The first meeting of Walker County African American Historical and Alumni Association Inc. (WCAAHAA) was held on May 27, 2000, in the home of Rachel D. Burse. In attendance were Rev. James Clark, Ms. Donna McLin, Mrs. Alma J. Benton, Mrs. Sandra Haynes, Mrs. Beverly C. Foster and Ms. Rachel D. Burse.
Founding officers are Mrs. Beverly C. Foster, president; Rev. James Clark, vice president; Sandra Haynes, treasurer; Ms. Donna McLin, secretary; Alma Benton, assistant treasurer and Ms. Darlene Burse, member at large. Soon to join with extended years of membership are Mr. William Nelson, Mrs. Alice Coven, Mr. Gerald Tinson and Ms. Gail Ware.
Present officers are Beverly C. Foster, president; Mr. William Nelson, vice president, asst. chairman of scholarship and awards; Ms. Alma J. Benton, treasurer; Mrs. Tabitha Beverly, assistant treasurer; Rev. James Clark and Alice Coven, members at large for African American history month middle school activities; Kisha Caldwell-Thomas, African American history month support and membership; Rev. James Clark and Minister Jacqueline Knox-McGinitis, members at large for spiritual guidance. Mr. Eddie Foster, Sr. and Mr. Eddie Foster II are members at large for special projects.
Additional faithful past and present supporters are Mr. James Lester, Ms. Sadie Morgan, Chickamauga Masonic Lodge #221, Shady Grove Baptist Church, Chickamauga, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Naomi Community, LaFayette Presbyterian Church, David Boyle, Ph.D, and the Walker County Historical Society; past Commissioner Ms. Bebe Heiskell, present Commissioner Mr. Shannon Whitfield and the Walker County Government, Mr. John Culpepper and the City of Chickamauga, Marsh-Warthen-Clement House, LaFayette; LaFayette Walmart, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Chickamauga, the late Mr. E. Raymond Evans and the late Mr. Clayton Bell, Cove Road Church of God and numerous others whom we do not have the space to list but are truly grateful for their support, time, partnerships and guidance.
WCAAHAA has completed 20 busy years of accomplishments including the publication of historical books and articles; the placement of Georgia’s first Masonic Lodge, Chickamauga Masonic Lodge #221, on the National Register of Historic Places; the restoration of the First North Georgia Baptist Industrial Institute Monument on High Street, LaFayette; the signage and archeological study of Lytle Cemetery, the signage of Mt. Joy Cemetery, Subligna; the field cleaning of several cemeteries, the historical research of the African American and Native American Heritage of the Marsh-Warthan-Clelments-House; the genealogical research of several families; funding the E.D. Ward Scholarship and Fonnie Mae Porter Awards; sponsoring the Walker County Middle School African American History Month Poster Contest and numerous other positive and productive programs, partnerships and projects in Walker County and northwest Georgia.
WCAAHAA has sponsored cultural programs as historical trips to Washington, D.C. where the participants toured the White House, the Capitol, Arlington Cemetery, Mt. Vernon and other historical sites. Additional historical trips included New York, Savannah, Macon, Birmingham, Atlanta, Memphis, African American sites of Walker County, etc.
WCAAHAA sponsored historical speaker, Elizabeth Williams-Omalami, the daughter of the great civil rights leader, Hosea Williams and executive director of the Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless Program of Atlanta, who spoke during WCAAHAA’s 2001 Rosa Clements Lecture at Happy Home Baptist Church, LaFayette.
This program was in honor of Rosa Belle Glenn-Clements. In 1921, Mrs. Clements graduated from the English Normal Course training for teachers of Spelman Seminary, Atlanta, Georgia. She was requested to come to Walker County in 1921 by self educated “Professor” Reuben Nichols of Chattooga County, Georgia, and Rev. George Washington Wheeler who were the administrators and founders of the North Georgia Baptist Industrial Institute School (NGBII) on High Street in LaFayette. Mrs. Clements (at that time, Miss Glenn) became the second teacher-principal of NGBII. The school had nine grades, and she taught all nine grades.
Mr. Nichols served as the first teacher principal; however, he also was the teacher-principal at the African American School in Chattooga County that became a Rosenwald school; therefore, Chattooga County, Georgia, needed his immediate attention.
At this time, I wish to explain several facts. I have heard my elders speak of the old principals’ charging students tuition. This is true because there were many years that county and or state only paid the teachers’ salaries and at times; the government didn’t pay the salaries for the African American teachers as the counties did not always recognize the African American schools as part of the county school systems. Thus tuition was needed for teachers’ salaries (African American teachers usually received lower salaries than white teachers.), school books, supplies, fire wood, repairs to the building, to rebuild the buildings (the “mysterious” burning of African American schools. Even when white sympathizers offered to build schools for African Americans on their property, those schools were threaten to be “mysteriously” burned.). Thus tuition had to be frequently charged. Mrs. Clements’ Walker County educational career extended from 1921 to 1958.
Also, WCAAHAA sponsored the traveling exhibit of former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter hosted at the Lee and Gordon’s Mill Center. WCAAHAA sponsored the Tuskegee Airmen, who presented a lecture in February 2002 at the Rossville Civic Center. Present were Mr. Raymond Williams, pilot class 45-D; civilian support, Wilbur Mason; liaison pilot, John Dudley and vice president of the Atlanta Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Mr. Floyd W. Stanfield. (Note: Mrs. Foster has two signed books by the above Tuskegee Airmen that she is offering to the public for purchase.) WCAAHAA give historical presentations to schools, churches, historical societies and civil organizations on request.
