Augusta's African-American landmarks get attention

Aging structures are focus of 2-day conference

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There's an abandoned two-story house at 1011 Laney-Walker Boulevard with a porch roof that seems ready to collapse off its columns.

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Christine Miller-Betts says the old C.T. Walker home is an example of important structures that need to be preserved correctly.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Christine Miller-Betts says the old C.T. Walker home is an example of important structures that need to be preserved correctly.

Most driving by would not realize this was the home of a man whom The New York Times declared the greatest African-American preacher of his time when it published his obituary in 1921.

The Rev. C.T. Walker's home and seven other endangered historic properties will be featured in This Place Matters: Preserving Augusta's African-American Communities on Friday and Saturday. The conference includes a bus tour of African-American historic sites and is being co-sponsored by Historic Augusta and the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History.

Though Historic Augusta has previously listed all eight properties as places that ought to be saved, funding for historic rehabilitation in Augusta's African-American neighborhoods so far has lagged. The challenge has been to attract private investment.

"Often African-American neighborhoods are places that have had disinvestment over the years. It's difficult to get an investor willing to take a risk there," said Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta. "Our role is to tell investors these places have value."

African-Americans want to preserve their historic buildings just like any other community, said Christine Miller-Betts, the executive director of the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, but oftentimes don't know how to do it.

"Even if a person has the money, they might not have the knowledge," said Miller-Betts. "A person might take out windows and walls and by the time they're done, they've practically destroyed all of the building's historic components."

Augusta's black history is reflected in buildings spread throughout the city, but the structures on the tour are centered in or near the Laney-Walker historic district.

The Laney-Walker neighborhood began in the mid-19th century as a multi-ethnic working-class neighborhood that housed Irish, Chinese and African-American laborers who were employed by the Georgia Railroad and the Augusta Canal.

In the early 20th century, Jim Crow zoning laws required that people settle in blocks designated by race. Laney-Walker grew into the city's principal black district and served as the main business and cultural center for the black community. As a result, many of the city's iconic African-American structures were built there.

Trinity CME Church, at 731 Taylor St., was home to the oldest African-American Methodist congregation in Augusta in 1840.

The W.S. Hornsby House, at 1518 Twiggs St., was the home in 1916 of one of the co-founders of the Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Co., the first insurance provider for African-Americans in Georgia and one of the largest employers of African-Americans in Augusta.

C.T. Walker was born into slavery and was a lifetime champion of racial tolerance. He founded Tabernacle Baptist Church, which was visited by Booker T. Washington, John D. Rockefeller and President William Howard Taft. When Martin Luther King Jr. first introduced himself to Augusta, he did so at Tabernacle.

Some buildings on the tour reflect the district's earlier immigrant population. Lam's corner store at 1024-1026 D'Antignac, for instance, was part of an early Irish district.

It's not just the buildings that are worth remembering, but the people who once lived there. Augusta was a leader during the African-American community's rise from slavery.

"I can walk out my front door and envision what it was like during the days of C.T. Walker and Ms. Laney," Miller-Betts said. "I think about people right after slavery and how they made this community, and they didn't have any money."

Corey Rogers, the historian at the Lucy Craft Laney Museum, said too much of Augusta's black history has been demolished. Among those buildings was Lenox Theater, which once was called one of the greatest showcases for colored people in the Southeast.

"I'm tired of people saying 'I wish.' I'm tired of regret," said Rogers. "It's time to do something proactive instead of reactive -- to wake up the community to the importance of what we still have here."

"I think the black experience is part of the human experience. It's an American experience," Rogers said. "It's difficult to talk about the black experience without talking about the rest of the community. Everyone's history is intertwined."

Register to participate

To register for This Place Matters: Preserving Augusta's African-American Communities, contact Historic Augusta at (706) 724-0436 or historicaugusta.org, or contact the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History at (706) 724-3576 or LucyCraftLaneyMuseum.com.

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floridasun
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floridasun 10/21/10 - 04:31 am
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Hopefully the historic sites

Hopefully the historic sites mentioned in the article can be saved. African American tourism of historic sites is on of the fastest growing segments of the tourism and visitor market. Augusta's African American historic properties could attract visitors if properly restored.
Marion Williams was all against saving historic homes in the Bethlehem neighborhood, so if he was against efforts such as this, it must be a good idea

55 F-100
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55 F-100 10/21/10 - 07:48 am
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"one of the fastest growing

"one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism and visitor market"........Really? From where does that little factoid come?

fdn315
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fdn315 10/21/10 - 09:51 am
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If saved great if not I won't

If saved great if not I won't lose sleep over it. I visited all the local historic homes and musems as a child. Learned a lot but it's kind of a one and done kind of thing. The Lucy C Laney house/museum is able to work because of the sponsorship and volunteers of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. If these places can't find such sponsorship it'll only be prolonging the inevitable...

Louis
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Louis 10/21/10 - 11:13 am
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Exactly fdn315. If the black

Exactly fdn315. If the black community wants to save historical structures they should organize and fund a group capable of doing so. That's what whites did (although they will deny that it was for white structures).

KingJames
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KingJames 10/21/10 - 01:27 pm
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55 F-100, I didn't try to

55 F-100, I didn't try to find the statistics you want, but I can tell you for sure African-Americans are very interested in the intertwined American history Mr. Rogers spoke of in the article. I currently live in an extremely historic part of the country (I'll be moving back to Augusta soon). The nearby historic places here are not just visited by whites. The nearby historic places also include the black experience in American history from slavery to the present. There are lots of African-Americans who take vacations. I won't say it's one of the fastest growing segments in tourism, but I will say we vacation just as much as any other group or race. When I was a child my parents took us to historic places throughout the south and middle Atlantic states. Even then, there were Black historic sites.

