A visit to the Beulah Rucker Museum and Education Center begins with viewing historical artifacts and relics, but ends as a source of inspiration for the future.
Beulah Rucker was born in Harmony Grove, in Banks County, in 1888. She was one of eight children born to former slaves Caroline Wiley and Willis Rucker.
Rucker learned the alphabet by studying newspapers that were used to insulate the walls of the sharecropper cabin where she grew up.
When she was 5, she knew she wanted to be a teacher. According to the museum’s Web site, after graduating from the Knox Institute in Athens, 21 years later, Rucker fulfilled that goal.
Two years later, in 1911, the Beulah Rucker Industrial School began offering an elementary education to black children.
After marrying the Rev. Byrd Oliver, she achieved another milestone in her personal quest for education with the completion of her college degree from Savannah State College in 1944, at age 56. Rucker died in 1963, but her mission to educate young people is alive and well.
Rojene Bailey, executive director of the museum and the grandson of Rucker, provides tours of the four-room museum by appointment.
Bailey said the purpose of the tribute to Rucker and her work is "for it to become an integral part of educating and inspiring youth."
The museum’s rare photographs chronicle important stages of Rucker’s life. It’s easy to imagine students sitting in the replica of an early classroom. An easy-to-follow timeline attached to the museum’s walls allows visitors to learn about the obstacles that were overcome as this pioneer in education marched her way through sometimes hostile territory.
The education center recently held the Generation Inspiration Leadership breakfast, with host Mayor Myrtle W. Figueras. This group — which provides an academic enhancement adviser for youth whose schoolwork is below their abilities — is the perfect complement to Rucker’s mission.
Bailey said he encourages "similar service-organization groups to partner with the center ... and hold meetings on-site at no charge."
Rucker willingly served and taught others so that they might be free to pursue their own education, as is evident by the artifacts at the museum.
And the museum, as a destination for home-school groups, youth groups, school field trips and area residents, allows her to continue her tradition as an educator and inspire future generations to follow in her footsteps.
"It’s about the total community," Bailey tells visitors to the museum. "What we will do to further education among youth. It’s not so much about the past as it is the future."
Robert J. Sutherland is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Gainesville.