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Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Racial barrier breakers, community leaders to be honored

The James Wimberly Institute of Black Studies and History is holding its first awards dinner since 2006
Courtesy JWI
Muriel Jackson, head of the genealogical and historical room of Middle Georgia Regional Library, is being honored Saturday by the James Wimberly Institute of Black Studies and History.

Local trailblazers and community leaders will be honored this weekend in the revival of the Racial Barrier Breakers Award Ceremony

The Macon-based James Wimberly Institute of Black Studies and History will recognize a dozen Black pioneers in their fields and salute two other leaders for their contributions to the Middle Georgia community.

Although the institute formed in 1998 to honor the late educator James Wimberly’s “tireless quest to expand the knowledge of Black history and culture in the schools and community,” this is the first ceremony after an 8-year hiatus, said its director Henry Ficklin. 

Honorees, supporters and sponsors will gather for a banquet and gala at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Anderson Conference Center at 5171 Eisenhower Pkwy. 

Sen. Raphael Warnock exits the Earth Lodge, a relic of Mississippian culture from over 1,000 years ago, during his tour of the Ocmulgee National Historic Park on Nov. 20, 2023. (Eliza Moore)

Georgia’s first Black senator, Rev. Raphael Warnock, will not only be recognized but will deliver the keynote message.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller, a former student of Ficklin’s and longtime supporter of the institute and its mission, applauded its revival as an “invaluable resource for future generations, providing them with a source of identity and pride.”

“Understanding one’s racial history is crucial for setting our youth on a path to success. The stories of these history-makers inspire and empower, offering powerful examples of perseverance, resilience and achievement,” Miller wrote in a letter published in the ceremony’s program. “The revival of this ceremony ensures that their contributions are not forgotten and that their impact continues to resonate within our community.”

In Ficklin’s program note, he wonders whether the community has waited too long to try to connect you with their heritage.

“The mind of the average Black child is consumed with music and lyrics of the worst sort. Crime, drugs and gangs have taken over our neighborhoods and the level of respect for elders, self and knowledge continues on a downward spiral. We suffer from the moral poverty,” Ficklin wrote. 

Instilling self-worth and esteem within the hearts and minds of this generation is the only possibility of turning things around, he said. 

The James Wimberly Institute strives to keep that history and heritage alive.

“It is our hope that in years to come we will see a change in the attitudes of young people because of our efforts to enhance the knowledge of the past and make known the struggles and sacrifices of those who came before us,” Ficklin said. 

Muriel McDowell Jackson, the head of the genealogical and historical room at Washington Memorial Library, will receive the Vanguard Award. Jackson is renowned for her expansive knowledge of local history and appears in numerous acknowledgements in books. 

Recently, she was recognized for her contributions to the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Master Slave Husband Wife,” Ilyon Woo’s biography of Ellen and William Craft. 

The founding director of the Tubman African American Museum, Carey Pickard, will receive the Visionary Award for his 30 years of service to nonprofit organizations. 

The 2024 Racial Barrier Breakers are:

  • Asha Ellen — first Black executive director of the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Board
  • Delvecchio Finley — first Black president of Atrium Health Navicent
  • Myrtle Habersham — first Black senior leader in the Federal Executive Corps
  • Anita Howard — first Black district attorney in the Macon Judicial Circuit
  • May Whipple Lue — first Black mayor of Gordon
  • Gary McCoy — first Black plant superintendent at the Macon Water Authority
  • LaRhonda Patrick — first Black and first woman elected mayor of Warner Robins
  • Marvin Riggins — first Black Macon-Bibb County fire chief
  • Ron Shipman — first Black CEO of the Macon Water Authority
  • Dr. Patrice Walker — first Black chief of medicine for Atrium Health Navicent
  • Sen. Raphael Warnock — Georgia’s first Black senator
  • Erica Woodford — first Black clerk of Bibb County Superior Court

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.

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