History cannot be constricted behind a classroom desk or a computer screen. To really understand the essence of historical events, one must seek out the resident experts on the subject matter. Hence, I sought after the Milledgeville, Georgia gurus on my Living Historian persona, Lavinia Flagg.
As I ventured out to find more information about Lavinia Flagg, Resident Expert Deitrah Taylor was my tour guide for the Labor Behind the Veil tour at Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion. Because slaves were to labor behind the scenes and not be seen by the public, the opportunity for me to walk in their footsteps behind the veil was quite phenomenal.
Not only did I gain insight about Georgia’s free people of color such as Wilkes and Lavinia Flagg, but also I learned about slaves such as Jim, Celia, Virginia, Emma, and Cornelius. One witnessed Lavinia from both perspectives–slave and free–because she was indeed both at different times and locations during her lifetime behind and in front of the veil.
Also, the tour clarified several aspects which can be easily misconstrued from articles on the internet. As an example, Lavinia was known as a personal female confidant of Georgia’s First Lady Mary Ann Cobb, wife of former Governor Howell Cobb. To understand the dynamics, step into the shoes of a public figure who could not share intimate information with anyone else in the State of Georgia. Somehow, Lavinia earned the trust and confidence of Mary Ann Cobb.
Because more information is readily available on Wilkes Flagg, I will have to continue to draw inspiration from other sources during the Civil War period about Lavinia. What I do know is that the Flaggs were unlikely employed at Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion during the Civil War. History reveals the Wilkes were preparing for a future which included 1,100 acres of homeland for former slaves of Milledgeville.
Now, I better understand why former Governor Howell Cobb proclaimed Wilkes Flagg as a “miserable creature for stirring up labor unrest among freed people.” After all, Wilkes was once the maître d’hôtel for former Governor Cobb. Wilke’s post-Civil War master plan was personal and no longer political. Thus, Wilkes and Lavinia serve today as role models because there comes a time when doing what is right overrules doing what’s politically correct.
Special thanks to Curator Matt Davis and Resident Expert Deitrah Taylor for taking me back in time through the Labor Behind the Veil. The featured photograph is the only known drawing or photograph of Lavinia Flagg.