Augustine Bellamy dedicated her life to teaching black history in Waynesboro and surrounding areas, and her impact is still widely felt even though she is no longer in this world.
That impact is particularly felt among the black community. With the Florence Avenue bridge under reconstruction, a movement is growing in Waynesboro to name the bridge after her in honor of all she did for her community during her lifetime and several members of the community plan on sharing their views with council members at Monday’s meeting.
Born May 8, 1928, Augustine was the daughter of a midwife. Augustine worked in nursing, spending time at Waynesboro hospital and serving as a home nurse.
It was not until after she was 65 years old that Augustine dedicated herself to teaching black history.
“She was involved in the school, and she noticed that they were not doing anything for black history,” said Nita Bellamy, a daughter of Augustine.
From then on, Augustine took matters into her own hands. She travelled all around, gathering information and resources to teach black history to her community, and particularly to teach other black people who they were and where they came from.
“She would set these up in school and teach black children like me about our history,” said Anitria Bellamy, Augustine’s granddaughter.
Prisons were another special focus of Augustine’s, said Nita, known as Mrs. B. to many in the community.
“She went into the prisons teaching young black men that they had a purpose in life,” she said. “She made sure that black history got out in the community. And we didn’t have to be ashamed about who we were.”
Augustine, with help from her friend, Estelle Randolph, created the black history museum at the Rosenwald Community Center where it remains to this day.
Augustine took her materials and turned them into portable exhibits. Loading up her station wagon with boxes of resources, she travelled to schools, prisons, other counties, and even other states to teach black history, all on her own expense. She set up her exhibits in every institution she visited, where others could view them as they learned. Nita recalled that her mother often did not get home until 11 p.m. or midnight from her travels, but she was dedicated to doing the work that no one else was doing.
Anitria travelled with her grandmother many times.
“My grandmother was very, very inspirational,” Anitria said. “Especially to little girls like me, who didn’t always think that they were pretty; who always thought that maybe if my hair was straighter, I would be cuter. But I had a grandma to teach me that I’m beautiful just the way I am. That impact has carried me through life.”
Augustine’s message went far beyond embracing natural beauty, however.
“Not all of us even know where we come from,” Anitria said. “All we think is that we come from slavery. But she taught us that we come from more than just slavery. That we come from kings and queens. That slavery was just our circumstances, but that’s not who we are.”
Dewan Bellamy, Augustine’s great-grandson, said he would not be the man he is today if it weren’t for his great-grandmother.
“She fought for [black history] with her last breath. She was the first person that let me know that I had a history beyond slavery,” he said.
Dewan lived with Augustine some while growing up.
“It was all done with her own money, at her own expense. She paid for her gas to go to the prisons. She paid for all the information that she has, and she made sure that everybody — especially the youth — knew where they came from, what they stood for,” he said.
Family members are not the only ones who felt, and continue to feel, Augustine’s impact.
Chanda McGuffin, co-founder of RISE, met Augustine through the classroom at a time where McGuffin and her twin brother were the only black students.
“Mrs. Bellamy was the first one to tell me that the Egyptians were Africans. They were black people. I had been taught, up until the third grade, that in Egypt, they were all white people,” McGuffin said. “From then on, I taught every kid I came in contact with, ‘We built the pyramids!’”
“My mother’s life work was this black history museum, and what she could do in this community to make the black children aware of their history,” said Nita. “You weren’t just a little child going to school and going home. You were somebody. You were somebody important. You could be whatever you really wanted to be in life.”
McGuffin, along with family members, has been heavily involved in the endeavor to have the Florence Avenue bridge re-named in honor of Augustine Bellamy.
That bridge is the gateway into the black community, McGuffin explained. This is why putting Augustine’s name on it is so significant.
“The city should recognize her; the black community needs to get behind and support to recognize this lady,” McGuffin said. “She is truly a queen amongst us. She fought for all of us. It’s time for us to fight for her and pay what’s due to her.”