Walker County, Georgia, to hold new museum focused on African American history

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / A new historical marker on the east side of the Marsh-Warthen House, a Greek Revival mansion in LaFayette, Georgia, recalls the 1916 lynching of Henry White on Lookout Mountain in Walker County. The other side details racial injustice in Georgia.

Walker County officials have approved plans for a future African American Museum and Culture Center.

The plans join other volunteer ventures spearheaded by local historian Beverly Foster, who has championed educating the area - which is more than 90% white - on the history of Black residents beyond just slavery through a local TV show, an upcoming memorial park and now through the museum.

(READ MORE: Local historian to explore Walker County's Black history in new TV show)

"I'm hoping that they will use the ... museum and park that we formed as an educational thing to learn about [Black people's] accomplishments beyond enslavement," said Foster, a Black woman whose family has been in the area since around the 1800s. "We want our opportunity to express our heritage and our own viewpoint."

The Walker County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the use of the Wardlaw Building at 309 N. Main St. in LaFayette as the site for the museum during a recent meeting.

"This is a monumental moment for us all," Walker County resident Stacey Suttle said at the meeting, "because this is the first time this ever happened. [Past generations] would be overwhelmed with joy at this moment, that this ... county has found a way to embrace diversity.

"When you embrace diversity, you make a more strong community."

Foster is being joined in the effort by Walker County Development Authority Executive Director Robert Wardlaw, whose family previously donated the property for the museum to the county. Wardlaw himself has helped in a variety of roles with planning and communication efforts, as have members of the Walker County African American Historical and Alumni Association and a task force for the museum and park.

(READ MORE: LaFayette's Marsh House board unveils strategic plan for antebellum museum)

"Nothing can be done by one person," Foster said. "You have to build a team of people who are dedicated to see the vision. And they will do what is necessary to get it done."

Foster and Wardlaw both said they have received nothing but support for the initiative.

"I want to say that in my conversations with all of the leaders of the community ... I never found resistance, not one single person. And Beverly and I find that to be a remarkable blessing to get this done," Wardlaw said. "There's no drama to say, 'Well, we fought through it.' Once we could articulate our vision, it was 100% buy-in."

While there is no timeline for completion of the museum, the task force has plans for multiple fundraisers, including a barbecue on Aug. 14 hosted by Wardlaw's Lucky Eye Q.

The group is ultimately looking to raise around $250,000 for the park and museum.

"We have a history of cooperation in Walker County," Wardlaw said. "And there's a lot of multi-generational connections and friendships. But this initiative will be symbolic on one hand and actionable on the other hand to be able to demonstrate the contributions that have been made by all cultures in Walker County in an outward, visible way right in town."

Contact Tierra Hayes at thayes@timesfreepress.com.