For Johnnie Mae Heard, the Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center’s Labor Day Picnic and Homecoming is a can’t-miss event, filled with fun and fellowship. Heard attended Noble Hill, which is now an African-American cultural museum, at 2361 Joe Frank Harris Parkway in Cassville from the first through third grades in the early 1950s.
“I enjoy seeing different people that I haven’t seen in a while and the people that had gone to Noble Hill,” she said. “[I also] enjoy the food and the fellowship and just the outing itself. It’s really, really nice. [We] play games, sing.”
Along with fond memories surrounding her former classmates, which include Noble Hill’s curator Marian Coleman, Heard recalled many aspects of her elementary-school years.
“I can remember my grandmother taught school up there — Miss Mary Ellen Beavers — for many years. I can remember I lived close [to] Noble Hill. I lived probably about 200 yards from Noble Hill,” Heard said, adding she walked to school every day. “... We had a coal stove and outside bathrooms. Those are not fun memories but you remember those things that you had to do at that time. You had to get warm by the coal stove.”
Known as the first Rosenwald School in northwest Georgia, Noble Hill was backed by funds from Julius Rosenwald — a philanthropist and president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., who wanted to provide quality education for African-American children — and the Cassville community. Constructed in 1923, the school stayed in operation until the educational site was consolidated into Bartow Elementary School in 1955.
After sitting vacant for more than 25 years, the building was transformed into its present state in 1989 with the help of state grants, private donations and fundraisers. Now known as Noble Hill-Wheeler Memorial Center, the venue serves as a cultural museum that reveals what life was like for African-American residents during the early- to mid-1900s.
Open to the general public, the 23rd-annual Labor Day Picnic and Homecoming will be held Monday from noon to 6 p.m. Along with serving as an informal reunion for the former school’s alumni, the event also will feature games for children and various food dishes, including fish, barbecue chicken, slaw, potato salad, baked beans, fried apple pies, cakes, soft drinks and lemonade.
“The first [Labor Day Picnic] began in 1989, when the museum was first opened to the public,” Coleman said. “This was a time to get all the alumni, family and friends to come back to Noble Hill for a time of fellowship.
“... [This year] we’d like to interview as many as we can and let them share their experiences. This is a video that I could show to visitors when they come and ask about the people that went to school here. And they could get a firsthand report from these alumni of some of their experiences at Noble Hill.”
While the activities are free, donations are sought to help fund the center’s annual Unsung Heroes Banquet in November.
“We don’t just honor African-Americans but most of them have been,” Coleman said. “But this [banquet] is just [a time] to reminisce and show some of their achievements, [such as] how they gave back to the community and this is to inspire some of our young people about the history of some of the African-Americans here in Bartow County.”
For more information about Noble Hill and its upcoming picnic, call the museum at 770-382-3392 or visit www.noblehillwheeler.com.