"For years, every February it seems like Black History Month has become somewhat of an expected lesson in history," said Joy Hill, curator of the Summer Hill Heritage Museum. "We learn again about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement, but at the same time we have such a rich African-American history in Bartow County.
"We just felt like this was a good time to begin enlightening the younger generations about this history because the people who actually lived the history are moving on, and it's time to bring this new generation in so they can keep it going for the next generation."
To be held at the Summer Hill Heritage Museum, "A Symposium on an African-American History of Bartow County" will begin at 3 p.m., followed by a tour of the facility and refreshments. The free program will be moderated by Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham, who graduated from Summer Hill High School in the 1960s, and features a panel of at least five other Summer Hill alumni. Since the symposium will provide a historical perspective, Hill said some of the topics of discussion could include prominent residents and alumni of Summer Hill, area businesses, and what the school system and culture entailed.
"It was a community," she said. "Although the main highlight was the school, but truly a village raised the children. It was less of an area and more of a culture."
For one of the panelists, Levon Ward, the symposium will be an opportunity to reach out to the younger generation, stressing a message of unity, hard work and determination.
"[It is important] to let the different generations know how far we have come and where we have come from and where we are now," said Ward, who attended Summer Hill for three years in the late 1960s. "One of the things I would like for the public to know is that we all are one. We all have to grow together. When I grew up, there was just a certain group. Everybody had their own group and there was just a certain group that you were associated with. Sometimes I thought maybe if we could just do 'this,' we could get ahead.
"One of the things [I want to share] is just to know that we are all one group and that we all need to just work and grow together and that ... you can move if you don't let anything get on your back to hold you down. That it's left up to us to make the first step, and God will help us with the next step because you can't stand still and think things are going to come to you. You have to make steps in order to get to that next level. Just like climbing a ladder, the steps don't come down to you. It's not like an escalator."
Located at 129 Aubrey St. in Cartersville, the Heritage Museum is housed inside the former high school, now referred to as the Summer Hill Educational and Recreational Complex. The high school, which sat vacant for about 30 years after closing in the early 1970s, was rebuilt in 2003 by the Etowah Area Consolidated Housing Authority using the original blueprints. The $1.5 million project enabled the Housing Authority to utilize the 10,000-square-foot facility for its after-school and GED programs, in addition to the Heritage Museum.
Along with pictorial history panels and displays featuring items like band uniforms and photographs, the museum currently features exhibits on residents, such as Benham, Tuskegee Airman John Henry Morgan, Vietnam War Veteran Lorenza Conner, Rev. Jackey Beavers and Hill's father, Matthew Douglas Hill.
In addition to viewing the exhibits, participants also can watch and purchase the film "Summer Hill: A Story of Community."
Directed by David Hughes Duke, the nearly 30-minute documentary features first-person narratives from Summer Hill residents and alumni, as well as archival photographs to tell the story of the community's inhabitants. Along with the school, the community located in northwest Cartersville featured residences, businesses, churches and clubs. Filmed in 2005, the documentary evolved from a video Duke was recording in conjunction with an oral history project by Kennesaw State University.
For more information about Sunday's symposium, contact Hill at 770-873-3146.