The Newnan Times-Herald

Local

African American Museum remains open


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Jul. 24, 2017 - 6:33 AM

– By MADELINE SCHINDLER, madeline@newnan.com

The city of Newnan is home to several historical sites, attracting visitors both locally and nationally. The Brown’s Mill Battlefield site, 1904 Courthouse and Oak Hill Cemetery are just a few points of interest for history buffs and travelers alike. However, there is another gem not far from downtown Newnan.

The Coweta County African American Heritage Museum and Research Center on Farmer Street houses 19th and 20th century artifacts and records of African American history in the Coweta area. Across from the museum is the Farmer Street Cemetery, a burial ground for African Americans in Coweta County from before the Civil War to the mid-1900s.

According to Dianne Wood, museum director, treasurer and genealogist, the city of Newnan purchased the museum property and cemetery in the 1940s. A shotgun-style house on the property was later restored, and the Coweta County African American Heritage Museum and Research Center became its resident in 2003. 

Since its establishment, hundreds of visitors have traveled to the museum, looking to trace their family roots or learn more about African-American heritage in Coweta County. These days, the museum does not see as much traffic as it used to.

“A lot of people think we are closed or don’t know about us,” said Wood. “We are open. It’s disheartening that people think we’re closed.”

Wood hopes that by reaching out to the community and sharing her research, more people will visit the museum.

Over the past decade, Wood has compiled countless family trees, some that are 30 pages long. 

“I have an Excel spreadsheet with the family history of 130,000 African-Americans here,” said Wood. “I also have another spreadsheet with the family trees of almost 200,000 white families.” 

The genealogist utilizes Ancestry.com to conduct most of her research, but she also studies information from the Coweta County Genealogical Society and Newnan-Coweta Historical Society, as well as documents and books brought in by residents in the area. 

Unfortunately, the roots of many family trees may never be identified. Only one grave in the Farmer Street is marked.

Several years ago, the city conducted a survey of the 4.8-acre property and discovered 249 unmarked graves. The 250th grave to be located was that of Charlie Burch, a 3-year-old, who passed away in 1869. 

“It was the only stone to have lasted from 1869,” said Wood.  

After Burch’s headstone was removed from the property several times, volunteers at the museum decided to move it indoors. The headstone is now on display in the museum along with several artifacts commemorating the Burch family. 

According to Wood, there are more unmarked graves on the property as well as on the properties of the museum’s neighbors.  

The Farmer Street Cemetery is believed to be the largest known slave cemetery in the South. Further excavation is needed to determine how many bodies are buried on the property.  

Despite its somber surroundings, the Coweta County African American Heritage Museum and Research Center offers several collections of 20th century artifacts, including photographs, articles of clothing, letters, books, newspapers and other forms of media.

The uniform of Sonny Arnold (one of the first African-American police officers in Newnan), documents from midwives, a restored picture of McClelland Academy students, posters of musician Hamilton Bohannon, and pictures of actress Lena Calhoun Horne are all on display at the museum. 

The museum continues to offer genealogical services to anyone who requests them. 

The Coweta County African American Heritage Museum and Research Center is at 92 Farmer St. in Newnan. It is open to the public Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., or by appointment.

For more information about the museum, visit the the Coweta County African American Heritage Museum and Research Center’s Facebook page.