David T. Howard was Atlanta’s first African-American undertaker. The city of Atlanta opened David T. Howard grammar school in 1923 in Old Fourth Ward. It would later become a high school, and closed in 1976. (photo courtesy of the David T. Howard National Alumni Association)
Photo: David T. Howard National Alumni
Photo: David T. Howard National Alumni

David T. Howard: From Georgia slave to Atlanta philanthropist

David T. Howard rose from slavery at his birth in Crawford County, Georgia in 1849, to being called “Atlanta’s most beloved citizen and the city’s pioneer businessman” in the Atlanta Daily World’s obituary of him in 1935.

Howard, who took the name of his slave master after the Civil War, worked as a railroad porter in Atlanta before becoming an undertaker, with his mortuary business eventually making him one of the city’s first black millionaires, according to historian Nasir Muhammad in a previous story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He was a founder of the city’s first black-owned bank, Atlanta State Savings Bank.

Howard was a noted philanthropist and civic activist and his efforts and contributions included support of the Butler Street YMCA, Big Bethel AME Church and education on behalf of Booker T. Washington High School and the Atlanta University Center, according to the Daily World.

Perhaps the most lasting example of his legacy was his donation of the property at 551 John Wesley Dobbs Ave., which from 1923 to it’s closing in 1976 was the site of the David T. Howard School.

Among the notable students at the school given by a former slave to educate black Atlantans were Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, Vernon Jordan, Herman J. Russell, Eldrin Bell, and Walt Frazier.

Howard died at his granddaughter’s house in Atlanta at age 85.

His body was taken to the David T. Howard Mortuary.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.