How to Celebrate Black History Month in Augusta

Lucy Craft Laney is one of Augusta’s African American icons (©Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau)

By Jennifer McKee

Augusta is rich in African American heritage. Learn more about iconic figures such as James Brown, Jessye Norman and Lucy Craft Laney at the following spots that highlight their notable accomplishments.

James Brown’s imprint can be seen throughout downtown Augusta. Most visible is the life-sized bronze statue on Broad Street across from the Augusta Common. It contains the world’s only James Brown CAM, which takes a photo and sends it to your cell phone in minutes.

The James Brown statue on Broad Street. (©Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau)

At the Augusta Museum of History, the James Brown exhibit features rare memorabilia and personal effects that paint a vivid portrait of the singer. Among the highlights are costumes that date from the ’60s, a “King of Soul” crown worn by Brown in the ‘50s, his Grammy Awards, family photos and audio-visual stations with performance footage.

In summer 2020, the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Downtown Development Authority debuted The Soul Starts Here: The James Brown Journey, which lets tourgoers literally walk in Brown’s footsteps, visiting places that were essential to his life. Among the stops on the tour is the Soul Bar, which features artists who cover Brown’s songs, and the walls are adorned with décor celebrating the late, great artist.

Private tours of significant James Brown sites can be arranged through the James Brown Family Foundation. Brown’s daughter, Deanna, narrates the tour, which leaves from the Augusta Museum of History on Saturdays at 11 am.

Mural at the Jessye Norman School of Arts. (©Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Renowned opera soprano and native daughter Jessye Norman also left an indelible mark on Augusta. Norman sang at the Metropolitan Opera more than 80 times, won five Grammy Awards and was honored with the National Medal of Arts in 2009. Her legacy lives on through the Jessye Norman School of Arts—at Greene and 8th streets, which is renamed in her honor—where students can develop and nurture their creative talents tuition-free.

Another pioneering woman, Lucy Craft Laney was an African American educator who opened the first school for African American children in 1883. She is known as one of Georgia’s most influential educational leaders.

The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History is the only African American Museum in the CSRA. It opened in 1991 in Miss Laney’s former house, tucked away on a quiet street off of Laney Walker Boulevard (across the street from the Lucy Craft Laney High School). The special exhibition “A Tribute to Women of Excellence in the Greater River Region” is on display through March 27 and features artwork, photos and historic documents that celebrate these women’s contributions.

The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History. (©Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Take a walk down Laney Walker Boulevard to learn more about Augusta’s notable African Americans. The street that pays homage to some of the city’s prominent African American leaders, such as Essie McIntyre, the first black woman to be ordained in the CSRA, and Judge John H. Ruffin, the first African American chief judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Goodale Plantation was the first place in Georgia to employ free African Americans. It was built in 1799 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Those traveling down Sand Bar Ferry Road can view the structure, now known as the Fitzsimmons-Hampton-Harris House. Amanda Dickson Toomer was the daughter of the plantation’s owner and one of his slaves. After her father’s death, Toomer fought the courts for her inheritance, and became the wealthiest African American woman in Georgia in the late 1800s. She bought a home in the 400 block Telfair Street, which is now a law office.

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