The Bryan County chapter of the NAACP presented a unique program entitled "The Twelve Months of Black History" on Sunday which focused on and commemorated some of the unsung heroes in Bryan County.
The event was open to the public and drew a large crowd to Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Pembroke. Among the attendees were NAACP Georgia State President Edward Dubose, Mount Moriah’s own pastor and newly appointed NAACP Southeast national regional director Rev. Francys Johnson and NAACP members and presidents of several surrounding counties who joined in the salute to some folks who have made a difference here in Bryan County.
The event featured live music, a banquet and guest speakers such as Dubose. A musical highlight was Rev. Helen Baker’s stirring rendition of Mahalia Jackson’s "Take My Hand Precious Lord".
"It was outside of the box from the many black history celebrations that took place throughout the state," Dubose said. "I appreciated the focus of the event which was on everyday heroes whose name would not be celebrated if not for this event. I learned a lot about Bryan County, and it also gave me an opportunity to share some of the research I have done on the area."
Dubose shared the following local statistics: in 1860, Bryan County had 2,379 slaves controlled by 111 people, and there is one hanging on record, which was in Pembroke.
"The event was both a success and a wake-up call to the people present," Dubose said. "I challenged them to keep their black history month outside of February. I am going to share this event across Georgia in that we all need to engage in 12 months of black history. "
"The 12 Months of Black History program was a positive first step for the branch to redress the constant bombardment of negative images in media by reviving an old tradition of oral history- in this regard our young people come to know about the greatness and strength of people of color from the mouths of their elders," said Johnson.After some songs, prayer by Rev. Pete Broxton from Richmond Hill’s Bryan Neck Missionary Baptist Church and reciting of scripture by Rev. G. Bush from Pembroke’s St. John AME Church, Bryan County NAACP Chairman Dave Williams took the podium to pay tribute to Gene Miller. Generuth "Gene" Miller was the first black to be elected city councilman of Pembroke in 1982 and was appointed Mayor pro tempore in 1990. He served until his death in 1992. He was a board member of the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center and appointed Honorary Lieutenant Colonel to the Governor’s staff by Gov. Zell Miller for his outstanding citizenship in Bryan County.
Williams said that, in addition to his many outstanding achievements, Miller passed on a legacy to son Johnnie Miller.
Like his father before him, Johnnie achieved the status of Pembroke City Councilman, Mayor pro tempore and Chairman of the Deacon Board at Mt. Moriah.
"It was a real honor to see my father recognized like this," said Johnnie Miller. "This was a great event and a good collaboration between Richmond Hill and Pembroke."
"This generation of blacks doesn’t seem to emphasize history like they used to," Miller added. "Kids today need to realize how they got to be where they’re at today and the struggles that existed prior to integration. I hope to see more events like this so that the memory of these great local people can be carried on and hopefully passed on to their children."
NAACP member Earl Edenfield paid tribute to the Garrison family who contributed much toward the growth of Pembroke.
Many generations of the Garrison family were driving forces for community goodwill and have "made a lot of opportunity for a lot of people," said committee member Pam Geiger.
In the 1920s and 30s, the Garrisons owned a large mill in Pembroke. Some of the land they contributed from this is now occupied by McFadden Place.
NAACP youth member Stephanie McIver paid tribute to her grandmother Alice Brown, who is a well known activist in Richmond Hill.
In 1968, Brown started the Office of Equal Opportunity. From the late 60’s to the mid-80’s, Brown got the ball rolling on a large number of services in Bryan County that benefited, and continues to benefit, all Bryan County residents.
These programs include Head Start, voter registration, government distribution of commodities, and numerous senior citizen programs including making them doctor appointments and transporting them herself.
Williams noted that the event attracted the enlistment of several new members.