on location at Hinesville, and that 6,000 buildings would be erected one mile from Hinesville within 90 days.


The contractors said that between 2,000 and 3,000 workmen would be recruited locally to build the anti-aircraft training center. The War Department at first envisioned a camp of tents with wooden floors, but by September 1940 had decided to erect more permanent structures of frame construction. It was announced at this same time that the contractors building the anti-aircraft training center would also build temporary barracks and buildings at Hunter Field in Savannah, Georgia, to cost more than $2 million, to house three air groups scheduled to arrive by October 1, 1940, from Barksdale Field, Louisiana.


By the end of September 1940, surveying work was com­pleted and the construction companies had erected temporary offices for army officials, engineers, construction company officials, and supplies. A call went out for construction workers and 2,500 men descended on “Camp Savannah near Hinesville” seeking employment, but only 25 jobs were actually available at that moment. Liberty County Sheriff Paul H. Sikes appealed to the Georgia Highway Patrol for help in keeping some kind of order in the Hinesville area.


As work accelerated on construction of the anti-aircraft training center, labor leaders from Washington, D.C., met with union officials in Savannah, Georgia, after which officials in Hinesville announced that labor on the construc­tion of what by now was called “Camp Savannah” would be hired on an “open shop” basis, and that the only card necessary was a Social Security card. Liberty County officials said at that time they had been informed by the contractors that 275 buildings would be constructed at Camp Savannah by December 1, 1940.


The Liberty Independent Troop, on October 15, 1940, was officially redesignated Battery B., 101st Separate Bat­talion, Coast Artillery. After two enlisted members of the organization were commissioned, its officers were Captain Paul E. Caswell, First Lieutenant Guy P. Browning, Second Lieutenant Kenneth E. Dubose, Second Lieutenant John Carroll Ryon , and Second Lieutenant Mike Y. Hendrix.


Boundaries of Camp Savannah were spelled out by the War Department in a statement it issued on November 10, 1940. The statement said:


“The War Department through the land acquisition facili­ties of the Soil Conservation Service, Department of Agricul­ture, is now proceeding with the appraisal and purchase of land for the site of the large anti-aircraft training and firing center to be located in parts of Liberty, Bryan, Long, Tatt­nall, and Evans counties, Georgia. The area to be acquired is roughly that described as follows:


“Beginning from a point one and one-half miles north of Hinesville, Georgia, northwest to the vicinity of Alton and Smiley (but excluding the villages of Smiley and Alton); thence due  north to a point approximately four miles south of  Claxton, Georgia; thence eastwardly paralleling the Sea­board Air Line Railroad and approximately four miles south thereof to the Ogeechee River; thence southeast along but exclusive of the Ogeechee River to the Atlantic Coastline Railroad; thence southwest paralleling the Atlantic Coastline Railroad right-of-way to the vicinity of but exclusive of the village of McIntosh, Georgia; thence northwest to the starting point (exclusive of the village of Flemington, Georgia).


“Appraisals and negotiations with landowners have not yet progressed to the point where any definite westerly boundary can even be estimated, but in general it is believed that all farmers and residents within Liberty County and Bryan counties should make preparations to vacate the land and move all personal property, livestock, etc., not later than March 1, 1941, as present plans call for military use of the property on that date.


“The foregoing does not mean that land in Evans, Tattnall, and Long counties will not be acquired, but from present indications lands in the last mentioned counties will be in the nature of a second priority and residents thereof should make plans accordingly. In the event crops are planted on lands in the last mentioned counties before said lands are acquired by the government, the owners will, of course, be compensated for value of the crops as of the date of ac­quisition.”


The War Department, on November 13, 1940, announced that the “Savannah Anti-Aircraft Base, with headquarters at Hinesville ,” had been officially named Camp Stewart in honor of Brigadier General Daniel Stewart of Liberty County. The announcement came from U.S. Congressman Hugh Peterson, who said an official biography of Brigadier General Stewart had already been prepared by Virginia Fraser of Hinesville.


There is no record that Anna Eleanor Roosevelt had any­thing to do with the naming of Camp Stewart. But Brigadier General Daniel Stewart was her great-great-grandfather, and her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was president of the United States in 1940. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that the post got its name because of a suggestion from the White House.