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Home schooling

Georgia College Foundation hopes to save home of pioneering black educator

By Carl Lewis

clewis@macon.com

Thursday, Jun. 25, 2009

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MILLEDGEVILLE — Fifteen-year-old Deandre Hooks crouched on the porch of a crumbling, wood-planked house Wednesday morning to complete a writing assignment.

The house was nothing special and the heat was blistering, but it didn’t seem to bother him. In fact, he felt perfectly at home.

“I’m meant to be here right now,” Hooks said. “It’s part of who I am.”

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It’s the same porch that black students like Hooks sat on 100 years ago.

Back then, the four-bedroom house on Clarke Street belonged to Sallie Ellis Davis, one of the first black educators in Georgia. Davis often mentored students at the house, which she lived in until her death in 1950.

But for many years, the historic home has been left to decay.

Now, officials from Georgia College & State University and the Sallie Ellis Davis Foundation are trying to raise money to renovate the house and open it as an African-American cultural center.

In 2008, the Georgia Trust added the Davis house to its “Places in Peril” list because of the structure’s deteriorating condition.

“This is an important piece of African-American history that we desperately need to preserve,” Judy Bailey, a spokeswoman for the college, said.

Bailey said it will cost an estimated $380,000 to renovate the home and $25,000 to stabilize it. So far, the foundation has raised about $15,000.

“We’re looking for all the help we can get. We’ve got a long way to go, but we have to make sure we’re able to save this place,” Bailey said.

Davis was born in Milledgeville in 1877 to a black mother and an Irish father, Bailey said.

She attended the Eddy School, where she later served as teacher and principal for more than 50 years.

Her house, which was built in 1890, changed hands numerous times before Georgia College purchased it in 1989.

Bailey said she hopes the Davis house will inspire people to follow after Sallie’s legacy and enter the field of education.

“Sallie Davis educated black students during a period of time when they didn’t have access to education. Hopefully, this house will motivate people to become educators themselves,” she said.

Camille Tyson is the principal of Early College, a school for students in seventh through 12th grades that holds classes at Georgia College. Tyson took her students to see the Davis home Wednesday.

“Either you can be a pioneer or a settler,” Tyson said. “Sallie Ellis Davis was a pioneer, and these students can be pioneers, too. That’s what I want them to realize.”

Hooks, who is a 10th-grader at Early College, said Davis’ story has inspired him to pursue a more ambitious future.

“I’m going to go to college and be a professional when I grow up. (Davis) spent her entire life trying to make sure our ancestors could do that, and I don’t want to let her down,” he said.

To make a donation to the Sallie Ellis Davis Foundation, call Lee Snelling at (478) 445-8129.

To contact writer Carl Lewis, call 744-4347.