Dr. Simon F. Frazier was born in the Freedman Grove Community, now Midway, in Liberty County close to the turn of the 20th century. After graduating in 1915 from one of the only two medical colleges in the country open to blacks - Meharry Medical College - he returned to his native Georgia to open a medical practice in Savannah and he later opened a practice in his hometown in Freedman Grove.
He was one of the first Gullah Geechee physicians to serve black communities in coastal Georgia. Dr. Frazier passed away in 1961, but his house continued to be used as a residence and also as a small business. In mid-August, the house where he served patients for many decades in Freedman Grove was demolished.
The house was situated at the intersection of an early crossroads of what is now the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor in east Liberty County (U.S. Highway 17) and Limerick and Freedman Grove roads. On the western corners of the intersection there was Addie Carter’s Store and a cemetery organized by Rev. Joseph Williams whose headstone sits in front of the now densely overgrown Ebenezer Church burial ground. On the eastern side stands the historic Ebenezer Presbyterian Church which has visible structural issues.
And there is now an open field where once stood the home of Dr. Simon F. Frazier, the first African American medical doctor in east Liberty County. Any casual commuter driving on U.S. Highway 17 may have noticed the old home which had been in progressive disrepair for several years. While they may not have known the history of the site, locals are well-aware of its historical significance.
Of Gullah Geechee heritage, Dr. Simon Fennimore Frazier, M.D. was born in 1890 in Freedman Grove, a vibrant rural community named for newly freed people who cast their buckets down and picked themselves up by their bootstraps after the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863. United States Census records indicate that this community consisted of hard working African American landowning farmers, sharecroppers, teachers, pulp mill workers, ministers and housekeepers.
His family legacy runs deep in this area. Born enslaved in 1820, his grandparents Plymouth Sr. and Millie Frazier were resilient in their efforts to live in freedom. His parents Plymouth Jr. and Rosa (Dryer) Frazier, former slaves also, had acquired significant property. They also ensured that their children received a good education and they were active members of the local Presbyterian Church.
On Feb. 27, 1899, his father was appointed U.S. Postmaster under President McKinley’s administration. On March 27, 1908, his brother Felix, the Worshipful Master of Limerick Lodge #437 (Prince Hall Affiliate, Free and Accepted Masons), was also appointed U.S. Postmaster and delivered mail to the Fleming community. His younger brother Albert attended Tuskegee Institute and earned a degree in veterinary science. During General Sherman’s March to the Sea in 1864, union soldiers not only destroyed and confiscated property of antebellum Liberty County planters and slave owners but they also confiscated property belonging to a few slaves who were allowed to own such things as cows, pigs, chickens, and wagons. In 1909, his father would be the subject of the Official Record of the 62nd Congress as he had submitted a claim in 1877 to the Southern Claims Commission to recoup the value of property confiscated in
1864. Plymouth Jr. was found loyal to the United States.
An astute student, young Simon would go on to graduate from Dorchester Academy and Johnson C. Smith College, formerly The Freedman’s College of the Presbyterian Church in North Carolina. After graduation, he enrolled in the second oldest medical school for African Americans in the United States – Meharry Medical College – where he graduated in 1915. Afterward Dr. Frazier returned to Georgia where he opened a successful medical practice in Savannah. In 1920, he married Lucille Dawson with whom four children were born: Muriel, Simon Jr. who passed away in infancy, Ouida, and Wahwee.
In 1932 Dr. Frazier built the home on this five-acre property to serve the community where he had grown up.
“I remember my granddaddy would go out to the country on Wednesdays to care for his patients in the Midway-Freedman Grove community. And in the summers when my mother brought us to visit granddaddy sometimes he would have house calls at night. In those days physicians made house calls. And I went on house calls with him. I loved playing with the chickens and turkeys. They even had a horse,” said Melda Thompson English, 70, via telephone in Cleveland, Ohio. On Jan. 5, 1961, Dr. Simon Fennimore Frazier, M.D. died at the age of 71 in Savannah. Situated just off the road where many of his patients once lived, he is buried in the cemetery at Midway First Presbyterian Church where he served as a lay minister and elder. In Savannah the S.F. Frazier Public Housing development is named in his honor.
Through the Georgia Open Records Act, Liberty County Department of Buildings and Licensing provided a copy of the property’s ordinance violations, Section 3.12 (dilapidated buildings) and 3.28 (nuisance to the community). “When I received the notice, I called my cousin Al Mullice who lives in Midway to assist me with finding a demolition company. I just had to be there to witness the moment. I felt kind of blue and sad. But all of my memories of my granddaddy’s house are wonderful,” said English.
On the last day of demolition family members stopped by to claim a brick or two of what remained of the Frazier House for nostalgia’s sake. After learning about the property’s illustrious history, Liberty County resident John Shives thought he would honor the doctor too by obtaining a keepsake brick from the demolition.
What has occurred at the former Frazier historic site is a preservation state of emergency. And it is symptomatic of endangered and vanishing African American sites across Liberty County and throughout Georgia and the United States. If other historic African American places in Liberty County like the Union Brotherhood Society building on Bill Carter Road, “floating” Cay Creek Cemetery, and other historic resources continue to disappear history and future generations of children will look back and incorrectly assume that African Americans never made significant contributions to this county and this great country.
Efforts are underway for early 2019 to facilitate town hall conversations with cultural resources experts to discuss important preservation issues in Georgia’s rural Gullah Geechee communities.
Hermina Glass-Hill is a public historian and former program assistant at Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division. Currently, she is the executive director of the Susie King Taylor Women’s Institute and Ecology Center in Midway.