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From Olympic Gold to football pros, Griffin also honors its greats year-round
GRIFFIN-SPALDING COUNTY, GEORGIA—JANUARY 2024—This February 3, 2024, the Black Heritage Festival returns to Griffin, Georgia at the Griffin Auditorium at 234 E. Taylor Street, after a Covid hiatus. Started as a way to support choral students who lacked funds to travel to events, the organization brings together the best of Atlanta and Griffin area groups in inspirational performances of music and dance. The event will be held at the Griffin Auditorium at 4 p.m. and includes the Griffin Choral Arts group, Powerhouse Dance Talent, Griffin and Spalding High Choral programs, and other local arts groups, along with special guests the members of the Morehouse Glee Club. For ticket information, sponsorships and additional details, visit https://www.facebook.com/GriffinBHF
Located just 40 miles south of Atlanta, Griffin and surrounding Spalding County is a diverse and welcoming area that honors its notable citizens year-round, in murals, museums and parks. Together, these dynamic memorials celebrate generations of history and stories of achievement, on the ground and in the air, and from Olympic stardom to aviation. Here are some ways to experience these role models on a visit to Griffin.
The Griffin-Spalding Athletic Hall of Fame features many of Griffin’s local sports heroes including three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Wyomia Tyus. She was the first person, male or female, to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in the 100-meter dash, first at the 1964 Tokyo Games, and then in 1968 in Mexico City. Growing up in Griffin, her father, a dairy farmer, encouraged her to participate in sports.
Others honored in the Griffin-Spalding Athletic Hall of Fame include Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee/Dallas Cowboy Rayfield Wright, Atlanta Falcon great Jessie Tuggle and Chicago Bears superstar and track star Willie Gault. Open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (Griffin-Spalding Athletic Hall of Fame, 841 Memorial Drive, Griffin, Georgia, 30224)
Pay a visit to Griffin’s 164-acre Wyomia Tyus Olympic Park, named in her honor, to explore walking trails and picnic pavilions overlooking a three-acre lake and fountain. Concession stands and more picnic and play areas are located at its soccer and basketball complexes and at the world class Spalding County Pickleball Complex. (Wyomia Tyus Olympic Park, 1301 Cowan Road, Griffin, Georgia 30223)
Visit the Griffin Regional Welcome Center for a combined art and history tour. Built in 1899 as a grocery distribution warehouse, the Center not only provides ideas for entertainment, dining, shopping and accommodations, but also houses the Griffin-Spalding Art Association’s art gallery of regional works and the History of Griffin Museum, containing an impressive array of archives, artifacts and memorabilia dating from as far back as the mid-1800s. (143 N. Hill Street, Griffin, Georgia; Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; 770-228-8200, upstairs is ADA-accessible)
A plaque in the History of Griffin Museum features one of Griffin’s earliest greats, Dox Thrash, an innovative and influential artist born in 1893. After heading north and serving in World War I, he became a fine printmaker. In 1937 he became the first Black artist to work for the Fine Print Workshop of Philadelphia, part of the Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) for artists. Thrash co-invented a printmaking technique that reversed the way the medium was manipulated, using it for creating some of his greatest works. He created images of everyday Black American life, including scenes of his hometown. Today, these prints are an important part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art ’s collection.
Another hometown trailblazer, Janet Harmon Bragg (1907-1993), overcame multiple obstacles to become the first African American woman to hold a commercial pilot’s license. As a child growing up in Griffin, she enjoyed birdwatching and was fascinated by aerodynamics which later led to her determined pursuit of her dream in aviation. During World War II, she was denied entry to the WASPs because of her color. She later enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, but even afterward had to break more barriers to actually gain her commercial license. Details of her story are told in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, https://siarchives.si.edu/blog/janet-harmon-bragg-female-aviator and https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/snapshot/janet-harmon-bragg-aviator Ultimately, Bragg remained an actively licensed pilot for 35 years, logging more than 2,000 flying hours. A large, vibrant mural honoring her can be seen in downtown Griffin across from the post office at West Solomon and South 8th Street.
Opening sometime in 2024, the former Fairmont Vocational High School is currently renovated and under museum gallery development for Our Legacy Museum, the Griffin Spalding African American History Museum. The museum will present the inspiring historical and cultural experiences of Griffin-Spalding’s African-American community within a regional and national context. Its mission is to create a space where future generations of all backgrounds will learn of their shared heritage and discover what they can achieve together. The history of the Fairmont community and more can be found on the website. To donate oral histories, memorabilia or make financial contributions, visit https://www.ourlegacymuseum.com/support/
Background In 1927, the Fairmont community was created as the first neighborhood in Griffin where African-American men and women could purchase a plot of land to build a home. Two years later, the Griffin-Spalding Board of Education bought land in Fairmont, on which the Rosenwald Fund supported the creation of a school for African-American children. Rosenwald Schools were a response to the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson. The schools evolved from a collaboration of Dr. Booker T. Washington and CEO Julius Rosenwald of Sears, Roebuck and Company to improve the quality of education and resources for African Americans in the South.
If You Go The once railroad boomtown of Griffin has evolved into a diverse community offering entertainment, history, notable architecture, recreation and great food. A big bonus is the 900 free public parking spaces in the downtown area. Visit restaurants in the Arts and Entertainment District to get a to-go alcoholic beverage cup (ages 21+ and up), to stroll the streets from 4 p.m. to midnight daily.
Stay overnight to enjoy more of Griffin and Spalding County’s restaurants and unique antiques, apparel and gift shops. A wide variety of lodging options include charming historic bed and breakfasts and trusted hotel brands. The area also features many VRBO and Air B&B rentals.
The official website of the Griffin Spalding Business & Tourism Association is InGriffin.com.