John’s House

A hundred miles outside of Atlanta, antebellum homes dot the landscape throughout Hancock County. However, there is one estate where the former owner is buried in the backyard. This large two-story plantation was originally built by a prominent cotton farmer sometime between 1917 and 1919. The original owner sold the house in the 1930s to another family who ran a local mercantile store nearby. They lived in the house for decades as an extended family, which even hosted a family wedding reception in 1939. The house was renovated sometime in the 1950s before being sold to Dr. John McCown.

John's House

 By 1960, Hancock County had become one of the poorest counties in the United States. Regardless of federal changes, segregation of all sorts continued throughout the South. Although African Americans made up 90% of the county’s population, none held any political office in the county.

John's House)

A 33-year old civil rights activist named John McCown moved to the area and purchased the plantation home in 1967.  As executive director of the Georgia Council on Human Relations, McCown initially came to the area to assist in black voter registration. John McCown realized through his involvement in local politics that white county leaders would consistently vote against improvements when the issues at hand involved or benefited the black community. He decided that the community needed to be more involved in the local political process and there needed to be a black majority on the county commission.

John's House

Despite his best attempts, he was viewed as an outsider by a majority of the white community. They felt that since he was not from the area, he did not understand how things functioned in the county. Many of the counties political deals were done behind closed doors. McCown’s direct nature of public intimidation and exposure generated a sense of fear among the white community.

John's HouseAs a founder of the East Central Committee for Opportunity (ECCO), John McCown was able to successfully entice federal and private grant money to invest in the county’s future. One of the primary objectives was a Head Start campaign for the youth of Hancock County. McCown began an investigation of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) as to why so few African Americans were granted loans for housing. Procedures were changed and  they began receiving FHA loans after the investigation found biased practices in Hancock County.

John's House

John's House

John McCown’s crusade resulted in Hancock County receiving over $8 million in grant funds. Some of the funds were used to build a catfish farm, which at one time was the largest in the state. He also facilitated the building of a 150-unit low income housing project and a cinder block plant, all located within the county. Some people referred to McCown as a con artist, but others revered him for being able to obtain large sums of money to a desperately poor area.

John's HouseIn 1969, McCown and other civil rights activists became an integral part of the racial fight regarding integration of the all-white Sparta High School. African Americans had been previously relegated to the overcrowded, less funded Hancock Central High School.

John's HouseTensions in the county reached a boiling point in 1974. Rumors that the black community were stockpiling weapons in hopes of a civil uprising led the Mayor to order 10 submachine guns for his 6 member police force following reports of gunfire throughout the countryside.

John's HouseMcCown responded by purchasing 30 submachine guns and creating pamphlets advertising the “Hancock Sporting Rangers” as a “hunting club” and encouraging the purchase of firearms. McCown also stated a boycott of white businesses would continue until an agreement was reached.

John's HouseA wave of arson swept throughout the community. In response, former Governor Jimmy Carter made a visit to the small town in hopes of defusing the racial tension. Carter served as mediator. With his influence, both sides ended the arms race and relinquished all of their submachine guns. Within a few years Carter would use his skills in public relations to become elected 39th President of the United States.

Johns House

John McCown was a polarizing figure, respected by the black community, thought of as a ‘Black Jesus’ while others viewed him as a menace to society. Most of McCown’s dreams of economic power fizzled, although he was able to bring about 8 million dollars in funds to the county. His projects were mismanaged and money disappeared leading to state and federal investigations. The county was still poor however, McCown was a wealthy man. Maneuvering through a variety of shell corporations, McCown gained control of many properties and hundreds of acres of land before his death.

John's House

On January 30, 1976, McCown’s leadership came to an abrupt halt. After news that funding had run out and he was being terminated as CEO of ECCO. McCown spent the night drinking with friends at the night club he owned in town. Early the next morning McCown decided to take a ride in his single-engine Cessna with three friends. McCown did not own a pilot’s license and simply took off.

Johns HouseThirty minutes after take off, the plane piloted by McCown went down in a forest close to his home. One passenger was thrown from the plane and survived the crash. Unfortunately, McCown and the two other passengers were found dead, still strapped in their seats. An investigation found McCown had a blood alcohol level of 0.198, nearly twice the legal limit to drive a car in Georgia. The NTSB found no mechanical failures or malfunctions in the plane. The ownership of the plane led to even more financial scrutiny as the aircraft was registered to a black college in Mississippi, which had awarded him an honorary law degree.

John's HouseRegardless of McCown’s death, a federal investigation into ECCO continued. With indictments of perjury and defrauding the federal government, McCown was not indicted. However, individuals within his organization were convicted. Many of them pleaded out and were able to return to their jobs within the county.

John's House


17 Replies to “John’s House”

  1. Thanks for preserving a glimpse into this little known piece of Georgia history. There is so much more to the bizarre story of McCown, and most of the people who know the truth are gone, or hope that it will all be forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a resident of neighboring Warren County, I’ve always followed this piece of Georgia’s history, as it has always been talked about by the generation before me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with Mike Bloore, “Black Boss – Political Revolution in a Georgia County” is an excellent account of this bizarre story. I do wonder why you refer to him as “Dr,” John McCown – he certainly was not. He was a criminal – and if he had not killed himself (and others) would have gone to prison for stealing huge sums of federal money. In the final analysis, he did far more harm than good for the poor people of Hancock County. The sad thing is that he had an extraordinary opportunity to do good, and he wasted it completely.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. However, the reason he is referred to as Dr. is from the honorary law degree he was given from the college in Mississippi. It is written on his grave marker as well. Obviously, the doctorate could be argued like many of his policies. I’m not condoning anything he did, just stating history.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. James, my father, who was an auditor with the IRS at the time, was investigating McCown. He’s also mentioned in the book. His name was James Leach. We received a copy of the book years ago, and it is a great read.


  4. Hi! My family is from Hancock County. I have NEVER heard of John McCown. I asked my grandmother about him and she told me a lot! she said that he was able to get my uncle out of jail, who was wrongly locked up for parking his car too far from his destination. She said she think he was killed. She called him a black power man. She said he was great and was before Dr King. I cannot find any information on him, outside of youtube videos and now your post! Thank you! Where is this home located? I spent summers in Hancock County visiting my grandmother’s country home there. We live in Atlanta.

    Liked by 1 person

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