Group planning African American history center
Published 8:22 am Tuesday, April 11, 2023
A local historical preservation group is hoping to create an African American educational history center in LaGrange on Fannin St.
The Enlightenment Center for African American History (ECAAH) was organized to promote preservation, information, education and hope for Black history, through curating collections highlighting the cultural importance of African Americans to U.S. and world history.
The group working to create the center was founded by local historian Gwen Redwine in 2020 and is currently organizing out of the former Cannon Street School. Redwine currently serves on the Historic Preservation Commission and is the daughter of former LaGrange Councilman J.R. Ware, longtime pastor of Welcome Baptist Church.
The planned educational center is still in its infancy. The ECAAH Board first met in January 2021 and is fundraising to pay for renovations and insurance at a donated residential property to serve as the educational center’s home.
Board Chair Alton West said they have secured a lease for a house at 224 Fannin St., and they are currently working on ensuring the property. He said they hope to open by late 2023.
The house is the former home of Dr. Isiah T. Epps, one of LaGrange’s first African American physicians. The house was built in 1910 and was the first two-story home in the community.
“The Isiah Epps home was also the doctor’s office because we couldn’t have offices anywhere. It was really the first [African American] professional area in LaGrange,” Redwine said.
Redwine said the house later became a boarding house for African American teachers when other places in town would not accept them.
The home currently needs quite a bit of renovation before it can be used for the learning center. West said they hope to open by late 2023.
“We’re starting very small, but we want to inform and educate people about what Black contributions have been made and forgotten or not even known about,” said ECAAH Board Facilitator Bettye Ludd.
“Hopefully this will allow a lot of Blacks, especially our young people, to be proud of their ancestry,” Ludd said.
Redwine said they are looking to possibly make the area around the center into a historic district and place historic markers.
“We really want to turn Fannin St. into a historic district if at all possible because that’s where First Baptist Church is located. That’s the first Black Baptist Church in LaGrange,” Redwine said.
The group is currently planning an estate sale in September to serve as a fundraiser for the learning center.
Ludd said they are currently collecting photographs and historical items for the center.
To donate historical photographs or items, contact ECAAH at email@example.com.