From emancipation to desegregation to the Civil Rights Movement – giving rise to leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. – it’s impossible to talk American Black history without understanding its significance in the Peach State.
While many widely known figures, events and landmarks originated in Atlanta, Gwinnett has its share of rich history too: enslaved people built historic churches here; Black entrepreneurs built thriving business hubs for their communities; Gwinnett’s first African American school was built at the turn of the century; societies were born to better the lives of those living here; and talented Black men and women rose to the top of their fields.
But history doesn’t stop in the pages of books. It’s still being written.
Today, influential people like the Bishop William Sheals of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Norcross preach at a historic church built by slaves post-Civil War. Beauty Baldwin, who became the first Black female superintendent in the state in 1984, remains active to this day in organizations all over the community. Nicole Love Hendrickson was elected chairwoman of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners in 2020, making her the first-ever African American to hold the position. In 2021, Dr. Calvin J. Watts took the helm as the first Black superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools. The list goes on and on – and history is still being made.
In the following pages are just a few of the pivotal moments and courageous figures over the past two centuries who have played a major role in shaping Black history in Gwinnett County – helping make it the thriving, successful place it is today.
Originally named Rocky Knob School, Hooper-Renwick was founded in 1895 as the first school for African American students in Lawrenceville. Throughout the 1950s and up until it closed in 1964 after Gwinnett County Public Schools integrated, almost all Black students in the county attended school there. In 2017, the Hooper-Renwick building was scheduled to be demolished, but the community rallied to save it. It’s currently being converted it into a memorial museum and library.
Maguire-Livsey House – “The Promised Land”
In the early 1920s, entrepreneur Robert Livsey purchased the Maguire-Livsey House, a former plantation in South Gwinnett dubbed “The Promised Land”—something rather unusual for a man of color to do at that time. In the following decades, the property became a thriving farm and Black business hub which brought a sense of empowerment and community to the local Black population. Today, Robert’s son Thomas carries on his family’s legacy, and Gwinnett is currently restoring the historic house to reopen it as a museum.
United Ebony Society
The late Eron Moore, Jr. and Robbie Susan Moore were passionate community leaders, lifelong advocates and a loving couple married for over 50 years who founded the United Ebony Society in 1984. For decades, the dynamic organization has driven positive social change in all areas of the community, achieved countless milestones and hosted major celebrations. Today, the Moores’ legacies live on as the United Ebony Society continues to thrive. Plus, Moore Middle School in Lawrenceville was named after Robbie Susan Moore in 2011.
The legendary boxer and World Heavyweight Champion who dominated the sport throughout the 1940s and 50s may have been nicknamed the “Cincinnati Cobra,” but he was born right here in Lawrenceville. Known for his slick defense and extraordinary precision, Charles is often considered the greatest light heavyweight boxer of all time.
Loving Aid Society
The Loving Aid Society was founded by Bob Craig and Laura Freeman Gholston in Gwinnett during the 19th century to honor the deceased and help their loved ones. The organization provided dignified burials for former slaves and people of color in the days before burial insurance was widely available.
Salem Missionary Baptist Church
Salem Missionary Baptist Church was founded in Lilburn around 1834 when slave owner Thomas Carroll allowed his slaves to build their own church. The church served as a pillar in the community during and after slavery, bringing people together, providing support and operating a school from the late 1800s until 1951. Salem Missionary Baptist Church is the oldest African American church in Gwinnett and is still a major community hub today.