The Atlanta Board of Education (ABE) opened the doors to its archives and museum this week with a celebratory program and ribbon-cutting at the Atlanta Public Schools’ Center for Leadership and Learning.
“We are here to celebrate our history and consider our future,” said APS Superintendent Erroll B. Davis, Jr. at the event. “Our history is rich, proud, resiliant and is still being written.”
Designed to preserve and showcase Atlanta Public Schools’ 141 year history, the museum is reflects the commitment, innovation, controversy and odyssey that has propelled the district and Atlanta to success, according to ABE Executive Director Howard W. Grant, who spearheaded the project. Grant recognized archivist Cathy Loving who took the lead in researching and securing artifacts for the archives and museum.
“This museum will not be a neutral place,” Grant said. “It should invoke the same kind of zeal that empowered and motivated the founders of APS.”
Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, and APS graduate of Benjamin Mays High School, told the audience that as the son and husband of teachers, he was happy to be on hand. “This museum will help us learn the history of ourselves and this city,” he said. “This is an opportunity to share in our history, embrace it, understand it, accept it, grasp it and dream toward the future.”
Judge Glenda Hatchett, a graduate of APS’ “Charles Lincoln Harper High School” made special guest remarks recalling the system’s painful history of racial segregation.
She told the story of her first grade experience and how excited she was to get her first book, because as the daughter of a school teacher, she already knew how to read and she was ready to get something to read besides “Dick and Jane and Spot.”
But much to her horror, she said, her “new” book turned out to be a recycled book with a torn-out page.
She said she ran home to tell her father about the raggedy “new” book and to tell him there must be some mistake. Sadly, he told her it was no mistake, that this was the way things were for “colored” children. She said he told her not to be bothered and that she could go on to write her own books. (She is now the author of two books.)
In addition to Hatchett, several APS students and former students participated in the program, including 2013 Washington High School Graduate Kianna Amos, daugher of ABE Vice President Byron Amos, who presided over the program. William M. Finch Elementary School fourth grader Justice Brooks delivered the biography of his school’s namesake.
In 1870, Finch was the city’s first black councilman and petitioned for a high school for the city’s black residents. While it took 52 more years before Booker T. Washington High School to open, Finch is known as the “father of APS Negro schools.”
ABE Chair Reuben R. McDaniel noted that the public school system traces its roots to Daniel C. O’Keefe, president of the Atlanta City Council in the 1800s, who received a free education from his native Ireland. In 1869, O’Keefe offered a resolution to establish free public schools for all children of Atlanta.
It passed the council and the state legislature passed a law in 1870. In 1872, the city opened its first public school and took into its system the two black schools started by the Freedmen’s Bureau following the Civil War.
The museum houses a variety of archives ranging from a school bell and high school yearbooks to the historic David T. Howard High School principal’s counter, where parents of students like Martin Luther King, Jr., Vernon Jordan, Maynard Jackson and Walt Frazier registered for school.
For more information about the Atlanta Public Schools Archives Museum, call 404-802-2200, or 404-802-3500.
(Photo: Atlanta Public Schools Supt. Erroll B. Davis Jr. (from left) joins Atlanta Board of Education Executive Director Howard W. Grant, ABE Chair Reuben R. McDaniel, APS Alum Jane Smith and Atlanta City Council President and APS Alum Ceasar C. Mitchell on June 7 for the unveiling of the new APS Archives and Museum.)