The Ruff family history in Cobb County is deeply rooted in the Concord Covered Bridge Historic District, where they settled in the 1830s and left a lasting legacy. They built and operated Ruff’s Mill and played a significant role in constructing the Concord Covered Bridge, a historic landmark in Georgia. However, amidst the celebrations of the Ruff family, one key figure has often been overlooked – Matilda Ruff, a former slave of the Ruff family, and her children, Calvin, Zieda, and Rhoda.

Recently, the Toni Morrison Society and the Concord Covered Bridge Historic District’s nonprofit unveiled a new bench at an entrance to the Silver Comet Trail in honor of the nearly 4,000 enslaved people of Cobb County, including Matilda and her family. This initiative aims to recognize and commemorate the contributions and struggles of enslaved individuals who have often been left out of traditional historical narratives.

While the Ruff family’s accomplishments have been well-documented, it was important to shed light on the story of Matilda and her children. Pat Burns, who discovered Matilda’s name through old documents in her house dating back to the 1850s, emphasized the need to acknowledge and reflect on the lives of these unsung heroes. The bench unveiled is part of the Toni Morrison Society’s “Bench by the Road” project, which seeks to honor significant moments, individuals, and locations in African Diaspora history.

The bench unveiling took place on the eve of Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. in 1865. State Rep. Terry Cummings highlighted Matilda Ruff’s journey from enslavement to emancipation, becoming a neighbor to her former owner’s son, and creating a better future for her children. While Matilda may not have performed extraordinary feats, her story of survival and resilience is a testament to the strength of enslaved African Americans during a challenging period in history.

The Ruff family’s involvement in operating Ruff’s Mill, which later became a significant Civil War battle site, adds another layer of historical context to Matilda’s story. The site witnessed Union soldiers overcoming defenses built by Black labor, leading to Confederate soldiers retreating across the Chattahoochee River. Matilda’s transition from slavery to steady employment and modest wealth within a short period reflects the resilience and determination of many formerly enslaved individuals.

In honor of Matilda Ruff, the Jonquil Garden Club of Smyrna planted Matilda’s Garden near the bench, symbolizing growth, resilience, and remembrance. State Rep. Terry Cummings emphasized the importance of acknowledging the painful legacy of slavery in American history and the ongoing journey towards healing and reconciliation. The unveiling of the bench and the establishment of Matilda’s Garden serve as a reminder of the past injustices and a tribute to the strength and endurance of enslaved individuals like Matilda and her family.