Story and photos by Mark Engel
There are many African American history museums across the country, each with its own local focus on history, both the tragic past and proud achievements of Blacks in America.
On the weekend of September 8-9, 2023, the Greene County African American Museum will hold a candlelight vigil and dinner in honor of one county resident, Abram Colby. His story is one that Director Mamie Hillman considers to be an important focus of the museum.
During Reconstruction in 1868, Colby along with 32 other Georgians, became the first Blacks to serve in the Georgia General Assembly. However, a short time later, all 33 were expelled by the white legislators because Georgia law said that people with “one-eighth or more Negro blood” could not be citizens.
“They were brilliant, upstanding men who just wanted to be and become,” Hillman told a museum visitor, “and they were not allowed to be. Most of them were in danger of being killed, some were killed, and their families were never the same.”
The next year, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the men should be reinstated.
In 2004, Mamie Hillman literally wrote the book on local African American life from 1845 to 2001, Black America series: Greene County, Georgia.
For Hillman, Greene County’s two-year-old museum continues to be a work in progress. It is a living museum where visitors will find pictures, correspondence, photos, documents and other fruits of her research and labor mounted on the walls in six modest size rooms.
“Mr. Benny Asbury was the first black on the (Greene County) Board of Commissioners,” Hillman said as she points to one picture after another, “Mr. Eli Jackson was the first on the Greensboro City Council.”
While the focus is on Greene County, other aspects of African American heritage are also on display.
“These are the people who told their stories about being slaves in Africa to a writer,” she explains at one wall.
“These right here are about the Tuskegee Airmen,” she says, gesturing to another. “The artist contacted each of the pilots and they signed off on the image of the plane that they flew.”
The building just outside of downtown Greensboro was constructed in 1924 and was once owned by Greene County’s second African American doctor, Calvin Baber. In 1987 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Homes. In 1995 she convinced the owners to donate it for use as a museum.
Out in front, the Greene County Convention and Visitors Bureau has placed an interactive audio box which explains even more local African American history with the push of a button.
The Greene County African American History Museum is located at 1415 Northeast Street in Greensboro. To make an appointment to visit, contact Museum Director Mamie Hillman at firstname.lastname@example.org
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This story appeared in Lakelife magazine, Volume 17, Issue 4 and is the property of Smith Communications, Inc. No portions of the story or photos may be copied or used without written consent from the publisher.