“I have had to sacrifice time, both day and night, to light a torch of instruction which I hope will cause the public to see the purpose of this much-needed institution for my race,” Beulah Rucker Oliver wrote about her school in the book “The Rugged Pathway.”
Rucker founded the Industrial School in Gainesville in 1914. Its primary purpose was to educate African-Americans in a time when many schools did not allow black students.
On Tuesday, The Beulah Rucker Museum is hosting the dedication ceremonies renaming the corner of Athens Highway and Athens Street as “The Beulah Rucker Oliver Memorial Intersection.”
“This is a pretty big honor for Ms. Beulah Rucker,” said Rucker’s grandson, Rojene Bailey. “We don’t want the sign to go up and no one notice it.”
Rucker, the daughter of two sharecroppers, knew she wanted to be a teacher after her first day of school when she was 5 years old. She learned to read by looking at newspapers that plastered the walls of her Banks County home for warmth.
Rucker attended the Knox Institute in Athens and worked throughout school to pay for her room and board. In 1944 at the age of 56, she received her college degree from Savannah State College after taking extension, correspondence and short courses.
“Her life, her passion, her everything was education,” said Bailey. “She believed that you don’t have to live under the cloud of poverty all your life.”
Rucker started the Industrial School with money she had saved from working various jobs after graduating high school. She taught black students from the surrounding area and took boarding students. During times of low attendance, she canvassed local communities for children in need of education.
“She was not only a role model for African-American students, but a role model for all of us who want to see young people succeed and be all that they can be,” said Ruth Bruner, Gainesville city councilwoman and chairman of the board of directors for the museum.
Rucker was the first woman to start a school in Gainesville and the first African-American woman to receive a Rosenwald grant for her school. The grants for construction of schools for African-Americans were named for Sears, Roebuuck & Co. President Julius Rosenwald.
“At that time, it was difficult for women to do things, especially an African-American woman,” Bailey said. “I like to call her a rebel because she went against all odds.”
In 1951, she started a night school to help veterans, especially those returning from the Korean War, obtain their GED. It was the first veterans’ night school in Georgia.
The Industrial School closed in 1958, after government regulations required all county and city schools consolidate. Rucker died five years later in 1963.
In 2006, Bailey, who is also the volunteer executive director of the Beulah Rucker Museum and Education Center, began writing letters to elected officials and to the Department of Transportation to get a local road named after Rucker.
“I had this idea in 2006 and began writing letters,” Bailey said. “Then last year, I got a call from Sen. Butch Miller. We met and he pushed the resolution through.
“The Department of Transportation was hesitant to give the road another name because it had changed names several times before. So they renamed the intersection.”
At the dedication ceremony, members of the board of directors of the Beulah Rucker Museum and Education Center, Miller and descendants of Rucker will give a brief history of the school and how the naming process came about. Afterward, the sign dedicating the intersection will be unveiled.
The dedication will take place at the Beulah Rucker Museum, 2101 Athens Highway, on Tuesday at 11 a.m. Anyone wishing to attend should RSVP by Friday to Bailey at 404-401-6589 or email email@example.com.