Dr. Martin Luther King was a masterful bridge builder using words and deeds to build bridges between the races, but years before Dr. King’s dream speech another King was building bridges in Georgia.
Horace King was born a slave in 1807 to a Mulatto father and a mother who was part Catawba Indian. Later on in life Mr. King became the property of John Godwin, a contractor, who moved close to Columbus, Georgia in 1832. Mr. Godwin had been fortunate to win the contract to construct a bridge to span the Chattahoochee River. King helped Godwin build the first bridge to connect Columbus, Georgia with Phenix City, Alabama.
King was eventually given his freedom through the efforts of Godwin and the Alabama State Legislature in 1846, but he continued to work with his former master building Town lattice truss design bridges. These bridges were vital in opening up the Chattahoochee Valley area and led to King having many of his own building contracts for numerous bridges, homes, community buildings, a state hospital in Alabama, and a three story textile mill near Columbus. King is credited with building the self-supporting staircase that is showcased in the Alabama Capital Building. In the 1850s King built Moore’s Bridge which spanned the Chattahoochee between Newnan and Carrollton.
Upon the death of Godwin, Horace King spent a total of one thousand dollars for a grave headstone for his former master, co-worker, and friend. This is an unheard of amount for the time period. The monument states, “This stone was placed here by Horace King in lasting remembrance of the love and gratitude he felt for his friend and former master.” Unfortunately King’s actions have been used to paint him as an apologist for slavery.
Following the Civil War, King served four terms in the Alabama legislature, and in 1872 King moved to LaGrange, Georgia and left the bridge building to his sons. One of the most picturesque bridges in Georgia was built by a King son at Watson Mill.
While there are many gaps in Mr. King’s lifestory one fantastic attempt at telling his story exisits in Faye Gibbons account for young adult readers called Horace King: Bridges to Freedom
If you would like to learn more about Georgia’s Covered Bridges go here. Georgia’s Covered Bridge graveyard can be found here.