Black history year-round in Augusta

The Georgia city was the home of James Brown, Jessye Norman, ‘Butterfly’ McQueen and Laurence Fishburne.

BY ELEANOR HENDRICKS MCDANIEL
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

Augusta, Georgia idolizes its most famous native son, James Brown. You’ll find reminders of “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” throughout the city.

There are plenty of shops on Broad Street.

The Augusta Museum of History (augustamuseum.org) has dedicated one wing of its building to an extensive exhibition that showcases Brown’s life and career. On display are professional and personal artifacts, and many items are on loan from his family. Videos, clothing, posters, interactive displays, photographs and more explore the rags-to-riches life of this music legend.

Standing in the middle of Broad Street is a bronze statue of the superstar (wearing his signature cape). It depicts him at the height of his career, and it invites his fans to pose next to it for a memorable photo-op. The Soul Bar (soulbar.com), located on the same street, celebrates most Black music genres.

Arena, amphitheater
View the wall that’s covered with photos and memorabilia dedicated to Brown. Several places have no physical reminder of him, but a brochure from VisitAugusta.com will direct you to streets, restaurants, schools and other sites that played an important part in his past.

There’s even the James Brown Arena (augustaentertainmentcomplex.com), where you can catch the likes of Dave Chappelle, the Harlem Globetrotters, Augusta Blues Festival, Soul Unlimited, Philadanco, Augusta R&B Soul Jam, to name just a few.

For more music, attend the concerts and festivals at the Jessye Norman Amphitheater, located on the bank of the beautiful Savannah River.

The open-air venue is utilized year-round. This hometown lady is giving back to Augusta with the Jessye Norman School of Arts, which is a free after-school program for underprivileged students. Norman still oversees the program, and is instrumental in its fund-raising.

Impact of Blacks
Augusta is Georgia’s second oldest city and has deep African-American roots. Experience its significant Black legacy during February and beyond.

Historian Corey D. Rogers says, “We’re proud of our history that dates back to the colonial period. It had an influence that went beyond Augusta, and had a real impact on American history.”

At the Augusta Museum of History, you’ll see many examples of the impact of Blacks on Augusta.

You’ll learn about the former movers and shakers and you’ll see artifacts from small clay containers formed by Dave (only name), a slave potter, all the way up to a big, black, elegant horse-drawn hearse that was owned by Julia Dent, proprietor of the town’s most prominent African-American mortuary.

Some pieces pertain to the tobacco and cotton industries of the anti-bellum period, and some belong to the Jim Crow era, like the water fountain for “Colored” and the neon sign from Green’s, a segregated drugstore. In the gallery for famous Augustans, look for photos of local Black luminaries from the worlds of entertainment, sports, politics, law, literature and more.

Laney museum
The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History (LucyCraftLaneyMuseum.com) is the definitive establishment to learn about the Black experience in Augusta. Housed in the former home of Lucy Craft Laney, the collections present a summary of the achievements of Black Augusta, past and present. The renovations, maintenance and ownership of the building are under Delta House, Inc., a division of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Springfield Baptist Church is the oldest African-American church in the nation.
(PHOTOS BY ELEANOR HENDRICKS MCDANIEL)

Upon entering, be sure to watch the video that reveals the story of Miss Laney, who was a preeminent African-American teacher in the latter part of the 19th century. In spite of the cultural and political obstacles, she was able to create educational opportunities for her community.

She established the first kindergarten classes for Black children and founded the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute (for teacher training) and the Lamar School of Nursing (the first nursing school for African-Americans).

Her influence went beyond the city borders, often inspiring others, like Mary McLeod Bethune.

More notable Blacks
On your guided tour, you’ll find a room dedicated to well-known Augustans, such as actors Laurence Fishburne and Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen, operatic soprano Jessye Norman, superstar James Brown, novelist Frank Yerby, dancer Karen Brown and jazz trombonist Wycliffe Gordon.

In addition to the permanent collections, the museum displays temporary exhibitions. It also serves the community as a center for events, programs, classes and health fairs.

F

This fancy hearse used to carry black Augustans to their final resting place.
(PHOTOS BY ELEANOR HENDRICKS MCDANIEL)

or a more in-depth discovery of Augusta’s Black history, the museum offers a one-hour trolley tour that travels to notable sites, including Laney-Walker Boulevard where the pre-integration Black business district, called the Golden Block, was located. Reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance.

Art in the park
Art lovers should head to Morris Museum of Art (themorris.org) to view paintings by Jonathan Green and other African-American artists in their permanent collection. Public art can be seen in the Springfield Village Park.

Two works by renowned African-American sculptor Richard Hunt are featured in the two and one-half acre square. Prominently displayed are a 45-foot stainless steel sculpture called “The Tower of Aspiration” and a bronze statue named “And They Went Down into the Water.’’

Historic churches
The park is across from Springfield Baptist Church which was founded in 1787, and is the oldest Black church in the country.

The Lucy Craft Laney Museum is housed in her former home.

Another important house of worship is Tabernacle Baptist Church (tbcaugusta.org), which was founded in 1885 as Beulah Baptist Church by the acclaimed pastor and Civil Rights orator, the Rev. Charles T. Walker.

During his tenure, President William Taft, Booker T. Washington and John D. Rockefeller visited and/or spoke at the church.

The city welcomes family reunions and extends free help with the planning.

For this service, contact Michelle Bovian (michelle@visitaugusta.com) or MeetinAugusta.com.
For general information, log on to VisitAugusta.com.

Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel is an experienced travel journalist who writes for print magazines, newspapers and online magazines. She travels domestically and internationally, and loves to share her experiences and travel knowledge with readers. She has lived in Paris, Florence (Italy) and Philadelphia. She currently resides in Ormond Beach. Check out her blog: flybynighttraveler.com and follow her on Twitter: ellethewriter.

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