HALL COUNTY AFRICAN-AMERICAN ACHIEVERS
28 That Made Gainesville and Hall County The Success It Is Today
FB01-Mrs. Beulah Rucker Oliver
Mrs. Beulah Rucker Oliver was the founder of The Industrial School in Gainesville Georgia. Her Motto was “To Light A Torch of Instruction.” The School was in operation from 1914 until 1959. Her school provided opportunities to the region’s black youth at a time when such opportunities were rare or non-existent. Mrs. Rucker’s book, “The Rugged Pathway,” describes vividly her commitment to education and dedication to educating the people of her race. Mrs. Rucker died in 1963.
Willie Francis Jenkins Meadows was the first African-American to work in the administration office at Gainesville College in 1969. A graduate of Fair Street High School, she went on to become the first African-American to be elected to the Hall County Commission in 1992. She served as commissioner until her demise in April 2002.
Walter Chamblee was a prominent business man and civic leader in Gainesville. He was a life long resident of Gainesville, and was the proprietor of the Chamblee Drug Store on Athens Street, now E.E. Butler Parkway. Mr. Chamblee was instrumental in fighting for the rights of African-Americans, and will be forever credited with bringing a new and fresh approach to black busineses in the City of Gainesville.
FB04-Mrs. Jenny Harris
The best way to describe Mrs. Jennie Lee Porter Harris is, she loved everybody. Mrs. Jennie Harris was a dedicated and beloved educator that spent more than thirty years in the educational system of Gainesville and Hall County. As she rode through the community of Gainesville in her car, she would “honk her car horn” at every person she saw. She retired from the educational system in 1977.
T.J. Greenlee was born in the Funeral Home Business. Carrying on the tradition his father established, T.J. Greenlee operated Greenlee Funeral Home many years. He was one of the original members of the Men’s Progressive Club and was instrumental in developing recreational activities for kids, working with the schools and bringing businesses to the south side of Gainesville.
FB06-William Henry Maxey
Following a family tradition, William Henry Maxey spent his life in the restaurant business. He began as a cook at the Dixie Hunt Hotel in 1948, and went on to work and eventually own the family restaurant business on what was then, Athens Street. He was one of the first to open Fast Food To Go service in Gainesville in 1965. He retired with over 50 years of service in the restaurant industry.
FB07-Dr. Emmett Etheridge Butler
Dr. E.E. Butler set up his medical practice in Gainesville in 1936 to provide first class medical care to the African-American community. He did not stop at medicine. He was the first African-American to be elected to the Gainesville Board of Education. He graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta and McHarry Medical College in Nashville Tennessee in 1934. E.E. Butler Parkway and E.E. Butler High School are named in his honor.
FB08-Mrs. Mattie Moon
Mrs. Mattie Moon was one of the finest and most elegant teacher to ever teach in the city of Gainesville. She taught students with style and passion and made sure they experienced her teachings in her very laid back style. Somehow, she found a way to give each and every student the attention they needed as they were the only students in the class. Mrs. Moon was honored by the community in 1985 when a scholarship was established in her name at Gainesville State College.
FB09-Mrs. Carre Neter Oliver Bailey
Mrs. Carre Oliver Bailey was one of four children born to Mrs. Beulah Rucker Oliver. She devoted her life to helping and improving her surroundings, working mostly with young people. By profession, she was a Cosmetologist, introducing to the State of Georgia “The Cristina Jenkins Hair Weev System.” She was one of only a few people to hold a PHD in Cosmetology, a degree to this day that is very unique to the profession. Mrs. Bailey was a founding board member of The Beulah Rucker Museum.
FB10- J. Wesley Merritt
J. Wesley Merritt was the first African American Disc Jockey to host his own show in Gainesville. The show was called Athens Street on Revue and was broadcast on WDUN Radio. The show featured the best music at the time, and church choirs from around the area. It was broadcast from The Clearview Café, which is still standing on Athens Street, now E.E. Butler Parkway.
FB11-Mrs. Dorothy Bell Rucker
Mrs. Dorothy Bell Rucker was the eldest daughter of Mrs. Beulah Rucker Oliver. She was born to serve and educate the community. She graduated Savannah State College, received a master’s degree in Special Education from the University of Georgia in 1961, and a second master’s degree in Special Education from Atlanta University. She spent more than forty years in the Gainesville City School System and worked tirelessly for the community.
FB12- Ella Rucker
Ella Rucker was known as the community musician and music teacher. She was one of Gainesville’s most talented musicians, teaching some 500 students to play piano in her lifetime. When she was not teaching music, she was the librarian, serving in that capacity at the McCrary Branch of the Hall County Library for many years.
FB13-Nurse Katherine Florence Brown
She always had that smile which made it very easy to take a shot… Katherine Florence Brown, known as Nurse Brown, was ahead of her time. A graduate of the Grady School of Nursing in Atlanta, she made it known to all young women and men of Hall County that they could be successful in their endeavors, and men young people followed in her footsteps.
FB14-John William Morrow
John William Morrow Jr. took a seat on the Gainesville Board of Education in 1957. In 1979, he became the first African American to serve on the Gainesville City Council, and 1985, became the first African American to serve as Gainesville mayor. John Morrow’s contributions reverberate today throughout Gainesville and Hall County because of his love, leadership and compassion for all.
