Jack Hadley’s Black History Museum is an amazing museum in Thomasville, Georgia. It opened in 2006 with a collection of thousands of items documenting the history, struggles, and astounding achievements of African-Americans both locally and nationally.
It tells the story of people. It is the story of black achievers and, what a story it shares! It is the story of people’s accomplishments, struggles, hardships, and victories in Thomasville and the surrounding area but the collection also reflects a broader view of American history. Each story has a face. Jack Hadley’s Black History Museum opens the eyes and hearts of its visitors to what African-Americans have achieved in society, and how they have built and shaped America since slavery.
The exhibits range from the days of slavery to modern day, sports to music, education to the black military experience. Among the exhibits, is the inspiring story of the Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, Buffalo Soldier. Lt. Flipper, was born a slave in Thomasville in 1856. He was taught to read in 1864 by another slave who taught school at night and then attended a succession of schools established by the American Missionary Association. At age 21, Flipper became the first black graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was assigned to the 10th US Calvary, one of the four all-black “Buffalo Soldier” regiments in the Army, and became the first black officer to command regular troops in the U.S. Army. (Previously, all-black regiments had been commanded by white officers.) His military career, however, was thwarted by racism.
In June 1882, Flipper was accused of embezzling government funds and of conduct unbecoming an officer. A general court martial followed and Lt. Flipper was acquitted of the theft charge, but found guilty of misconduct. The letters exchanged between a white woman, Mollie Dwyer and Flipper were used against Flipper. Relationships between whites and blacks were strictly forbidden in the viewpoint of the white officers on the board. He was dismissed from the Army. His amazing story does not end there. Despite the stigma, Lt. Flipper continued his life and legacy. After being dismissed from the army, he went on to become an author, a newspaper editor, a surveyor, a cartographer, an assistant to the Secretary of the Interior, and an early pioneer in our nation’s oil industry. Flipper tried for many years to clear his name. He gave up only when ill health forced him to retire.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton posthumously pardoned 2nd Lieutenant Henry Ossian Flipper. It came 59 years after his death and 117 years after the young lieutenant has been found guilty of the charges of “conduct on becoming an officer and a gentleman.”
The story of Lt. Henry O. Flipper, a Thomasville native son, highlights a life of perseverance and achievement in spite of crushing obstacles. It is an outstanding example of leadership, self-discipline, and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties.
James “Jack” Hadley, the museum president/curator, is another native son made good. The museum is his love child and it was his vision and passion that brought the museum to life.
Hadley was born at Pebble Hill, a former Thomasville cotton plantation. At the time of Hadley’s birth in 1936, it was used as a shooting estate where wealthy northerners hunted quail as an escape from frigid, northern winters.
Hadley grew up during the Jim Crow era. At age 20, he graduated from Frederick Douglass High School, a black school that was segregated from 1902-1970. Two weeks later he joined the Air Force. This was only eight years after President Harry Truman integrated the military services via an executive order. He married his high school sweetheart and classmate, Christine Jackson, and they raised three children. He told me they moved 14 times during his 28-year career. It was in Wiesbaden, Germany in the late 1970s that he started to develop a deeper interest in black history and black achievers. It was when he helped his son, Jim, put together a black history project for a school assignment. Hadley later was granted permission to present it at his squadron.
During his military service, Hadley rose to the rank of Chief Master Sergeant (E9). After retiring in 1984, the Hadley’s returned to Thomasville and went to work for the U.S. Postal Service. He displayed his collection locally which at the time numbered only a few 100 items. It caught the eye of the director of the Thomasville Cultural Center for the Arts and Heritage Foundation, who invited him to participate in the city’s Black History Month events.
Hadley started to collect local items of black history and eventually had so much that he began to think of how best to share it with others. In 2006 the museum opened in the old Douglas High School he had graduated from in 1956.
Hadley co-authored the 2000 book “African-American Life on the Southern Hunting Plantation” with Dr. Titus Brown, associate professor of African-American history at Florida A & M University.
While at the museum I had the great honor to meet and interview this amazing man. At 81, he still works every day at the museum, leading tours, seeking funding to keep the doors open, and curating inspiring exhibits. Hadley told me “I do it for the kids so they don’t forget their heritage. When students come through the door, the first word that comes to their lips is ‘Wow!’ They’ve never seen so many black faces on the wall of a museum.”
Currently, there are over 4700 pieces on display or in storage and the museum continues to expand. Jack Hadley’s Black History Museum is a true gem. Make the trip! You will not be sorry.
The museum is located at 214 Alexander St., Thomasville, Georgia.
Fun Fact: The Jack Hadley’s Black History Museum is one of more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission to military personnel and their families this summer from Memorial Day through Labor Day.