Local News

December 7, 2013

Patricia Anna Patton Rivers: Emery Center vital to our legacy

This letter is in response to a Letter to the Editor by Mr. Paul A. Tipton, “Good Intentions Are Not Enough.”

First, please allow me to thank you for your concern, interest, and in the final analysis; of your support of the situation in which the Emery Center finds itself.

I say, thank you, because you have come forth as an interested citizen with some hard truths that have been presented to the city before and should have been presented to the general public a long time ago. A well-known quote inscribed on one of the buildings of the City Park Elementary School campus and on a wall in the auditorium of the Emery Center is: “Ye Shall Know The Truth and The Truth Shall Make You Free.” Sometimes there are many of us who cannot face or handle the truth, and many times it comes by way of unexpected means.

For the record; the Emery Center, formerly Emery Street School, is located on the site of the first public school building constructed in the Dalton area for the education of “Colored,” “Negro,” “Black,” African-American children identified in the area. It has been reported that a structure, perhaps an abandoned military barracks may have been utilized as a “school” until the development of public education was established in Dalton in 1886.

Emery Street School served as the only public educational center for the black community of Dalton, and other surrounding areas from 1886 until 1968 when the public school system in Dalton integrated; even though the United States Supreme Court ruling for desegregation in all public schools had been declared in 1954. For 82 years, Emery Street School served as a school of excellence in providing a quality education for the children of Dalton/Whitfield and surrounding counties during the tumultuous years following the Civil War, Reconstruction after the Civil War, Jim Crow laws of the South, segregation and desegregation.

When the school burned in 1909 under “very suspicious circumstances,” three years before the disastrous fire of 1911 in downtown Dalton, black students were educated at Antioch Presbyterian Church and New Hope Baptist Church. Both of these churches were on South McCamy Street (now Hamilton Street) for 15 years until the current building on the corner of Emery and Pentz streets was constructed in 1924 and renovated by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) through the New Deal under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration provided the states with money for the needy. The Public Works Administration (PWA) created jobs for large numbers of men and thousands of schools, courthouses, bridges, dams and other useful public works projects were built through PWA projects. The New Deal included new laws that called for a minimum wage for workers in plants that was much higher than tufting workers were being paid (5 to 10 cents per hour).

At that time, African-Americans were denied employment in the industry, even as a cleaning person. Teachers and domestic help made even less or the same in some instances. The first permanent post office building in Dalton was established in 1910 on the site of the current structure that was built in 1965 and housed the city board of education’s administrative and services. It is currently occupied by the Carpet and Rug Institute and the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce and was also constructed under President’s Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Even though the school site is on the corner of the street named after the first mayor of Dalton, Ainsworth Emery Blunt, and Pentz Street named for Frederick Pentz, between the streets of historic Thornton Avenue named for Col. Mark Thornton and historic Hamilton Street, (formerly McCamy Street, named for Carlton McCamy who was the superintendent of Dalton Utilities) named for Col. John Hamilton; this area is not included in downtown development grants. It is ironic that this site is not included in downtown development grants. This historical structure serves as an educational icon, asset and needed legacy of the last evidence of a vibrant African-American community of children, families, homes, churches and businesses who were taxpayers and contributed to the growth of Dalton/Whitfield County. We continue to ponder the quote, “Leave No Trace,” may be accomplished.                    

When desegregation of the schools occurred in Dalton/Whitfield County in 1967-68, City Park Elementary and City Park Junior High School/Dalton Junior High School became occupants of the three-building campus of Emery Street School during major renovations of their downtown campus until 1997. When the Emery Street School reunion committee and other interested, civic-minded black and white citizens became aware of the return of these schools to their previous campus, we immediately began the sincere and highly committed endeavor of preservation and utilization of the now occupied building (the Emery Center). Two of the three buildings face Pentz Street (the William J. Walton gymnasium (named in honor of a Dalton African-American) and the high school. These buildings are being currently utilized by the Alan and Shirley Lorberbaum Childcare Center (Whitfield County-Dalton Day Care Center).

