Education History

Johnson student creates museum dedicated to school’s history

(Featured photo of Ben Ellington next to a portrait of A.R. Johnson by Amy Ellington)

Before Ben Ellington graduated from A.R. Johnson Health Science Engineering Magnet School in May, he wanted to give the school and those who came after him a lasting gift.

“I saw dwindling spirit at ARJ,” said Ellington, who got a head start on his collegiate career at Augusta University by taking four courses over the summer. “Part of my A.R. Johnson spirit plan was to introduce both a museum and a homecoming. My hope was to boost A.R. Johnson school spirit.”

The student council helped with the homecoming event, and Ellington received help from school faculty and administration as well as community support for the museum which is located in the school’s media center.

It contains memorabilia related both to Augustus R. Johnson, for whom the school is named as well as the school itself.

“There are artifacts – yearbooks, pictures, portraits of A.R. Johnson and the school,” he said.

Corey Rogers, the executive director of the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, was instrumental in helping Ellington with his project.

“It’s really nice,” said Rogers of the museum. “I shared photographs and biographical information. He started putting everything together.”

Born in 1853, Johnson became the first licensed African American teacher paid by the state of Georgia through the state school fund in 1869, according to a recently installed historical marker in front of the school.

Rogers said the student body helped raise money for the marker, and it will be dedicated in the fall. It’s a replacement marker for one originally dedicated in 2004 along with four others to prominent African Americans.

Johnson was the principal of the first grammar school in Augusta for African American children and was principal of the Mauge Street School, which was the largest grammar school in Georgia’s public school system at one time, the marker said.

Johnson served in the school system for 40 years. He would have known another legendary Black educator – Lucy Craft Laney, according to Rogers.

The current magnet school sits on the site of the former Mauge Street School, according to a history of the school at the Richmond County Board of Education website. In 1937, it became A.R. Johnson Junior High School. It served as a senior high school from 1945 to 1949 when it merged with Lucy Craft Laney’s Haines Normal Institute to become Lucy C. Laney High School.

Rogers said Johnson’s mascot was the panthers and Haines’ mascot was the tigers. They took the two and came up with the Laney Wildcats.

After the merger, the Johnson name was placed on a junior high school, and during the 1980-81 school year, a pilot program using federal government funds from a Magnet Implementation/Planning Grant was launched at the school.

Ellington said he is pleased with how the museum started to come together. He made plans for it to continue and grow after he graduated, selecting Taylor Merriweather, as the museum’s next curator. Additional plans include creating a database where former students can record their memories for future generations to see.

And as for his initial goal, Ellington believes he succeeded.

 “I saw spirit go up,” he said.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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