Presently, WCAAHAA is working on several projects: historical research of Napier Chapel AME Zion Church and Cemetery; historical research of the Old Wood Station Cemetery; funeral programs collection from Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Chattooga, Murray and Whitfield counties; Chickamauga Masonic Lodge #221 preservation and the Walker County Georgia Remembrance Project in Partnership with the Walker County Historical Society. Furthermore, WCAAHAA is documenting the history of the segregated schools of Walker, Dade, Catoosa, Chattooga and Northwest Georgia and the stories of the “Integration Babies.”
The “Integration Babies” are the Black and White students that integrated the schools between 1965 and 1971. If you wish your personal story to be a part of this story for eternity (Your g-g-g-grandchildren will be able to hear your voice speak on your experience.), please, contact WCAAHAA.
In addition, WCAAHAA is in final conversation with partnering with the Dalton State College Bandy Heritage Center for the preservation and archival of their historical papers. This collection will also include the preservation and archival of original pictures, papers, memorabilia (prom, parties, PTA, etc.) concerning Hill High School, LaFayette; North Georgia Baptist Industrial Institute, LaFayette; Hill School, LaFayette; Wallaceville, Chickamauga; Pleasant Grove School or any of the past one room schools or segregated schools of Walker County, Dade, Chattooga, Catoosa, Whitfield and Murray counties that any person wishes to donate to WCAAHAA.
The original will always be safe for viewing by you and your family and copying for eternity. No more will people ask, “Where are the original Hill High and Wallaceville pictures and year books?” You will know. You will know how to assess them for viewing and obtaining copies. The Heritage Center will be developing an online database so the community can search inventory from home. Now, isn’t that great?
But I need your help collecting and finding those items. You have them in your scrapbooks, closets, basements, attics, garage, and they are collecting dust, getting torn, water damaged and molding. Furthermore, those pictures need not be at a recreational center for once again getting lost or thrown into the garbage by some new manager that doesn’t appreciate the value of history, smile. The Bandy Heritage Center will never discard our history.
WCAAHAA wishes to announce this year’s award winners. E. D. Ward’s $1,000 Scholarship winners are Samira Burse, LaFayette High School and Kiera Foster, Ridgeland High School. Fonnie Mae Porter African American Ancestry Highest Graduating Senior GPA Award winners are McKennah Curry and Devin Henderson, LaFayette High School and Jai Barnett and Asia Young, Ridgeland High School.
Our scholarship is given in honor of Mr. Eugene D. Ward who was a true legend of Walker County’s School System. He came to Walker County in the 1950s and served as principal of the segregated Wallaceville Elementary School, 1958-1965, and Hill High School, 1958-1965 and 1965-12/67. Also, he was Walker County’s first African American principal of an integrated school serving as principal for integrated Wallaceville Junior High School, 1968-1975, and the Walker County Center for Exceptional Children which was located at the Wallaceville School from 1974 to at least 1983 (I do not know the year of his retirement. But at least 25 years in the Walker County School system.)
Mr. Ward was called a “colored” man, a “Negro,” a “black” man, an “African American” man and an “Integration Baby.” But above all, Mr. Ward was a “capable and well respected” man that guided Walker County’s schools’ dual cultures during the years of integration and social change with positive results. The Wallaceville School remains standing in a peaceful community under private ownership.
To honor, Mrs. Fonnie Mae Porter, we give the Mrs. Fonnie Mae Porter Awards. Mrs. Porter began her 39-year career as a teacher in Walker County in the three-room Wallaceville Elementary School located in the “Black Folks Alley” receiving an initial salary of $25 per month, c. 1930. Since Walker County did not have a high school for African Americans in her era (she was born c. 1909), she attended high school at Howard High School, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Mrs. Porter demanded excellence from her students. She ruled firmly and strictly, yet without corporal punishment as I remember. She served many years as the only African American teacher at Rossville Junior High School. She truly was as positive social directive during the “Integration Babies” years.
It is difficult for me to pinpoint which teacher — Mrs. Clement, Mr. Ward or Mrs. Porter — had the longest educational career in Walker County; however, there are over 102 years of dedication to the education of the children of Walker County, Georgia, of all ages, cultural backgrounds, races and intellectual abilities. They truly promoted positive images in our community.
A person may become a member or renew their membership with WCAAHAA at any time during the year. Membership is $15 per year for general members and $20 per year for board members.
Presently, meetings are three to four times per year. Attending meetings are not mandatory. Ongoing historical education is via Facebook. Articles and posts may be submitted by the public to the page for approval by administrators for posting.
Special needs at this time are a new website, secretary and technical support for virtual meetings. For additional information, contact Beverly Foster 678-371-4106, email firstname.lastname@example.org (“bfo” are alphabets) or Mr. William Nelson or Ms. Donna McLin. Please, mail memberships to WCAAHA Inc., c/o Beverly Foster, P.O. Box 1695, Lithonia, Georgia, 30058.
WCAAHAA, Inc is dedicated to promoting, researching, preserving, recording, educating ourselves and others concerning the history of African Americans of Walker County, Georgia, and Northwest Georgia and promoting positive images in our community.