Roswell archivist’s video shines light on city’s Black history

Elaine DeNiro, archivist for the Roswell Historical Society, shines a light on the city’s Black history from the 1800s to present day. Video / City of Roswell

Roswell Historical Society Archivist Elaine DeNiro says uncovering Black history in Roswell is a continuous effort and one that she’s committed to.

“The Black history in Roswell is amazing,” she said.

DeNiro gave a video presentation on the history of Black people in Roswell during a Feb. 8 city meeting. (Click and expand the video above for the full presentation.)

Black people were enslaved by the city’s first settlers who came to the area in the 1800s. People enslaved to Roswell King, the first city leader, helped to build his textile mill and the rest of the town. DeNiro explained to City Council members how Black people went from enslavement to living in segregation and through the civil rights era; and how the Black community established schools and churches.

Her video presentation starts out briefly showing prehistoric times in Roswell and touches on Native Americans in the area dating back to the 16th century and through the mid-1800s when Native Americans were forcibly removed during the Trail of Tears period.

By 1850 there were more than 200 slaves in the Roswell area, DeNiro said.

The historian uses photographs and documents to explain life experiences. She said there was an influx of Black people in Roswell in the early 1900s due to racial cleansing in Forsyth County.

Her presentation concludes with a showing of Roswell’s overall increase in population since 2000, including people of color. Population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau for 2019 show Black people represent 13.6% of residents living in the city. Hispanic residents represent 15.4%.

“We want people to know this isn’t the end of the story,” DeNiro said.

DeNiro and Charles Grogan of Ellenwood plan to document an oral history of Roswell residents and memories of Doc’s Café, where Black teenagers socialized during 1950s segregation.

Grogan’s ancestors came to Roswell as slaves and are buried at Pleasant Hill Cemetery where he voluntarily keeps up the grounds.

Visit the Roswell Historical Society website at roswellhistoricalsocitey.org.

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