The Emery Center, originally known as Emery Street School, was first built in 1886 to address the educational needs of African American children in the Dalton-Whitfield Area. Today, it serves as a cultural heritage center to promote African American culture and history both regionally and across the nation. In honor of February as Black History Month, we were able to tour The Emery Center to learn more about some notable black Daltonians from the Center’s historians.
Lisa Rivers-Williams, a Dalton High School graduate, first started acting with the Dalton High School Players with a notable performance in the musical Anything Goes! and after graduating went on to have a major role in NBC’s ‘In The Heat of The Night’ as Yolanda – a young woman in a tragic romance with a white taxi driver. In addition to her acting career, Rivers-Williams competed in several beauty pageants, winning Miss Black Dalton in 1982, Miss Dalton in 1983, Miss Clayton County in 1985 and was a two-time runner up for Miss Georgia in 1984 and 1986.
Levi Branham was a former slave who went on to be one of Murray County’s first black teachers in the years after the Civil War. In 1990 the Murray County School System’s Central Office was named the Levi “Boisey” Branham Building to honor his contributions to the education system.
Captain Mel Pender served in the military for twenty-one years, serving in the 9th Division, the CIA and in the 82nd Airborne. Some of his notable commendations included the Bronze Star, the Vietnam Service Star and the Combat Infantry Badge. It was during his military service that he started playing football for the Army’s team. A man of determination and athletic skill, Captain Pender would go on to hold world records in the 50, 60, 70, and 100-yard dash and the 100 meter dash. He went on to represent the United States at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and would win a gold medal in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in the 4×100 meter relay
We would like to thank The Emery Center for sharing some of the history Dalton-Whitfield’s African American community and preserving the area’s history and culture, not just for our community but also for everyone who comes to Dalton. If you’d like to visit The Emery Center to learn more, call (706)277-7633 to schedule a tour or visit EmeryCenter.org.
(Photos provided by courtesy of The Emery Center)