Augusta’s Chinese community celebrates its history

With a Lion Dance blessing and loud firecrackers, members of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of Augusta celebrated the organization’s history in both Augusta and the state of Georgia with the unveiling of a historical marker May 19.

It’s the first marker in the state of Georgia to honor Asian history.

Chinese immigrants came to Augusta in 1873 to deepen and widen the Augusta Canal.

“Some of them stayed,” said Dr. Raymond Rufo, the first Chinese American to graduate from Emory University’s school of dentistry, who has over the years served on the association’s board of directors in many capacities including as its president. “They started businesses.”

Many of the families started grocery stores that were located within the city’s African American community.

Rufo’s own family had a grocery store on the corner of Ninth Street and Wrightsboro Road, which opened in the 1930s.

“It was a very good life,” he said.

Gary Tom, president of the CCBA, and Breana James, Georgia Historical Society marker and program coordinator, unveil the historical marker. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

 Rufo wasn’t the only first to come out of Augusta’s Chinese community. Other Chinese Americans from Augusta broke through barriers.

“We also had the first Asian American elected to any office in Georgia, which was Madison Woo. My aunt Margaret was the first Asian American woman to graduate with an M.D. from the Medical College of Georgia and also in the Southeast,” said Justice Carla Wong McMillian, the first Asian American woman to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court.

Growing up in Augusta, McMillian spent a lot of time at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.

“I came here all the time to celebrate holidays and our culture. We ate a lot and had a lot of potlucks. We shared our food on family fun night. We also participated in the Lion Dance. The CCBA also had a youth group. We called it the ‘dragon club.’ We’d come here at nights and on the weekends and play volleyball or basketball or ping pong or just hang out. It was just a great place to grow up,” she said.

Read More: Ramblin’s Roads: Marker first in Georgia

Historical exhibitions were set up inside the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of Augusta. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

But at the time, she said she didn’t realize just how special it was.

Chartered in 1927, it’s the oldest Chinese association in Georgia.

Located at 548 Walker St., the building was originally constructed as the St. Mathews German Lutheran Church, which merged with  Holy Trinity to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Resurrection. The new congregation built a church on Greene Street. The building sat vacant for 13 years until the association purchased it in February 1939.            

A reception was held in the building after the ceremony. Inside were displays related to the families who have been part of its membership.     

Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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