Roy Argo and Ann Dennard
The 1918-20 influenza pandemic, arriving near the end of World War I, added to the fear and uncertainty of hundreds of millions of people. Influenza was not considered a fearful disease at the time. It was known to kill the young and old, but this strain became notorious for its effect on young, otherwise healthy adults. While it is rarely a public health advantage to be poor, affluence afforded little protection for easily transmissible, airborne diseases either. Influenza struck and killed whether one was rich or poor, male or female, white or Black. Roy F. Argo and Ann Dennard offer us two local examples of people taken by this pandemic.
Roy Franklin Argo was hardly more than a child when he came down with influenza. He was the son of William White and Effie Dessolee (Coker) Argo, two Georgians born in the 1870s. As an adult, William Argo served as a time as the Chattahoochee County warden and ran convict camps. The family were members of the Preston Baptist Church. Argo and Coker married in December 1897, and their first son was born ten months later. Perhaps the most important factor for short life expectancies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was childbirth. Children who survived infancy were more likely to live well beyond the "median" age and women's life expectancies were shorter than men because the dangers of childbirth. In August 1905, Roy Argo became the only surviving child of the marriage. The family lost both Effie Argo and the child they expected to add to the family. Roy's father remarried fifteen months later and by 1910 they had moved from near Plains to Americus. Roy was ten years older than his half-sister, Dorothy.
Upper left: Ed Argo's house on Barlow Street, 2021, photograph by Evan Kutzler; Lower left: Unspent coal from Americus, Ga., photograph by Evan Kutzler; Right: Roy Argo’s Draft Registration Card, 1917-1918.
The mobile and violent business of running a convict labor camp may have led to Roy Argo to stay with extended family in Americus when his father, step-mother, and half-sister moved to Harris County. Argo lived with his uncle Ed Argo's house at 401 Barlow Street—a large house on the corner of Brannon Ave—and worked for the Atlantic Ice and Coal Corporation. Coal was the main fuel used in fireplaces and ice was necessary for cold storage in an era before refrigeration. If the coal came from Alabama, it likely came from deadly convict camps like the one his father ran. His job may have put him in contact with many people, so perhaps he acquired it at work. He died on January 12, 1919 at his uncle's house. He was buried in the Magnolia Springs Cemetery near Plains.
Ann(a) Dennard offers another case of someone, about twice Argo's age, who succumbed to flu in 1919 as well. There are more questions than answers about her life. Her parents were Rich and Florine Grim, and it is possible Anna moved to Sumter County from elsewhere in southwest Georgia. Born about 1878, an—but not necessarily the—Anna Dennard was married with two children by 1900. Anna and Matt Dennard were sharecroppers faced with limited opportunity for an education in the late-nineteenth century. Both adult Dennards had learned to read, but—at least according to census enumerator—neither could write. They lived south of Americus probably near Hooks Mill Road. A decade later, a different census enumerator reported that both parents were literate. Their family had also grown to five children: John, Edmund, Luther, Camilla, and Quilla. Yet this might not be the same Anna Dennard who died at 1012 Montgomery Street in Americus. An Anna Dennard still lived south of Americus in 1920. She had not succumbed to flu.
The challenge of recovering the life story of Ann Dennard, who succumbed to influenza and pneumonia in January 1919, is representative of a larger challenge of recovering the past. Yet the death certificate offers clues filtered through a relative, perhaps her husband, Shade Dennard: she was thirty-nine years old, her parents were Rich and Florine Grim, and she and her parents were all born in Georgia. She lived at 1012 Montgomery Street on a block that was later demolished to expand Staley High School, and she worked in town as a housekeeper. After she fell ill, Ann Dennard received medical attention from Dr. Eugene J. Brinson, a Black physician who practiced medicine at 106 S. Lee Street and lived at 543 E. Jefferson Street. He saw her on January 20, 1919, but is unclear whether she went to his office or, perhaps, he made home visit. She died at 4:00 p.m. on January 22, 1919. Her funeral and burial, managed by John Barnum, took place at Eastview Cemetery three days later. Charles Lewis, the cemetery sexton, recorded her burial in the northwest corner of lot 49-AA.
The Spanish Flu in 1918 and 1919, took the lives of many people. It effected a wide array of people. Roy Argo was a young working, white male. Ann Dennard was older but still young by the standards of "usual" influenza victims. While the virus cared little about race, class, or gender, the historical economic, political, and cultural realities influenced health outcomes—up to a point—and shaped the commemoration of the deaths. Ann Dennard's grave is known but unmarked in a cemetery maintained by the City of Americus. Roy Argo's grave is marked but in a neglected rural cemetery on Magnolia Springs Road. Through these two individuals, one can glimpse the local devastation from influenza.