In August of 1946, show time came to Gainesville in the African American Community thanks to D.S. Lowe and the opening of the Roxy Theatre. Doc Lowe was a businessman, one of the coaches of the Fair Street High School Tigers, and served at the president of the Men’s Progressive Club. Doc Lowe was instrumental in the success of the Gainesville African American community, and his opened mindedness and progress can still be felt in the community today.
Faye Bush has become one of the most dedicated and committed women activists in the state of Georgia, and possibly the nation. One of the founders of The Newtown Florist Club, whose focus is to improve conditions in the Newtown area, Faye became involved in improving neighborhoods through the state. A fighter of environmental justice, her group educated Gainesville on the tragedies of environmental pollution. Faye is a community activist that fights for what is right. She has been a guest lecturer across the country and a guest on many media platforms.
FB17-Author Henry Jones
If by chance you should look in your grandmother’s or grandfather’s old picture album, that picture was most likely taken by Author Henry Jones. For many years, he photographed individuals and families alike for the Hardy Studio. He was a self taught photographer, who became interested in the craft after seeing someone taking pictures during the 1936 tornado. He took the pictures in the yearbooks of Fair Street and Butler High, and took aerial photos of Lake Lanier before it filled up.
FB18-Laura Mae Whelchel
Mrs. Laura Mae Whelchel taught school for more than forty years in the classroom. A graduate of Savannah State College, she followed in her idol’s footsteps, Mrs. Beulah Rucker Oliver. Her “Be The Best” no nonsense approach to teaching was many years ahead of its time. She retired from Gainesville Middle School after spreading her love of teaching in many areas. She was a founding board member of The Beulah Rucker Museum.
Mrs. Eula Neal was a favorite of many students in the Gainesville and Hall County School Systems. She was that special teacher that took the time for every student. She served as the principal of The Mount Zion School until it was consolidated with the city of Gainesville schools in the early mid 50’s. A graduate of Morris Brown College, she retired in 1974 after many very productive years of teaching.
The Professor, as Mr. Ulysses Byas was called, was a larger than life figure in Gainesville. A pioneering educator, he shattered the color barrier in the deep south. He served as the principal of Fair Street and Butler High Schools, served at the first black superintendent in the south, the school system in Tuskegee Alabama in 1970, and in 1977, was called to Long Island New York to rescue the school system there. In his honor, an elementary school was named for him.
The history of Mr. Grady Young may not be seen or heard, but it is definitely felt throughout Gainesville and Hall County. A master carpenter, Deacon Young, an ordained deacon, was instrumental in the progress of the Cross Plain Baptist Church, served as president of Northwestern Baptist Association of Georgia, and served 26 years in the congress of Christian Education. The Grady Young Foundation exists today in his honor to provide spiritual and financial support to the community that he loved.
What Noxubee County Mississippi lost in the early 60’s was a definite gain for Gainesville and Hall County. Mr. Nathaniel Shell migrated from Noxubee after graduating from Rusk College and blazed a path in Gainesville that has impacted so many young men and women. His first job was a young teacher at E.E. Butler High School. He started a youth organization called The Gents Club, and has redirected the lives of hundreds of young men and women to become successful and responsible adults.
In the 1920’s, when the city of Gainesville was in dire financial need, George Stephens, an African American businessman, loaned the city of Gainesville $10,000.00 dollars to help in their financial crisis. Mr. Stephens was a successful tailor and owner of a dry cleaner. He served the community with dignity and honor, and was a prominent leader in where he was the voice of reason.
FB24-Gene Earls and Royce Stephens
On October 1, 1963, Gene Earls and Royce Stephens became the first African American police officers in Gainesville Georgia. Upon completion of the required course work to become officers, Chief Hoyt Henry, chief at the time, stated that “these officers posted two of the highest grades in their group on the civil service test.” Mr. Earls was an NCO in the U.S. Air Force and Mr. Stephens attended Savannah State College prior to becoming police officers in Gainesville.
Myrtle Figueras has served as one of Gainesville’s most committed and prominent community leaders ever. She taught French at E.E. Butler High School, Gainesville High School and Brenau University. After retiring from the school system in 1995, she was hit by the political bug, becoming a member of the Gainesville City Council in 1996. She became the first African-American female may of Gainesville in 2001, and again in 2008.
FB26-Maynard ‘Yank’ Brown Sr.
He was known as Yank. Yank made it his life’s passion to always be involved in the community of Gainesville. He built a reputation of being a bridge builder across the board of communications. He was the first African American businessman to be granted a license to sell spirits. He was on the board of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center, and the city of Gainesville planning commission. He was a member of the Men’s Progressive Club and the Century Club at Gainesville College. Yank Brown provided unconditional service to the Gainesville community and was an inspiration for others to follow.
FB27-Pete and Doc Harrison
Their business was unique at the time. In 1932, Pete and Doc Harrison became the operators of Pete’s Taxi, one of the earliest cab businesses in Gainesville. They excelled in their business vision by owning and operating recreational areas for African Americans in Gainesville. The Doc Harris Lake was visited by hundreds of visitors from surrounding areas. Doc Harrison Lake was the forerunner to Lake Lanier.
FB28-Clara B. McCrary
Mrs. Clara Bell McCrary will always be “The Librarian” in Gainesville Georgia. Until a few years, the Clara B. McCrary Library stood at the corner of Fair and Hunter Street. The Fair Street Neighborhood stands there now. After a tornado damaged the Summer Hill School, Mrs. McCrary poured her blood sweat and tears in a library where students could go and read. She promoted “reading is fun” and provided children with reading certificates. Her legacy and love was teaching, which was her gift to Gainesville.