Artifacts, photographs and newspaper clippings line the walls of the Historic Harrington School on St. Simons Island, detailing the extensive history of the Harrington community.
Built in the 1920s as the main educational building for the African American communities on St. Simons Island, the one-room schoolhouse now serves as an archive for visitors to come and explore.
Emory Rooks, a former student at the old Harrington Grade School in the 1950s, said he loves sharing his personal experience with people visiting the schoolhouse and telling them about the local history.
“I’m here (at the school) everyday, meeting people, telling them about our past and telling my experience to younger people. It’s amazing how they are so interested in it,” Rooks said.
The St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition worked to renovate the schoolhouse beginning in 2010 as one of their initiatives to “preserve, educate and revitalize the St. Simons Island African American communities.”
As a founding member of the heritage coalition, Rooks said the organization’s efforts help to bring back the Harrington community’s history that has been somewhat lost for many years.
“It’s about preserving history. I tell a lot of young people, ‘How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from?’ Also, if we don’t get people to come in, how are they going to know the history?” said Chip Wilson, a member of the heritage coalition and tour guide at the Historic Harrington School.
The heritage coalition was formed on October 11, 2000, as a way for the residents of Harrington to come together and work towards the community’s betterment.
“When the coalition first started, we were actually trying to help African Americans on St. Simons keep their land and preserve their land because they were being taxed out. But it was a little too late,” Wilson said. “That was the goal of it, but then we decided that we wanted to try to keep a hold of the school house.”
To educate people on the Harrington community’s history, the coalition offers a tour of the Historic Harrington School. Local guides from the community share both the history and their personal connections to Harrington while showing visitors the artifacts and photographs within the schoolhouse.
Sheree Atkinson, a tour guide in training at the Historic Harrington School, said she would gladly tell anybody about the history of the Harrington community if it helps maintain and preserve it.
“I have a great love for this school because my mom was a student here — and her five sisters and five brothers and my brother. So I have a deep love,” Atkinson said.
When people visit the schoolhouse, they will leave with a better understanding of the deeply rooted Harrington community that has remained on St. Simons Island for hundreds of years.
Besides the schoolhouse tour, the heritage coalition offers a private tour of all the African American heritage sites on the island. The St. Simons Island Gullah/Geechee Tour walks visitors through the unique culture and history of the Southend, Jewtown and Harrington communities.
The coalition also hosts annual fundraising events to raise money for the Historic Harrington Schools’ continued operation.
“We are not funded by any other organization or the government. It’s all what we receive here through donations and contributions,” Rooks said.
The St. Simons African Heritage Coalition hosted their annual Taste of Gullah on June 17. The event was held under the live oaks at the Historic Harrington School and featured authentic and modern Gullah cuisine.
“(The event) was fantastic. We had our biggest crowd ever. We had singers. We had people telling stories and all kinds of food,” Atkinson said.
Besides offering tours and events, the heritage coalition continues to explore the history of the Gullah/Geechee communities on St. Simons Island.
“We are constantly researching and updating our records to make us more informed to the general public,” Rooks said.