True love can overcome distance and seemingly impossible odds. James Tate (d. 1897) and his wife Olivia (d. 1907) were a couple enslaved in west Georgia. In the early years of the Civil War, Olivia and their two children, Jimmie and Mary Olivia, were separated from James and sent to Mobile, Alabama. Marriages among enslaved people were not legally recognized. For married couples enslaved by different slaveholders, there was little effort made to keep those marriages together.
Both James and Olivia were literate, which was rare. In efforts to dismantle communication and community, laws were imposed to punish those enslaved who learned to read or write. James and Olivia exchanged letters expressing their devotion and steadfastness. In one letter, James writes “You must kiss Jimmie and little Mary Olivia for me and tell them their Papa would give any thing he had in this world to see them both.” In his letter, James also wrote of being pressured to marry a local enslaved woman, but he wasn’t interested. He tells Olivia, “For I can not think of any other woman nor love any other but you, my dear wife.”
Happily, James and Olivia Tate were reunited after the Civil War and the family moved to Atlanta. With just $6 in inventory, James opened the first African American-owned business in Atlanta, a grocery store. He played an active role in politics and is regarded by many as the “Father of Black Business in Atlanta.” The Tates are buried together in this lot surrounded by generations of their family.
James and Olivia’s story was brought to life during the 2021 Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween tours. Watch their story here.