Finding A Way
On February 6, 1983 “Finding A Way: The Black Family’s Struggle for an Education at
the Atlanta University Center” opened at the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center. Created by the African American Family History Association (AAFHA) and largely funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the exhibit was the third in a series examining Black family history in Georgia. Through these exhibits and other educational activities, AAFHA increased public awareness of and appreciation for the significance of black family heritage.
“ Finding A Way” is a testimony to the black family’s value of education as a means for upward mobility. The exhibit highlights the history of education at the Atlanta University Center (AUC) colleges. The early AUC is comprised of Atlanta University, Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University), Gammon Theological Seminary (now one of 6 seminaries comprising the Interdenominational Theological Center), Morehouse College, Morris Brown College, and Spelman College. Established at the close of the Civil War these schools were among the more than one hundred institutions founded in the Southern United States during this time, and served as the cornerstone for educational opportunity for the newly freed slaves.
The exhibit was originally scheduled for display at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library (RWWL) from February 6, 1983 to February 1, 1984. Its popularity to visitors and alumni resulted in the exhibit remaining on display for over 20 years; and it has become an important tool for AUC faculty in teaching the history and legacy of the Atlanta University Center. The exhibit takes its name from the Atlanta University motto “I’ll Find a Way or Make One.” This motto and the exhibit depict African American’s quest for education and reflects the spirit of people to overcome adversity and the triumph of their success.
The original exhibit was displayed in the Library’s exhibition hall. After the exhibit’s closing in 1984, it was moved from the Virginia Lacy Jones Exhibition Hall on the upper level and relocated to a smaller space on the main level of the Library. This smaller version of the exhibit remains on display and hundreds of students, alumni, and visitors come to see it each year. Visitors are captivated by the early 20th century classroom setting of desks, blackboard and lectern. Also featured are the desk, chair, and typewriter used by W.E.B. DuBois when he taught at Atlanta University, as well as the athletic sweater, track shoes, and medals of Eugene Brown, Clark University, 1935. Complementing these artifacts are photographs of academic, community, and social life at the Atlanta University Center. There are photographs of students, faculty, administrators, class portraits, student clubs, theater productions, concerts, sports events, homecoming events, dances, graduations, weddings, campus buildings and the surrounding neighborhood. Documents on display include diplomas, yearbooks, student magazines, programs and college publications. Most compelling are the letters of students and their family members during the early founding of the colleges.
The virtual exhibit provides a photographic essay of many of the documents and photographs in the exhibit, as well as an electronic version of the exhibit catalog. The virtual exhibit was designed to preserve this historical resource so that it can continue to be used for education and teaching, and to open the exhibit to a worldwide audience.
The exhibit is free and open to the public. Please check library hours when planning your visit. To schedule a group visit, please contact the library at 404-978-2000.
Thanks to the former leaders of the African American Family History Association for their permission to transform the exhibit and catalog into a virtual display: Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Carole Merritt, Joyce Mills, and Rodney Poitier. Recognition to Robert W. Woodruff Library administrators – Loretta Parham, CEO/Director and Elizabeth McClenney, Deputy Director for their support and encouragement; and to Library staff who prepared the virtual exhibit - Andrea Jackson, Karen Jefferson, and Trashinda Wright. Appreciation to the IVT for their technical expertise. Special acknowledgement to Leilani Simmons Johnson for researching, writing first drafts, and helping to conceptualize the virtual exhibit. Mrs. Johnson, a graduate of Clark Atlanta University, was a 2005-2006 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow in the Librarian Recruitment Program at the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center.