As the Bulloch County Historical Society heads into two days commemorating the life and legacy of pioneering African American educator William James, his home church will be participating, and the public is invited to a Sunday afternoon marker unveiling.
Seats and meals also remain available, by telephoned reservation, for Monday’s research presentation by James’ descendants and music by students of namesake schools during the Historical Society’s regular monthly meeting, Monday at 11:30 a.m.
But the weekend’s observance will begin Sunday during the 11 a.m. regular worship service at Historical First African Baptist Church on the corner of Bobby Donaldson Avenue and Church Street. Professor William James, 1872-1935, and his wife Julia James were members there, and their home stood nearby on Church Street.
Historical Society members plan to attend the church service to read proclamations from the city of Statesboro and the Bulloch County government honoring James. Afterward, church members will participate in the Historical Society’s 3 p.m. public dedication of the “Statesboro High and Industrial School” marker, beside the Zadie Lundy Douglas Little League Field facing Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Luetta Moore Park.
“I’m happy and humbled at the thought of being able to participate in a celebration that brings us all together to celebrate our school,” said Earl Donaldson, chairman of the deacons of Historical First African Baptist Church. “Our parents and our teachers poured their hearts into us to make sure that we had the best opportunities that they could afford, and we salute them for that.”
Donaldson attended elementary school on the former campus near the marker, where William James had been founding principal through the early 20th century and which was posthumously named for him in 1948.
“Here we are, X number of years later, and we’re saying something,” Donaldson continued. “We’re saying that all things are possible if you only believe. We believe.”
The school buildings that stood where the Little League field is now have long since been taken down, but the final William James High School building, where Donaldson graduated 1960, still stands as the William James Educational Complex on Williams Road, home of the Bulloch County Board of Education central offices and Transitions Learning Center.
Of course, William James Middle School, now on U.S. Highway 80 West, also carries his name.
The marker to be unveiled Sunday afternoon, like others placed by the Bulloch County Historical Society, is funded by the Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Foundation. After the 3 p.m. ceremony, a reception catered by Touch of Class Catering will be held inside the community building at Luetta Moore Park.
“I’ve had a wonderful response to all of the events, from church to the dedication to the meeting on Monday with all the music,” said Virginia Anne Franklin Waters, the Bulloch County Historical Society’s executive director. “I think this is just going to be a fabulous weekend to honor Professor William James, who was a hundred years ahead of his time for our community.”
His life, his school
Born in Jefferson County, James attained a bachelor’s degree from Atlanta Baptist College, now Morehouse College, and married Julia Warthen in 1896. They moved to Statesboro in 1902, and James led the drive to buy land and build the school originally known as City Colored School in 1908, states the wording of the marker. The school was renamed Statesboro High and Industrial School in 1910, after James secured an industrial laboratory for it.
After the school was destroyed by fire in 1924, he led in the successful effort to rebuild it, and then a drive to have it become, in 1930, one of the few accredited high schools for African Americans then in Georgia.
James remained principal of the school for 28 years, until 1935, the year of his death. Over the years, the Jameses brought notable African American leaders in culture, such as violinist Joseph Douglass and concert pianist Hazel Harrison, to Statesboro, and in 1933 hosted renowned scientist George Washington Carver at their home.
Earlier this year, some of James’ descendants from as far away as Boston and Chicago visited Statesboro and informed representatives of the Historical Society and the Bulloch County Schools of the family’s ongoing research. The activities Sunday and Monday represent the culmination of efforts to recognize the James legacy in new ways.
When the Bulloch County Historical Society meets at 11:30 a.m. in the social hall of Pittman Park United Methodist Church on Fair Road, the William James Family Legacy Group will present findings from the research. The meeting will also feature musical performances by the symphonic band from William James Middle School, as well as, from Statesboro High School, the Statesboro Steel ensemble and student vocalists.
For lunch reservations, required for this meeting, phone Waters at (912) 682-9003.