by Jana Riley
In his most famous speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said "The difference between a dreamer and a visionary is that a dreamer has his eyes closed and a visionary has his eyes open." With this distinction in mind, it would appropriate to declare Ms. Lucy Craft Laney one of the premier visionaries in Augusta's history: a woman who kept her great mind and kind heart open to the world around her, identifying needs within her community and answering them to the best of her ability throughout her lifetime. How fitting then, that the African-American museum in Augusta's River Region is named after her: The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History. Tucked away on a quiet side street off of Laney Walker Boulevard and across the street from Lucy Craft Laney High School, the museum is a trove of knowledge, historical lessons, and community offerings, carrying on the storied legacy of Ms. Laney for this generation and beyond.
Born in 1854 to two freed slaves, Lucy Craft Laney grew up in a time where many people viewed her and her family as far less than equal. When she was born, it was still illegal for people of color to read, and for the first 11 years of her life, slavery was legal. None of this deterred either Laney, who seemed thirsty for knowledge at a young age, or her parents, who believed strongly in education.
She attended Atlanta University at just 15 years of age, studying to become a teacher and exceeding the already high expectations her friends and family members held for her. She went on to teach in Macon, Milledgeville, and Savannah, making impactful contributions in each community while inspiring both teachers and students alike. Eventually, she settled in Augusta, where she fulfilled her lifelong dream of opening a school with the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute where she served as principal for 50 years. She also opened the first black kindergarten and the first black nursing school in Augusta, cementing her status as one of the most influential educators in all of Augusta's history.
In 1991, Laney's former home officially opened as the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History. Today, the museum stands as a reminder of the breadth of contributions African-Americans have made to Augusta's River Region and beyond. Through exhibitions and outreach programs, the museum continues the legacy of Lucy Craft Laney. The museum offers permanent, annual, and rotating exhibitions.
Perhaps the most compelling, though, is the Black Heritage Trolley Tour, a two-hour experience that escorts visitors to more than 30 significant historical sites related to Augusta's black history. Departing from the museum, the tour is a fascinating one, where even the most scholarly patrons learn new facts about the area, its inhabitants, and its history. There is always something new going on at the museum, including gallery showings by national and emerging artists, art and history lectures, storytelling activities, preservation programs, book signings, educational tours, senior luncheons, theatre performances, and more.
Guided by their mission to "promote the legacy of Ms. Lucy Craft Laney through art, history, and the preservation of her home," the team at the Lucy Craft Laney museum continues to support the legacy of Ms. Laney by educating and inspiring children and adults of every age, race, and background. Now, all who visit leave with knowledge, empowerment, and encouragement to be like Ms. Laney and approach the world with open arms and an open heart. The impact of such a bold and heartfelt woman will surely live on through the ages. She truly was, in the words of Dr. King, not only a dreamer but a visionary.
Markers placed along Laney Walker Boulevard feature well-known African-Americans, along with significant African-American Augustans.
The city's first "colored" cemetery, established in 1820. Individual histories of many of the occupants of the cemetery can be found on fact-filled obelisks, monuments, and scenic greenspace.
Redcliffe provides a setting for exploring the experiences of the enslaved, as well as the larger institution of slavery and reflects the historical experiences and impact of the white and black families who lived and worked at the site.