Following many meetings and detailed discussions with various city entities, we were instructed to become incorporated, pursue 501(c)(3) status, obtain insurance, but not to seek historical status. We became incorporated in 2001 and were given an example of a preferred lease agreement by the city to review, evaluate and make suggestions. We followed through with specific concerns to be included and a request that the city would provide assistance with major repairs when needed.

Two years later on July 7, 2003, a 20-year lease agreement was signed in the chamber of the old City Hall building with gratitude, commitment, hope, integrity and trust in being granted this great opportunity to carry on the educational legacy of excellence of Emery Street School, promote all history and enhance unity in the community. At that time, we were granted $15,000 to repair the roof leaks. We made all repairs and corrections that were identified to us by an administrative representative from Dalton Public Schools and have continued to make needed repairs.

In very recent time, we have provided the meeting site for local and state organizations, educational programs in coordination with Dalton State College, plays, civic and character building programs, educational history tours, educational book readings for children, community/unity activities, and a City Council /National Softball Town Hall meeting.

The Emery Center and its concept of diversity and preserving the heritage of the community as a vital and significant aspect in the growth of Dalton/Whitfield County has been done with mutual respect, trust and utmost integrity of our overall historic Dalton/Whitfield community. This has been our ultimate goal and we take pride in our struggle to do this. The Emery Center has operated thus far on the hard work and good intentions of the Emery Center Board, its members, volunteers and others with financial contributions, grants, fundraisers and tour fees. We are forever grateful for all who have supported us.

We have managed to pay for minor and major repairs of the heating/air units, roofing, utilities, general upkeep of the building and grounds for over 10 years, otherwise the Emery Center would not have lasted this long. But, obviously, it has been “on a wing and a prayer” that we have made it thus far.

Many other organizations would not have been able to remain a viable part of their community, if they had not been operating in the same manner as the Emery Center. After numerous repairs, we were informed by many reputable AC/heating specialists that the systems needed to be replaced, and by roofing experts that areas of the roof needed extensive repairs. We then requested assistance from the city with a written proposal and were told to get estimates for repairs and updating the Emery Center to previous standards and architectural design. The board members left this meeting with the “understanding” and “assumptions” that progress and support was ongoing. We obtained the estimates, presented them to the city and bids were advertised in the paper for three weeks.

We were notified that we needed to meet with the building inspector and the fire department at the Emery Center for determination on needed updates; and, to my knowledge, there has never been an inspection of the building by the building inspector or the fire department before this. Are periodic inspections done or required on a regular basis on all city properties or is this “responsibility” to be requested by the occupants of the facility?                                         

 Mr. Tipton, we agree that “good intentions are not enough,” but we now also realize that “meetings, proposals, trust and handshakes are also not enough,” only that in writing can be considered as the facts, and sometimes this is often obscured, forgotten or ignored. Food for thought: the old freight depot and the old post office had overall renovations done with the assistance of city funding, continue with ongoing city funding and the occupants have paid staff. “We do not operate with these great benefits,” but have been very “responsible and trustworthy” in the maintenance and upkeep of the building and the grounds that were entrusted to us.

Now that we are at this point, we have an opportunity for a renewed spirit and rebirth of commitment from our Greater Dalton-Whitfield community for management growth, as well as good community leadership representation from a cross section of the community. We will continue to develop partnerships in the community to expand the Emery brand, but we need businesses, lawyers, accountants and others, young and seasoned, to become involved in the continued development and governance of the center. The center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, but that does not mean that there cannot be capital fundraising campaigns held annually.

The legacy of the Emery Center is inextricably tied to the legacy of Dalton-Whitfield County and all its efforts to be portrayed as a vibrant, growing and inclusive community. We hope that your letter along with this letter will be discussed with sincere and great concern by those who are interested in preserving the legacy of Emery Street School, now known as the Emery Center.

Thank you again, Mr. Tipton and we welcome any assistance and support that we can get from you.


Patricia Anna Patton Rivers is a lifelong citizen of Dalton and has been involved with The Emery Center since its inception.

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