Fdn315 and Louis, I think you two have the wrong attitude about this subject. It's really not just a Black community thing, though I suspect the point of the event and the story is to raise awareness so more Blacks will be compelled to contribute. As stated in the article, C.T. Walker was a prominent minister, not just in America, but throughout the world. His home and the other featured buildings help tell Augusta's history. I don't see why this is a Black-white issue. It's a matter of historical preservation. Should funding to save these places be acquired, and each building restored, then Augusta would need only market them. More of the people that 55 F-100 doesn't think take vacations would actually visit. A prime example is the Gullah Festival held in Beaufort, SC. African-Amercians spend lots of time and money in that small town every year because they want to experience the culture.

BombquishaDavis
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BombquishaDavis 10/21/10 - 01:30 pm
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great post; my sentiments

great post; my sentiments exactly......all Hail the King...lol

lifelongresident
1323
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lifelongresident 10/21/10 - 01:41 pm
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it's a matter of common
Unpublished

it's a matter of common sense, until the city makes a genuine effort to clean up the inner city any renovations to that house or any other home, especially homes that will not be lived in on a regular basis is only a waste of time and money. to renovate the historic homes and not provide adaquate police protection will only make the historic home a target for vandalism and thief. also of these homes who and where are the owners?????? it should be their responsibility for maintenance and upkeep, it makes no sense for the city to allow any home to fall in such disrepair that it becomes a magnet for undesireables and/or becomes a public health hazard and nuisance!!!

justthefacts
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justthefacts 10/21/10 - 01:51 pm
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fdn315, you said it is "one

fdn315, you said it is "one and done kind"of thing. Aren't you glad you were able to do it? Don't you think others in the coming yrs should be able to as well? Unlike much gov't money that is wasted. Preserving our past is, IMO, a good use of funds.

myparrot
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myparrot 10/21/10 - 02:02 pm
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Hi lifelong how’s the new job

Hi lifelong how’s the new job going?

My mother's best friend cannot even stay at her own house on Eve st, because a group of guys congregate on her porch she has called police but what good does that do? They just come back, and then they damage the property. It is a hopeless situation!
They can fix all the homes and buildings but if no one is going to respect someones property it all a waste of time & money.

But it is something that needs to be done.

KingJames
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KingJames 10/21/10 - 02:14 pm
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The public safety concern is

The public safety concern is understandable and should be addressed. No one wants to visit a dilapidated and crime infested city.

Lifelong, I agree that owners should be responsible for their properties. However, as Ms. Miller-Betts said, the idea is to preserve the historic components of the structures, and not to renovate. The need to restore these buildings exists. I hope this event will raise more than just awareness ($).

KingJames
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KingJames 10/21/10 - 02:15 pm
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@ BombquishaDavis, thanks.

@ BombquishaDavis, thanks.

lifelongresident
1323
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lifelongresident 10/21/10 - 03:20 pm
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hey parrot, very well but
Unpublished

hey parrot, very well but very busy.....

lifelongresident
1323
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lifelongresident 10/21/10 - 03:28 pm
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king, that is my point to
Unpublished

king, that is my point to restore them as a historic monument, ultimately to generate tourism makes little sense until the inner city is cleaned up, what normal thinking person would want to take a walking tour to see resotored historic homes when they sit right in the middle of a war zone???? this is due to backwards thinking, allowing owners of homes located in historic neighborhoods to fall into disrepair and continue to deteriorate to the point of falling in then failing to enforce current zoning laws of enact new and stronger ones to hold lazy landords accountable for their properties...i am talking about heir properties, where the heirs have no intentions of fixing up/renovating the properties and don't want to spend the money to have them torn down so they just let them sit (to be broken in, stripped out, become a flop house, drug den or for prostitutes a place to turn tricks) using the excuse "i have a historic house, in a historic neighborhood"

KingJames
10
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KingJames 10/21/10 - 05:24 pm
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I understand what you're

I understand what you're saying, Lifelong. I thought public safety improvements would be automatic, given the expense of restoring the buildings and marketing them to tourists. I suppose I shouldn't have assumed that, though, since something as simple as locking a vault in the tax office on a Friday afternoon isn't always accomplished. Hopefully, the powers that be will address the crime problems even before restorative work begins on any of the buildings.

wizzardx1
0
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wizzardx1 10/22/10 - 07:16 am
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We need to lay-off more

We need to lay-off more police,more firefighters,and teachers so this face-lift of african-american historic sites can be accomplished.Heck,we should cut ALL services until these african historic sites can be restored to thier original state.

MistaChuckD
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MistaChuckD 10/22/10 - 12:59 pm
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@justthefacts EXCELLENT!!!

@justthefacts

EXCELLENT!!! He should have want his kids to have the chance to see and learn what he did.

corgimom
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corgimom 10/22/10 - 09:44 pm
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Take a walking tour, get

Take a walking tour, get mugged. That would be an event that you would never forget, alright.

Remember how Bethlehem Community got put on the National Historic Register, and how that turned out to be a REALLY BAD IDEA??

If you are living near one of those "historic houses", and it's restored-making it worth lots of money, and raising its property value along with its neighbors- is everyone ok with raising property taxes on the poor people living around it?

corgimom
34215
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corgimom 10/22/10 - 09:47 pm
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Just for the record- I used

Just for the record- I used to drive down Laney-Walker in the early 80's, and didn't have a problem with it.

However, I wouldn't care if they put the Taj Mahal down there, I wouldn't go on Laney Walker to see anything today.

People do not want to take children to a high-crime area to see dope dealers, addicts, and prostitutes "working".

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