Horace King is arguably LaGrange’s most interesting and inspirational historic figure. King was born a slave in South Carolina in 1807. Unlike most slaves, he was taught to read and write, and by adulthood he’d become a competent builder. Around 1830, King was purchased by contractor John Godwin, who took King to build a bridge over the Chattahoochee River. This began many years of the pair building together across the Southeast. Godwin sent King to Oberlin College in Ohio, the first college to admit African Americans. Following his education, King returned to building with Godwin. The pair were considered “co-builders”, a rarity for an African American man. Unlike most slaves, King was permitted to keep some earnings from his work, which he used to buy his freedom in 1846. After a long and distinguished building career, King became a registrar for voters in Russell County, Alabama in 1867 and was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1868 and again in 1870. He did not seek reelection for the third term, instead opting to move his family to LaGrange. He trained his children in construction and eventually passed his building work on to them.
King’s health began to fail in the 1880s and he died on May 28, 1885. His death was reported in all major Georgia newspapers, another rarity for an African American man. He was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Engineers Hall of Fame at the University of Alabama.
To see Horace King’s work, you need only to visit LaGrange’s LaFayette downtown square. He built nearly the entire east side of the square and parts of the north side. When King died, his funeral processed around the square and business came to a stop as residents, both black and white, came out to pay their respects. King is buried in Mulberry Street Cemetery in LaGrange, alongside his son Marshal.