Jack Hadley Captivates with Black History Tours

On a mid-February afternoon in Thomasville, Ga., Jack Hadley woos Girl Scout Troop # 450 with, surprisingly, a history lecture.

At first, the group of girls appeared exhausted, because according to Hadley and their troop leader, Teresa Harris, they had been touring the 5000-square-foot Jack Hadley Black History Museum for about 40 minutes.

By the time The Famuan joined the tour, Hadley had only taken the all-black troop through the first three galleries, marking the end of the first-leg of the tour.

The group grew restless as Hadley guided them through Gallery 4, featuring the black achievers of Thomasville and Thomas County.

Hadley began to explain the exhibit showcasing the notable black women in the city’s history and all of a sudden, he was cut-off in mid-sentence as one of the girls shouted: “Hey! That’s Ms. Teresa!”

The group of girls frantically searched the room for Harris, who stood quietly in the distance with a gentle smile, satisfied that Hadley was finally receiving the groups’ undivided attention.

“The museum is important because a lot of black history is lost, many of the girls I brought with me today don’t even know about slavery,” said Harris, who is also a member of the Grady County Board of Education.

“No history books in any of our schools have this much history, especially our local history.”

This, in part, is why Hadley decided to open the museum in 2006, which houses artifacts dating back to slavery.

Throughout this month, Hadley said he has touched over 1,500 people through his museum. On Jan. 23, the Black History Museum received honorable mention from the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries, “for its mission or preserving the history of African-Americans and instilling knowledge in all children.”

“This museum expands on what’s already in the history books. It’s important that people take advantage of this, and other museums, especially children,” said Hadley.

Walking inside the museum, pictures of Henry Flipper, the first black graduate of West Point and a Thomasville native; President Obama, Muhammed Ali, giant newspaper clippings, and displays of all topics on the American black diaspora adorn the walls.

Hadley explained to us why the museums holdings are important, even beyond the time we observe Black History Month.

“We’re here to serve our community and more importantly, our young people,” Hadley said.

A native of Thomasville, Hadley was born on Pebble Hill Plantation, about 30 miles north of Tallahassee in southern Thomas County, where 36 percent of the residents are black, according the U.S. Census Bureau.

“I grew up in the ‘Jim Crow’ south. Growing up in this era, before the Civil Rights Movement, you knew your place in society,” said Hadley of his childhood and how his experiences continue to feed his passion for the museum.

But it was not until Hadley joined the Air Force in 1956, after graduating from the now-defunct Frederick Douglass High School, now home to the museum, that he realized just how segregated society was during those times.

“Opening the museum allowed me to express how things used to be, where we are today and why we cannot regress,” Hadley said.

Ironically, when he opened the museum in 2006, Hadley said many were surprised that museum was so well-received by Thomasville residents.

“They’re very supportive,” Hadley said of his townspeople, both white and black.

“There’s nothing wrong with Thomasville.”

While on a military tour in Spain, Hadley began collecting newspaper articles from the European Stars and Stripes, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

In 1979, Hadley was based at the Lindsey Air Station in Wiesbaden, Germany. It was there that his son Jim came home one day, troubled that the school he attended had failed to acknowledge what was then, Black History Week.

And according to the decorated 28-year veteran, this incident is what really fueled his curating career.

It led Hadley and Christine, his wife of 53 years, to start saving Ebony and Jet magazine articles, along with books about Black American achievers for their three children.

Hadley has since taken his collection hobby full-scale which today, after 32 years of research and appraisal, has grown to over 3,000 artifacts, which have been featured at the Moody Air force Base, and Southwestern State Hospital, to name a few.

Of them all, Hadley said he would not classify any of the artifacts as being among his most treasured. Although, he did share a rare set of slave chains he came across during a trip in South Carolina that he almost passed up.

“It took me a whole week to decide if I wanted to buy this set of slave chains. I ended up putting it on my credit card and I’m glad I did,” said Hadley, who added that his interest in slavery was evoked by James Eaton, the late founder and curator of Florida A&M University’s Southeastern Black Archives.

According to Hadley, Eaton would carry the chains wherever he presented his exhibits.

“Until this day, I have yet to come across another set…the only other pair I know of is housed down at FAMU.”

Like Eaton, Hadley will take the slave chains with him as he tours South Georgia and North Florida with a number of other artifacts this year.

In the early 1990s approached the Meek-Eaton Black Archives with his interests which led to him co-writing a book titled, “African American Lives in the Southern Hunting Plantation,” with FAMU professor Titus Brown, who specializes in Georgia history.

“The Jack Hadley Museum is easily the most significant display of the African American experience in Southwest Georgia,” said Brown, who specializes in the state’s history.

He went further, positing that Hadley’s first-hand experience of southern culture makes the work he’s done impossible to achieve by an outsider.

Brown said Hadley certainly is a stalwart of his field.

“He won’t give up, he has a passion,” Brown said.

Also housed in the museum, is a family heirloom of sorts; a bullhorn played by Hadley’s grandfather, born in 1823 as a slave.

“We try to share as much as we can about slavery and how the slaves were treated.” said Hadley.

Today at 2 p.m., Hadley will showcase those precious artifacts at Thomas University as a part the “TU Talks” program as the first to keynote the program.

Hadley will turn 75 years old this year and despite his love for curating, he said it can be challenging.

“You have to have a passion for doing this, it takes work,” Hadley said.

“Once your name gets out there, you have to work; and most times you won’t make a dime for it.”

This hasn’t stopped Hadley, who likes to think he could run the museum forever, but realizes that someone with experience in curating must eventually replace him.

“This [curating] isn’t a play-thing, you’ve got to be serious. I wouldn’t expect someone to just go into this field like I did,” Hadley said.

The daily operation of the museum can be tiring for Hadley at times, which is why his wife works with him side-by-side, as a receptionist in the museum.

“My husband loves what he does, he gets a thrill out knowing he can help people and educate children,” said Mrs. Hadley, who added that she wasn’t much of a talker.

Hadley concurred, and said words could not describe his wife’s support for him and his venture.

The couple has three children and five grandchildren, one a freshman at FAMU.

Hadley said he doesn’t have any special projects planned for the museum in the near-future, but hopes to come across more artifacts.

“I wouldn’t mind having a Klu Klux Klan Uniform,” said Hadley.

At the end of the tour, Girl Scout troop #450 made a complete three-sixty, going from tired and indifferent, to eager and inquisitive.

Hadley ended, showcasing the minstrel artwork used to depict blacks during the Jim Crow era, using an old image of a young black boy with exposed buttocks.

“Jim Crow taught us how to be clowns, and when you see black men walking with their pants hanging, we’re doing ourselves an injustice,” said Hadley.

The girl scouts were too shy to speak to the media individually, but when asked if they enjoyed the tour, they responded with a resounding “Yes!”

It’s this type of affirmation that drives Hadley to open the doors to museum daily, to display those rusty slave chains that link area residents, young and old to their rich past.