Hall County African American Achievers
28 That Made Gainesville and Hall County The Success It Is Today
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.
Mrs. Willie Francis Jenkins Meadows
Willie Francis Jenkins Meadows was a graduate of Fair Street High School. In 1969, she was the first African-American to work in the administration office at Gainesville College. In 1992, she became the first African-American to be elected to the Hall County Commission. She served as commissioner until April 2002.
Walter Chamblee was a prominent business man and civic leader in Gainesville. He was the proprietor of the Chamblee Drug Store on Athens Street, (E.E. Butler Parkway). Mr. Chamblee was instrumental in fighting for the rights of African-Americans, and he is credited with bringing a new and fresh approach to black busineses in the City of Gainesville.
Mrs. Jenny Harris
Mrs. Jennie Lee Porter Harris was well known for showing love to everybody. Mrs. Harris was a dedicated and beloved educator, and she spent more than thirty years in the educational systems of Gainesville and Hall County. As she drove through the community, she was well known for “honking her car horn” at every person she saw. She retired from the educational system in 1977.
T.J. Greenlee owned and operated Greenlee Funeral Home which was established by his father. He was one of the original members of the Men’s Progressive Club. Mr. Greenlee was instrumental in developing recreational activities for children, working with the schools and bringing businesses to the south side of Gainesville.
William Henry Maxey
Following a family tradition, William Henry Maxey spent his life in the restaurant business. In 1948, he began his career as a cook at the Dixie Hunt Hotel, and later, he established his restaurant on Athens Street. In1965, he was one of the first in Gainesville to open fast food to go service. He retired with over 50 years of service in the restaurant industry.
Dr. Emmett Etheridge Butler
Dr. Emmett Ethriddge Butler graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta and McHarry Medical College in Nashville Tennessee (1934). In 1936, Dr. E.E. Butler set up his medical practice in Gainesville, and he provided 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. E.E. Butler Parkway and E.E. Butler High School are named in his honor.
Mrs. Mattie Moon
Mrs. Mattie Moon was one of the most elegant teachers in 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 as though they were the only students in the class. In 1985, Mrs. Moon was honored by the community, and a scholarship was established in her name at Gainesville State College.
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, and she worked mainly with young people. By profession, she was a cosmetologist. She introduced the State of Georgia to “The Cristina Jenkins Hair Weeve System.” She was one of only a few people to hold a PHD in Cosmetology, a degree that is still very unique to the profession. Mrs. Bailey was a founding board member of The Beulah Rucker Museum.
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 it was broadcast on WDUN Radio. The show featured the best music and church choirs from around the area. It was broadcast from The Clearview Café which is still standing on E.E. Butler Parkway.
Mrs. Dorothy Bell Rucker
Mrs. Dorothy Bell Rucker was the eldest daughter of Mrs. Beulah Rucker Oliver. 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 she worked tirelessly for the community.
Ella Rucker was known as the community musician and music teacher. She was one of Gainesville’s most talented musicians, and she taught approximately 500 students to play piano. When she was not teaching music, she was the librarian at the McCrary Branch of the Hall County Library.
Nurse Katherine Florence Brown
Katerine Brown always had that smile which made it very easy to take a shot. Fondly known as Nurse Brown, she was ahead of her time. A graduate of the Grady School of Nursing in Atlanta, she made it known to young women and men of Hall County that they could be successful in their endeavors, and many young people followed in her footsteps.
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 the Gainesville African American Community thanks to D.S. Lowe and the opening of the Roxy Theatre. Doc Lowe was a businessman, coach of the Fair Street High School Tigers, and 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. As fighters for 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.
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 for 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 he took aerial photos of Lake Lanier before it was filled up.
Laura Mae Whelchel
Mrs. Laura Mae Whelchel taught school for more than forty years. As graduate of Savannah State College, she followed in her idol’s, Mrs. Beulah Rucker Oliver, footsteps. 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 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. As pioneering educator, he shattered the color barrier in the deep south. He was the principal of Fair Street and Butler High Schools. In 1970, he became the first black superintendent in the south (Tuskegee Alabama). In 1977, he was recruited to Long Island New York to rescue the school system. An elementary school was named in his honor.
The history of Mr. Grady Young may not be seen or heard, but it is definitely felt throughout Gainesville-Hall County. Deacon Young, a master carpenter, was instrumental in the progress of the Cross Plain Baptist Church. He served as president of Northwestern Baptist Association of Georgia and 26 years in The Congress of Christian Education. The Grady Young Foundation exists 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-Hall County. Mr. Nathaniel Shell migrated from Noxubee after graduating from Rusk College and blazed a path in Gainesville that has impacted many young men and women. His first job was as a young teacher at E.E. Butler High School. He started a youth organization called The Gents Club, and he 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 dry cleaner owner. He served the community with dignity and honor, and he was a prominent leader with a voice of reason.
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 stated that “these officers posted two of the highest grades in their group on the civil service test.” Prior to becoming police officer, Mr. Earls was a NCO in the U.S. Air Force, and in 1960, Mr. Stephens graduated from Savannah State College.
Myrtle Figueras has served as one of Gainesville’s most committed and prominent community leaders. 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, and in 1996, she become a member of the Gainesville City Council. In 2001, she became the first African-American female mayor of Gainesville, and in 2008, she held the office again.
Maynard ‘Yank’ Brown Sr.
Maynard Brown Sr. was known as Yank. He made it his life’s passion to always be involved in the community of Gainesville. He built a reputation of being a bridge builder of communication. He was the first African American businessman to be granted a license to sell spirits. Mr. Brown 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.
Pete and Doc Harrison
In 1932, Pete and Doc Harrison became the operators of Pete’s Taxi. During that time, their business was unique and 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.
Clara B. McCrary
Mrs. Clara Bell McCrary was known as “The Librarian” in Gainesville Georgia. The Clara B. McCrary Library stood at the corner of Fair and Hunter Street (now the location of The Fair Street Neighborhood Center). After a tornado damaged the Summer Hill School, Mrs. McCrary poured her blood sweat and tears into a library where students could go and read. She promoted “reading is fun” and provided children with reading certificates. Her legacy and gift to Gainesville was her love of teaching and reading.