Hattie Patterson down on Strife Street

Strife Street, now a cut through between the one-way E. Lamar and E. Forsyth streets in Americus, was a busier place in 1918. A century ago, before a rerouting of Lamar cut the road in half, there were nine homes—including eight shotgun houses—on the westside of Strife Street between Forsyth and Hollis Street. It was not paved back then. Downpours must have carried the red clay into the street until houses stood well "above" Strife. None of those shotgun houses remain. At approximately 117 Strife Street, brick steps are one of the few reminders of life on this side of the block. Despite poverty, a young death, and the passage of a century, these steps are a vestige of Hattie Patterson's life in Americus. While her full story can never be known, there are clues to Patterson's life in her street address, her occupation, the illness that took her life, and her place of burial.

Close living conditions and rental units meant that there was high turnover on Strife Street. The number of houses increased from six to nine between 1916 and 1921, and not a single resident who lived on the street in 1916 was still there five years later. Hattie Patterson did not even live at 117 Strife Street long enough to appear in the city street directories. There was a Mack Brown there in 1916, a Leila Wimbush in 1921, and a John Wimbush in 1923. Perhaps the only mention of Patterson at that address is her death certificate.

Upper left: A Brick Staircase near 117 Strife St., Americus, GA, 2021, photograph by Evan Kutzler; Lower left: Strife Street, Americus, Georgia, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1921, Sheet 9; Right: Overlay of Sanborn Fire Insurance Map and Google Earth.

Poverty that made the street name either applicable or a cruel joke. Eight side-by-side houses left little quiet or privacy for Hattie and her husband, Rufus Patterson. It is unknown whether they had children. Neither Hattie nor Rufus Patterson appear in the U.S. Census records in 1910 and there is no record of a marriage in Sumter County, Georgia. Her occupation, "housework," had one of two meanings. She either "kept home" or, more likely, worked as a domestic servant in white households. Either way, neither the crowded living conditions on Strife Street nor working in someone else's house made it easy to avoid an airborne virus. If she did not contract influenza at home, her illness brought it home, exposing the rest of the family as well. When she first showed symptoms on January 20, 1919, a white physician named Russell P. Glenn examined her. She died of pneumonia two days later at 4:00 a.m. Her body was taken to a black undertaker, John Barnum, and she was buried in what is now called Eastview Cemetery in the southwest corner of lot 1-C.

The approximate location of Hattie Patterson’s unmarked grave. Photo by Evan Kutzler.

No one can know the full story another's life. While Hattie Patterson's grave is known listed in the sexton's reports, there is nothing to mark her grave. Yet her story, what one can say about it, offers a window into the pandemic on Strife Street in Americus. Most of the victims of influenza in 1918 and 1919, like Patterson, left behind fragmentary records. Yet like all the other victims, her life mattered. It represents one experience in pandemic that devastated families and communities around the world.