Another piece of Beulah Rucker Oliver’s legacy will be available for public viewing.
On Tuesday, June 23, Gainesville architect Garland Reynolds unraveled his hand-drawn architectural rendering of the Beulah Rucker Museum from 1995.
As Reynolds smoothed out the large piece of paper, Rucker’s great-great-granddaughter, Tori-Nicole Bailey, looked on with Charlene Williams, the museum’s volunteer executive director; Martha Zoller, 15-year member of the museum's board of directors; and Abit Massey, president emeritus of the Georgia Poultry Federation.
The design will now be memorialized at either the Beulah Rucker Museum or the Education Center, which is located next door.
Zoller, who has dedicated years toward preserving Rucker’s legacy, said the donation shows “what a great community Gainesville is.”
“In any time and place, this woman (Rucker) would be exceptional,” Zoller said. “But, especially in the early 1900s as a black woman in a small town in the South. It was an amazing story that I couldn’t stay away from.”
Rucker was born in 1888 on a farm in Banks County to illiterate sharecropper parents. As shared by the museum, Rucker knew she wanted to be a teacher since her first day of school at 5 years old.
She graduated with honors from the Knox Institute in Athens in 1909 and earned her room and board by milking cows and cleaning the principal’s home. She then set on a mission to build a school for African Americans during a time when many educational institutions didn’t accept Black students.
After years of searching for a perfect location and building a group of supporters, she obtained land in Gainesville to start the Industrial School off Athens Highway. The site grew to have a girls and boys dormitory, cannery, workshop, gymnasium, chicken house and classroom building. The institute provided basic high school education to myriad young people and veterans.
Rucker earned a college degree from Savannah State College in 1944 at the age of 56, then went on in 1951 to establish the first veterans’ night school in Georgia for African Americans to help soldiers obtain their GEDs.
Bailey said as she has gotten older, she has begun to grasp how many people’s lives have been touched by her ancestor.
“It’s honestly just an honor (to be related to her),” Bailey said. “She knew her purpose in life, and she ran with it. I think that’s just great.”
The Industrial School continued teaching students until it closed in 1957, according to The Times’ archives.
After sitting untouched for decades, Reynolds came into the picture. He led the architecture project to restore the property's remaining building and open it as a museum in the mid-’90s, as well as construct the adjacent education center.
Reynolds said the Longstreet Society, an organization created in honor of the Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, supported the project by providing a large amount of its funding.
The hand-drawn design of the museum had been sitting in Reynolds' architectural firm for years, until he realized it needed to find a greater purpose. Massey said once he heard about the rendering, he encouraged Reynolds to donate it.
“I told him the museum would love to have it,” he said. “What she (Rucker) accomplished is an incredible story.”
Rucker built the original Industrial School with her own two hands and help from her students. Reynolds said much of the building’s lumber was salvaged from Longstreet’s Piedmont Hotel.
When the architect examined the school in the mid-’90s, most of the old hotel’s wood was in shambles. Taking care to keep the historical integrity of the building, Reynolds said he found Georgia pine wood that matched the old materials.
When he transformed the school into a museum, Reynolds said he added a handicap-accessible porch and storage room and repaired the areas in bad shape like the walls and fireplace.
Williams said most of the materials in the old schoolhouse were from the time period. In the future, she hopes to have a parking lot, new landscaping and a rebuilt gym on the property.
For now, the Educational Foundation and Museum of Beulah Rucker Inc. will carry on Rucker’s legacy of providing local youth with educational opportunities.
Last year she said over 250 students came through its mentoring program with the support of a grant from United Way of Hall County.
Students who participate in the program are connected to volunteer opportunities, scholarships, tutors and mentors and can earn a trip to Atlanta to visit historically African American colleges and universities.
“We are fortunate to have the Gainesville and Hall County school systems and Boys & Girls Clubs (of Lanier) working together with us to make sure children are taken care of in this area,” Williams said.
Although Rucker has a museum, education center and plaza dedicated to her, Reynolds said the community needs to do more for the influential woman.
He said his dream is to design and build a Beulah Rucker park and pavilion in a city focal point like downtown Gainesville.
“She needs recognition because when you get right down to it, she is a Georgia hero,” Reynolds said. “She did things here that were just incredible for the time.”
Williams said the museum and education center's only source of income is from building rentals for events and other gatherings. For those who want to donate to its upkeep and future additions like a parking lot, visit beulahruckermuseum.org and click on the donate tab.