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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for the newsletter here.
Support local journalism: Local stories on local people, organizations and events. That’s the focus of Augusta Good News. And you don’t have to go through a paywall to find these stories. An independent voice in Augusta, Ga., Augusta Good News is not funded by a billionaire or a large corporation; it doesn’t have celebrity reporters who have agents. It’s local women and men who are invested in the community and want to tell its stories. You can support local journalism and help us expand our coverage by becoming a supporter. Through Ko-Fi, you can give once or set up a monthly gift. Click here to learn more. Thank you!