Promenade Through History returns to McDonough
By Jason A. Smith
The Henry County community will soon get another glimpse into the lives of notable people from the area’s past.
Promenade Through History: A Visit with the Past will explore the lives of residents who helped shape Henry County. Clockwise from top left: Annie Julia Elliott, Nettie Bess Fouche, Dr. Richard Hightower, Charles H. (Buster) Jeffares, Charles Marion Shields, Bobby McBrayer and James W. Lemon. Special photo
The Genealogical Society of Henry and Clayton Counties, Inc., will host its “Promenade Through History: A Visit with the Past,” May 6 at Cannon-Cleveland Funeral Directors, 2580 Ga. Highway 42 North in McDonough. The event will be in the Contemporary Chapel at 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under.
The Promenade will feature performers in period costumes, portraying figures from Henry County’s past, said Genealogical Society Secretary Dorothy Tuck.
“It’s really a takeoff of the McDonough City Cemetery Tour,” said Tuck. “Instead of walking through the cemetery, we will have people on stage doing these characters.”
Cynthia Howard, vice-president of the Genealogical Society, is the chairperson of the Promenade Committee. She said the group focused on telling the stories of people from each city in Henry County.
“We’re representing the whole county, is what we’re trying to do,” said Howard. “Of course, we try to get people who are well-known in the county and may have a cause in life or an interesting life to represent.”
One of this year’s performers, Bill Hightower of McDonough, was at the event last year and offered to play his great-great-grandfather, Dr. Richard H. Hightower, who was the area’s first local doctor.
Dr. Hightower established the first drug store in Stockbridge, and the area’s first hospital -- which was also his home. Bill Hightower said he will use his great-great-grandfather’s 1879 medical ledger as part of the Promenade program.
“I have always enjoyed history, but it is even more interesting when it’s one of your ancestors,” he said. “While I did learn a great deal about my great-great grandfather, there is still so much I don’t know.”
Shana Latimer of Conyers will assume the role of Annie Julia Elliott, a local writer and teacher. Elliott, Latimer explained, also developed a unique claim to fame when she named the Atlanta Falcons in 1965.
Latimer will use a script created by her husband’s uncle, Dr. Jim Latimer. When the doctor approached her about performing the role, she gladly agreed.
“Julia’s story is important to know because of her impact on the community,” said Shana Latimer. “It’s her story, and many stories like hers, that have contributed to the success of Henry County. It’s a privilege to portray a woman of personal strength, professional achievement, and moral integrity.”
Bruce Green of East Point will perform as Charles Marion Shields, a farmer and teacher from the 1800s. Green said one significant element of Shields’ history is his connection to former First Lady Michelle Obama.
“He is her biological triple-great-grandfather,” said Green. “He was married three times to white women, but it is believed that he fathered four children, and perhaps more, by a black woman. She was a slave, and she was owned by the Shields family.”
Green said Shields’ story is evidence that “history is never as simple as we think it is.”
“History is layered and complex,” said Green. “I would like very much for people to hear from a person who lived in a very complex time in our country’s history.”
Green is also donating four framed prints of Sevres porcelains from France for a raffle at the Promenade.
Henry County Sheriff Keith McBrayer will depict his father, longtime Hampton City Council-man Robert W. “Bobby” McBrayer. The sheriff is writing the script for his performance, and said Hampton was dear to his father’s heart.
“He was on the Hampton City Council for about 38 years,” said Sheriff McBrayer. “He put a lot into it, and he was a man of great character. For people who didn’t know him, I just wanted to share that part of his life.”
Warren Holder of Locust Grove will portray Charles Howard “Buster” Jeffares, founder of little-league baseball in Henry County. Holder, a former county commissioner, said Jeffares used baseball to mold boys into responsible adults.
“When Buster came along, he gave opportunities to boys who probably didn’t have transportation or means to get to the ballfield,” said Holder. “He would go out and pick them up with his personal vehicle, I being one. I played for him. Buster was a coach that liked to win, but also taught me a lot more than what goes on between the baselines.”
Jill Shedd of Stockbridge will portray Nettie Bess Fouche, the first female Superior Court clerk of Henry County and the first one nationwide. Shedd hopes to learn more about her character through those who knew her.
“It can be a bit unnerving to think that people who enjoy this sort of performance may actually have known of and had dealings with the actual person,” said Shedd. “Something exciting, however, is that sometimes folks come up to me afterward and relate all the stories they knew of my character. That brings out such a fascinating bit of characterization that adds depth and relevance to something I may just consider a ‘role’ to present on stage.”
Phillip Hambrick of Marietta is slated to take the stage as James W. Lemon, founder of the Henry County NAACP. Hambrick said he is excited to tell Lemon’s story.
“I have an opportunity to help continue a legacy for someone that made sacrifices to make changes to our society in a positive and inspirational way,” said Hambrick. “People as Mr. Lemon did it without bearing race in mind. They loved life and people.”
Tickets are available at: the Genealogical Society, 71 Macon St., in McDonough; Cannon-Cleveland Funeral Directors; all Moye’s Pharmacy locations; the Secret Garden on the Square in McDonough; Warren Holder Equipment in Locust Grove; or online at www.henryclaytongenealogy.com. A maximum of 200 tickets will be sold for each performance.
For more information, call 770-954-1456 or visit www.henry claytongenealogy.com.