In a thin, aged voice, Dr. Justine Washington can be heard describing what it was like to be a teacher supervisor in the rural South. The voice, recorded as part of Eugenia Fulcher’s doctoral dissertation, was preserved on a casette tape in the 1990s.
Washington, who died in 2004 at the age of 96, supervised nearly 100 teachers in rural Aiken and Edgefield counties from 1934-54, before the schools became consolidated. She later became the first black woman on the Richmond County Board of Education.
Her recorded recollection took place Oct. 12, 1998, and is one of 50 oral histories being converted into a digital format and preserved in a collaborative effort among Augusta State University’s Reese Library, Paine College’s Collins-Callaway Library and the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library. It is funded by a $2,000 grant from the Georgia Humanities Council.
The tapes were beginning to deteriorate, said Reese Library archivist Carol Waggoner-Angleton. They are being digitized to preserve their content and make them more accessible. At the same time, the tapes themselves are being restored.
The recordings will be the subject of a series of lectures at Augusta State University, beginning with a presentation, Projects of Philanthropy in the Post-Civil War South: First Look, planned for 7 p.m. tonight in University Hall Room 170.
“I’m giving an overview of the status of public education in the South in Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction and up through the 1920s and ’30s, with special emphasis on African-American education,” said Peggy Ruth Geren, who will present the lecture.
Many of the tapes in Reese Library’s collection were recorded by Fulcher and focus on teachers who had taught in black one-room schoolhouses in Burke County.
A presentation of the Paine College tapes is scheduled for Sept. 4. That collection was created largely in the 1970s by history students, likely as an assignment, said director Lynn Dennison. It includes an interview with Isaiah “Ike” Washington, an educator, civil rights activist and Justine Washington’s husband.
The collection at the Augusta library is more diverse and features a wide selection of people from various community groups, said history librarian Dottie Demarest.
“They told wonderful stories about the history of Augusta,” she said. “They didn’t write books, most of these people.”
On Sept. 28, a recording of an interview with actress Butterfly McQueen is planned at the Augusta library.
McQueen, who played Prissy in Gone with the Wind, tells of the time she was denied access to the public library because of her race. She was directed to the black library instead.
“She said for a long time she never wanted to back into a library,” Waggoner-Angleton said. “Thankfully, she got over it.”
Other tapes include conversations with R.A. Dent, the first black man elected to the Legislature; Augusta historian Edward J. Cashin; and Lucy Craft Laney’s niece, Louise Laney.
Waggoner-Angleton said if the community receives the project well, it will pave the way for more funding to finish converting and preserving other tapes.
She said she hopes to be able to make the entire collection available to the public by October.