In Augusta, Georgia, just a few blocks from where Route 1 turns into 15th St, stands the Lucy Craft Laney Museum. Housed in a tidy tan clapboard home, the museum is named after one of Georgia’s earliest and most influential educators. As the only African American museum in Augusta, the establishment commemorates Laney’s work, as well as other historically important figures and moments through both museum installations and an interactive walking tour of the area.
Lucy Craft Laney: a Life Dedicated to Education
Laney was born on April 13, 1854 in Macon, Georgia as the free child of a Presbyterian minister and his wife. Slavery was not yet abolished, and while it was still illegal for African Americans to receive an education, Laney learned to read and write by the age of four, taught by a woman that her mother worked for who noticed Laney’s ardent desire to learn. By age 12, Laney could translate Latin passages. She went on to graduate high school in Macon before joining the inaugural class of Clark Atlanta University: a private Methodist Black University that was founded in 1865. Laney earned her teacher’s training program certification, and was equipped to pass on her knowledge.
However, a clear path to teaching was not readily available, since few schools existed for African Americans at that time. Laney taught at various schools throughout Georgia before settling down in Augusta. Bolstered by community support, Laney managed to found a school in the basement of a Presbyterian Church there. Although her school started out teaching girls, she expanded the classroom when boys also started showing up to seek instruction. Laney’s students numbered few at first; by the end of her second year of teaching in Augusta, she had 200 Black students.
School funding for African Americans was hard to come by in those days, as it relied mainly upon church donations from wealthier institutions in the North. So Laney sought out the Presbyterian General Assembly in Minneapolis, who couldn’t grant her full funding but did introduce her to Mrs. F.E.H. Haines, the President of the Women’s Department of the Presbyterian Church. With Haines’ support and a $10,000 donation, Laney was able to return to Augusta and charter a new school. She named it the Haines Normal and Industrial School after its benefactor. Donations from local families and businesses began to pour in and, combined with funding from the Church, the money allowed her to complete building the school and start teaching classes.
The school’s opening was a landmark moment: it commemorated the first Georgia school to offer kindergarten classes for Black children; it had the first Black high school football team; and it contained the Nurses’ Training Institute that later grew into the Nurses’ School of University Hospital. Lastly, the school also hosted a carefully designed curriculum that prepped its students for real-world success with job-training and vocational programs. By 1912, 34 teachers taught over nine hundred students, including its most famous alumnus, the prize-winning romance novelist, Franky Yerby.
Lucy continued teaching and expanding educational opportunities for African Americans. In 1918, she helped found the Augusta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, while also participating in several other organizations (including the Niagara Movement) [link to Trotter piece]. Laney passed away in 1933, buried at the site of school that she gave so much to. Her contributions to education were so respected and recognized that Jimmy Carter chose to hang her portrait in the Georgia state capitol in recognition of “the mother of the children of the people.”
The Lucy Craft Laney Museum and the Golden Blocks Project
Nowadays, the museum hosts different exhibitions celebrating African American culture and history—an Annual Quilt Exhibit, for instance—while also running other community programs. The Golden Blocks Project is the museum’s most interactive endeavor. “Golden Blocks” is the nickname for that area of Augusta, based upon its many business and industry ventures. The Golden Blocks Project invests in the creation and placement of public art at select sites in the area that are culturally and historically significant—many of them sharing a connection to Laney’s work. Stops include The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History Administrative Office: historic home and landmark; the Christ Presbyterian Church that Laney attended every Sunday; and the Luvenia Pearson School of Beauty and Cosmetology, where graduates of Laney’s high school could attend for vocational training. The artwork placed upon the tour was created by African American artists in a variety of mediums: murals, a poetry collection, a musical composition, and a ceramic tilemap.
Fortunately for travelers both virtual and on the ground, the museum is open with COVID-19 precautions, while a mobile app allows you to take a walking tour of the Golden Blocks Project.
Elisia Guerena Dec 10, 2020 History
Elisia Guerena Dec 10, 2020
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