College Park unveils rare black history exhibit

By Joel Hall


Morningside, The Hill, and Stoney Lonesome are just a few of the old black neighborhoods of College Park, slowly forgotten as the city has moved away from segregation and into urban renewal.

This weekend, the pictures, memorabilia and written accounts of 60 black College Park families will bring a rarely shared part of the city's history to light.

The College Park Black History Exhibit will be presented to the public in an opening ceremony this Saturday, from 4 to 5:30 p.m., in the lobby of College Park City Hall. Photographs and unedited personal stories collected over several years from some of College Park's oldest black residents will highlight black businesses, schools, churches, civic organizations, sports figures and notable city leaders during the early 20th Century.

James "J.D." Hightower of East Point, who helped compile pieces for exhibit, was born on Sept. 26, 1928 on a farm on Old National Highway. To attend school, he walked from Old National Highway to College Park's Ward 2, the area of town where most black residents of the city resided.

"Ward 2 ... that was the designated area for black residents," he said. "We were sort of like a city inside of a city. There were businesses in our part of the city that were not known by other people. We were, more or less, self contained for many years.

"What we call black history has been hidden, distorted, and even stolen," Hightower said. "For me, this is one of the ways of bringing this out into the open. This is bringing this to light, letting people know that we existed, and that we made some kind of contribution to society, and still are."

Hightower and Charles Dowdell, another long-time resident of College Park, have spent years collecting photos, some of which include images of Brady's Gym, a recreation spot for black College Park residents, and Martin Luther King, Jr., at the age of 14, attending a conference with his father, a former pastor at Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church.

Other photos include images of Eva L. Thomas High School, an all-black school named after an educator and civic leader, that is presently College Park Elementary, and pictures of the College Park Civic and Educational Club, Inc., a women's organization dedicated to lifting up the black community.

For years the photos were merely a collection until Cleo Hudson, a long-time educator in College Park who passed away this past Christmas Eve, approached the city of College Park about making the photos and stories into a traveling exhibit. In January, the city council agreed to fund the venture and thus far, have spent $2,800 on reproducing, cataloging, and preserving the photos.

Jamilah Stephens, the city's interim economic development director, said the city sees value in preserving the exhibit for future generations.

"Two of the members of the [exhibit] committee have been archiving this information for years," she said. "It has never been shared, or showcased, with the community at large. I think they [the city council] understood ... the importance of this being shared with the community."

Patricia Bigelow, a member of the exhibit committee, said that after being displayed for several months at College Park City Hall, the exhibit would go on tour to schools, churches, senior centers and other venues in metro Atlanta.

"It was really interesting learning about these old black neighborhoods," she said. "There is all this great stuff that you wouldn't know just moving here because it is all gone. When you recapture and then preserve things that have long been gone, you are recapturing neighborhoods, you are recapturing people, you are recapturing places ... the value is truly immeasurable."

The exhibit will be on display at College Park City Hall, located at 3667 Main St., Monday through Friday from 8 a.m., to 5 p.m., beginning Monday.

For more information, call (404) 669-3764.