The city of Newnan and the African American Alliance will be working on a new lease for the city’s building that houses the alliance and the Coweta County African American Heritage Museum and Research Center.
The museum is located in a shotgun house on the grounds of the Farmer Street Cemetery, which was Newnan’s cemetery for enslaved people and, after emancipation, continued to be used as a cemetery for African Americans.
The organization has gone through some recent leadership changes, but a new board and volunteers are in place and moving forward.
“We are working diligently to get the museum and cemetery in order with the vision of Cynthia Rosers in mind,” said AAA President Ayisat Idris-Hosch.
The alliance and museum were the brainchild of Rosers, who was a board member of the Newnan Coweta Historical Society in the early 2000s. The alliance was incorporated in 2002.
The museum “should be a place the community can come to seek the rich history of African Americans of Coweta County,” Idris-Hosch said. “We are planning a great year of events, activities and wonderful partnerships. The future is bright.”
The current lease expires in July, and a new lease will be negotiated before that expiration. Because of some issues with the alliance, including rapid changes in leadership and the museum not being open regularly, the city had given the organization notice that it intended to terminate its lease.
The Newnan City Council and Alliance board members discussed the issue at a recent Newnan City Council meeting.
Idris-Hosch also gave an update recently to the White Oak Golden K Kiwanis Club on the organization and its current and future plans.
The letter sent from the city to the organization in late February gave the organization 30 days before the lease would be terminated. The council voted to ratify the termination letter but grant an additional 60 days to grant time for issues to be worked out.
“What we are looking for is cooperation between the two bodies,” said Newnan Mayor Keith Brady.
Hosch was named president in November, when other board members and staff were named.
Since then, “there have been lots of internal issues. However, we have overcome those things, and we are ready to move forward,” Idris-Hosch told the council.
She said the group hopes to work with the city to put together workshops and activities for the community.
“We think it is important for the African American community to see us working for each other, and not against each other, for one common goal. Because the history of African Americans in Coweta is important,” she said.
City Attorney Brad Sears said that this is a great opportunity to put together a new lease, with updated requirements. The group is also working on its bylaws.
“There is nothing in the bylaws that meets the requirements of the 501(c)(3) with the way it is currently set up,” Sears said. He said he’d like to see the organization get an attorney that can help with new bylaws and make the alliance a viable entity that the city can work with.
Brady told Idris-Hosch that the lease termination letter is a trigger to set needed changes in motion. It will help “make sure we get a lease that is advantageous and beneficial for your group and for the city of Newnan.”
He said he doesn’t see the termination as a punitive thing, but a way to bring about things that everyone wants to see happen.
“What this council wants is to make sure that the African American Alliance exists, provides the services and does those things in the correct manner that they should in the building that we own,” Brady said.
Whether or not the items that are currently in the museum would need to be moved until the new lease is in place was also discussed.
Councilwoman Cynthia Jenkins said she didn’t want the group to have to go through that. She also doesn’t want to “lose the public’s trust that we have the best intentions for moving forward and keeping this museum intact.”
She said she would like to see the items remain on-site, securely, while negotiations are taking place.
Jenkins said she wants the public to be aware that the city’s goal is to preserve the museum and not take it away from the community.
“It’s an important asset for our community. I think it needs to stay right where it is,” Jenkins said.
At the Golden K meeting, Idris-Hosch told members that the organization currently has four board members and two volunteers. In addition to Idris-Hosch, they are Vice President Mandela Littleton, Secretary Shannon Pearson, Treasurer Lillie Smith, Social Media Specialist Jonathan Shipley and Senior Genealogist John Wells.
The organization is exploring partnerships with other organizations and will have a curator working with the museum from the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which is part of the Smithsonian Institution.
Idriss-Hosch said that the group would like to do community workshops on topics such as home buying, financial literacy and basic computer skills.
Potential future events include college tours for high school students, family reunions and other events.
“We want to go out there and serve the community as best we can,” she said.
When asked about challenges the organization faces, Idris-Hosch said one is getting the museum ready for people to visit on a regular basis.
COVID-19 is one issue, but she’s hoping to have members of the community come out and work on an inventory of the museum’s collection. She said it would also be great to highlight some of the African American families who have a long history in Coweta.
The museum building is small, and hopes are to one day have an even larger space.
Idris-Hosch said she hopes the museum can stay on the current site, with an additional building. With the long history of African Americans in Coweta, a larger building would be ideal to offer more space for exhibits.
Idris-Hosch said they would like to partner with the city to do more work at the cemetery, including having graves properly marked, “so we can present the cemetery in a way that it should be.” The city has recently reconstituted the Farmer Street Cemetery Commission.
For more information about the African American Alliance and museum, visit ccaahm.org .