TALLADEGA -- Friday was, by universal affirmation, a great day for Talladega College, and a day that had been a long time coming.
An enormous crowd turned out to witness the dedication and ribbon-cutting at the new Dr. William R. Harvey Museum of Art, then moved down the street for a second ribbon-cutting at the new student center and arena.
According to College President Dr. Billy C. Hawkins, the second story of the new student center should be complete in the next 30 days (some railings had not been installed as of Friday evening), but otherwise, the day marked the completion of an unprecedented period of growth for the 152-year old historically black college.
A new 45,000-square foot dormitory was part of the same construction project and was dedicated a year ago.
Virtually everyone who spoke during the ceremonies Friday, and there were more than 30 speakers on the program at the museum alone, credited the college’s recent success to the vision and tireless effort of Hawkins, who has been college president since 2008, and the support of the school’s board of trustees.
Hampton College President Dr. William Harvey, who the museum is named for, provided much of the initial funding, and his work was appreciated by all present as well.
Speakers at the museum dedication included College Board Chairman Isaiah Hughley and his immediate predecessor, Dr. Harry Coaxum; 2020 Student Government Association President Nyresha Robertson; Wiley College President Emeritus Dr. Haywood Strickland; United Negro College Fund CEO Dr. Michael Lomax; Clark Atlanta University President Dr. George T. French; National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education President and CEO Dr. Lezli Sakerville; Dr. Leonard Springs and Dr. Joel Harrell of the U.S. Department of Education; Alabama Governor's Office of Minority Affairs Director Nichelle Nix; state Reps. Dr. Barbara Boyd, Del Marsh and Steve Hurst; former state representatives Thad McClammy and John Knight; Georgia-Pacific Foundation President Curley Dossman Jr.; Dr. Belle Wheelan and Dr. Larry L. Earvin, president and chief of staff, respectively, of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; Stephanie Heydt and Larry Shutts, curators at the High Museum in Atlanta; Frank Januzzi; Greater Talladega and Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jason Daves; Talladega Mayor Timothy Ragland; Talladega City Manager Beth Cheeks; Museum and Library Director Caitlin Cox; and Circuit Judge Chad Woodruff.
“(Talladega College founders) William Savery and Thomas Tarrant would be proud of us,” Hughley said. “What they expected, we and others have delivered.”
The museum’s primary purpose is to house the six murals commissioned by the College President Dr. Buell G. Gallagher in 1938. Artist Hale Woodruff created three murals showing the history of the Amistad Mutiny and its aftermath, one showing the Underground Railroad and two showing the foundation of the college by William Savery and Thomas Tarrant in 1864.
Januzzi is Gallagher’s grandson.
“My grandfather is buried in New York, but his spirit resides here in Talladega,” he said Friday.
Hawkins said the artist himself installed the first three paintings, the Amistad Murals, in the Savery Library. The second set of three paintings were installed later, by the college’s maintenance staff.
The murals stayed up in the library for the next seven decades. Cheeks, the Talladega City manager, said when she first moved to Talladega in 1997, her husband, an avid history buff, took her to see the Amistad Murals almost immediately.
“Even in the condition they were in at the time, I was blown away,” she said. “I am so thankful and honored to be a part of the city government that helped bring them home.”
By the time Hawkins arrived as college president, the murals had been hanging in the library for 73 years.
Meanwhile, the college had an enrollment of about 280 students and was broke, he said.
He had already started making major adjustments to the staff to meet budget constraints. The college was on the verge of losing its accreditation and shutting down for good.
“I said I want to talk about nothing behind us, only how we move forward,” he said.
Among other things, he asked the board if the murals in the library had ever been appraised and found out they had not. He called a New York art appraiser, who spent about a week on campus studying the paintings and their history.
“He told me he had good news and bad news,” Hawkins said. “The good news is, the two sets of three paintings were worth about $20 million apiece.The bad news was, if they were not restored, they would start to crack and disintegrate over the next three years.”
The college’s insurance carrier also had some issues, he added.
“You could just shake the door, and anybody could just walk into the library,” he said. “They wanted us to put 24-hour security on the door, but we couldn’t afford to do that, either.”
Hawkins said the college initially met with the Birmingham Museum about a restoration and partnership program, although it was not interested at the time. “They are now,” he added.
The High Museum in Atlanta was much more receptive and agreed to help raise $200,000 to restore the murals.
Shutts, a High Museum curator, did the restoration work. He saw the murals for the first time nine years ago, he said, and the sight instilled great appreciation in him.
“I’m glad they’re home now,” he said Friday.
The next step was a permanent museum to house the paintings and other works of art. Hawkins said he wanted the facility to be debt free when it opened.
Funding from Georgia-Pacific and foundations was forthcoming, but Hawkins knew it was time to start fundraising in earnest. It was then he went to Harvey, who graduated with the Talladega College Class of 1961 and was also well-known as a connoisseur and collector of African-American art.
He asked Harvey for a $1 million donation, and Harvey said he would have to talk it over with his wife. Hawkins had a major commitment from him in the next week. To date, the Harveys have contributed more than $1.3 million.
Hawkins also got support from Boyd, Knight and McClammy in Montgomery, although an appointment with Gov. Bob Riley did not bring any additional state support.
That changed when Kay Ivey became governor, however. Ivey’s office informed Hawkins of an additional $1 million contribution, and state Reps. Hurst and Marsh were able to get another $500,000 through the Legislature.
Construction began two years ago. Hawkins said his wife, Lucy, had picked out the floor. More recently, the city of Talladega put $300,000 into paving and road improvements in the area.
In addition to Hawkins, Harvey was the clear man of the hour and was the last to speak at the museum ceremony. He said he “applauded Dr. Hawkins’ leadership and everything he has done for my alma mater, for the students, the faculty, the staff. But mostly what I want to say is that the Lord has ordered my steps, and that I could not have done anything that I have done without the Lord. I believe strongly in divinity, but also in teamwork and partnership.”
New student center
The student center was dedicated later the same day.
The new facility includes a basketball arena with a scoreboard courtesy of Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, as well as a dining area, game room, computer room and a ballroom upstairs. The project received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Program and PNC Bank.
Calvin Stamps was the college’s financial advisor at the time the project was created, in 2013. “He told me to go find the money,” Stamps said of Hawkins.
Stamps received a great deal of help from college trustee and AIDB President Dr. John Mascia, who is familiar with educational construction projects himself.
“It was a long road, but the USDA believed in this project,” Hawkins said. “Apparently, there is development money set aside for HBCUs, but most people don’t take advantage of it. After that, we had to find a bank. It is still amazing to me today that we were turned down by bank after bank after bank, in spite of the USDA backing us. Then PNC stepped in.”
According to Cox, the facility’s director, the museum is now open for tours.
According to College Director of Public Relations Mary Sood, tours can be arranged by emailing TC.email@example.com.