Editor’s Note: To celebrate the City of Gainesville turning 200 years old on Nov. 30, 2021, Gainesville Georgia Government is sharing interesting highlights from its centuries-old history. This is the third installment in a series, which will be featured monthly through November 2021 on gainesville.org and social media. For February, we present to you information spotlighting some of Gainesville’s most prominent African-American leaders who helped pave the way for needed change and progress.
GAINESVILLE, Ga. (Feb. 26, 2021) – February marks Black History Month, and the City of Gainesville is proud to highlight historical African-American figures who – with a can-do attitude and perseverance – made names for themselves despite a reality of unimaginable conflict and challenges.
Beulah Rucker – established school for African-Americans
*The following information is shared from beulahruckermuseum.org. The Beulah Rucker Museum is located at 2101 Athens Highway, Gainesville.*
Beulah Rucker Oliver (1888-1963) was one of eight children born to Caroline Wiley and Willis Rucker in Banks County.
Her parents grew up during a time of slavery, and weren’t allowed to be educated. But at age 5, Beulah Rucker knew she wanted to be a teacher and devoted her life to that desire.
The first school Beulah Rucker attended, Neal’s Grove, was taught in a small wooden church in Banks County. In Athens, she attended Jeruel Academy and Knox Institute. Before attending class each morning, Beulah Rucker earned her room and board by milking cows and cleaning the principal’s home.
In 1909, during her senior year at Knox Institute, Beulah Rucker began having dreams and visions of establishing a school for African-Americans. She purchased a site near the Southern railroad crossing in downtown Gainesville and established The Rucker Industrial School. Later, Beulah Rucker purchased a Hall County site for the school. Many of the building materials were salvaged, including lumber from Confederate Gen. James E. Longstreet's Piedmont Hotel. The Rucker Industrial School also trained many area brick masons, and her students made the bricks that were used to construct some of the buildings on the site.
In 1944, at the age of 56, Beulah Rucker received her college degree from Savannah State College. Soon after, she started the first veterans night school in 1951 in Georgia for African-Americans. The school helped veterans, especially those returning from the Korean War, to obtain their GEDs. In 1958, government regulations required all county and city schools to consolidate and the industrial school closed, but Beulah Rucker’s impact lives on.
E.E. Butler – Hall County’s first black physician
*The following information is shared from nghs.com.*
If you live in Gainesville, you might be familiar with E.E. Butler Parkway as the main road that welcomes you into the City. You’ve probably heard E.E. Butler mentioned many times, but do you know who this person was?
Emmett Ethridge Butler, also known as E.E. Butler, was the first black physician to receive privileges to practice medicine in Hall County. He was born April 13, 1908, less than 60 years after the Civil War ended. He died in May 1955, just one year after the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional. He lived during a period in history in which he was denied full rights and privileges as a U.S. citizen solely because of the color of his skin.
Butler attended a segregated elementary school in Macon, Morehouse High School and Morehouse College, and Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. Meharry is a private institution founded by the Freedman Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church to educate freed slaves and provide healthcare services to the poor and underserved. After completing medical school in 1933, Dr. Butler practiced in Macon for two years before working in a tuberculosis unit in Alto from 1935-36.
Life in Gainesville
Dr. Butler came to Gainesville in 1936 and practiced medicine until he died in 1955. He was an active member of the community, the first black member to serve on the Gainesville City Board of Education and spearheaded the first black voter registration drive. He loved and supported the Fair Street Athletic Association and the Fair Street Band. The community memorialized his service through the naming of the E.E. Butler High School and E.E. Butler Parkway. He was also a deacon and Sunday school teacher at St. John Baptist Church.
John W. Morrow Jr. – Gainesville’s first African-American mayor
*The following information is shared from beulahruckermuseum.org.*
John William Morrow Jr. first took a seat on the Gainesville City Board of Education in 1957. In 1979, he became the first African-American to serve on the Gainesville City Council, and in 1985, became the first African-American to serve as mayor of Gainesville.
Morrow’s contributions reverberate today throughout Gainesville and Hall County because of his love, leadership and compassion for all.
Myrtle Figueras – Gainesville’s first female African-American mayor
*The following information is shared from ccoagainesvillehall.org/community-heroes.*
Myrtle W. Figueras – a former French teacher at E.E. Butler High School, Gainesville High School and Brenau University – served on the Gainesville City Council from 1996 until her retirement in December 2015.
When “Ms. Fig” retired from Gainesville City Schools after 30-plus years of teaching, she stepped into a new level of leadership. For the past 20-plus years, she’s been a driving force in the City, representing Gainesville on numerous local and state boards, and inspiring the City to become one of the most awarded cities in the State of Georgia.
During her tenure, Figueras attained one of the highest levels of achievement issued by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), receiving the Certificate of Recognition, Certificate of Achievement and Certificate of Excellence. Serving as mayor from 2001-03 and 2008-09, each City department has benefitted from Figueras’ involvement in initiating the Citizens Government Academy; completing many innovative building projects, including the Frances Meadows Aquatics and Community Center and Fair Street Neighborhood Center; developing the Midtown Greenway; and inspiring the revitalization and clean-up of neighborhoods while improving housing and dilapidated areas.
Figueras was chosen as Girl Scouts Woman of Distinction in 2005; inducted into the GMA Municipal Government Hall of Fame in 2012; awarded the Lifetime Service Award for 50 years of service to Gainesville in 2015, and received the tribute flying of a U.S. flag over the U.S. Capitol in honor of her service to the City; and awarded the Community Council on Aging Quality of Life Award in 2016. Added to these recognitions, the Figueras legacy includes the Myrtle Figueras Scholarship for Gainesville High School students who study a foreign language, indicating that they can share relationships with all people. She also serves as the Gainesville City Schools rep for Pioneer RESA, which serves Northeast Georgia school districts. In short, Figueras continues to dedicate her life to serving others.
Other Gainesville-Hall Co. African-American Achievers
To read about other Gainesville-Hall County African-American Achievers – the “28 that made Gainesville and Hall County the success it is today” – visit beulahruckermuseum.org.