By Dr. Doris Davenport
This article, part two of four, is based on materials in the 20 exhibition panels of the Regional African American Museum [RAAM] and the recent publication by the Habersham Historical Society [HCHS], Habersham200: New Thoughts of Old Things (A Brief History 1818-2018). The information is from Section III, “African American Communities of Habersham County.” Used with permission. Additionally, ongoing coverage of RAAM’s evolution can be found in the archives of this newspaper.
In just two short years, from 2008-2010, RAAM secured backing and support in the targeted counties: Banks, Habersham, Rabun and White. From 1955-1966, these were the four counties that bussed African American students to Cornelia Regional (Colored) High School. Since RAAM’s historical base was the communities that attended CRCHS, it was only natural that the RAAM Board would try to acquire that building, empty and unused in 2010, as a permanent home for the exhibit.
As RAAM Curator, Audrey Davenport explains:
“For almost 10 years the Regional African American Museum of Northeast Georgia, Inc., was a ‘mobile’ exhibit, essentially homeless. Although we had been promised (by the school board) first refusal on using the CRHS school building, that promise was reneged on or ignored. … we were left in limbo, and there was no approval of our request. Consequently, we relocated from year to year, from 2009-2017. That means, we toted 20 historic 3-foot by 3-foot panels around, for almost six years. We tried diligently to find a permanent home (churches, private homes, libraries, underneath beds) but the one place we really wanted and deserved, was the historically significant building that housed the Cornelia Regional (Colored) High School (CRCHS) from 1955-1965.” (Habersham200, 130).
On another level, fortunately, the alumni of CRHS found and find a historical “home” reunions, in shared stories and collective memories of events, students, and most importantly, teachers.
Almost any CRHS student will testify to the stern, yet caring; fun-loving, yet very serious, and most of all, encouraging and high-standards-setting, expectations of their teachers. Three of those well-known, respected and admired teachers were Professor J.R. Rosser Sr., Principal and math teacher (1958-1966); Mrs. Sara Mae Cook (elementary school teacher) and Ms. Robbie Franklin (high school French and English). (For more information, see the RAAM Early Education Panels).
These teachers and others were totally dedicated, 24/7 committed, and full participants in the life of the community, as well. The ongoing CRHS Reunions are a legacy of those teachers and the importance of a shared cultural history. The reunions started in 1999 and convene thereafter every two years (most recently, 2017 and 2019).
In 2013, the Reunion was held in “our school building” with the RAAM’s 20 Exhibit Panels installed; that year was another record attendance; everyone was overjoyed, overwhelmed by good memories and shared history, as participants and “culture bearers” of an often-neglected aspect of African American heritage and history. Fortunately, the RAAM Exhibit preserves some of that history, for all peoples and – hopefully – for all times.
To be continued …
The Regional African American Museum is at the J.P. Ballard Center at 353 Chattahoochee Street in Cornelia, along with the Habersham County Historical Society, Inc. The Museum is open every Saturday in February from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and we currently need volunteers interested in becoming board members. If you’re interested in keeping this effort alive, please consider volunteering as a board member. For details, call Audrey Davenport, 404-271-2468.