The Pillars of the Golden Blocks was dedicated May 30. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News
The Pillars of the Golden Blocks was dedicated May 30. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Sculpture honors Augusta’s African American medical trailblazers

 He knew her first as his mother, but Kelvin Jackson also knew and respected Irene Jackson as a registered nurse.

 “I thought she was one of the smartest people in the world,” said Jackson at Thursday’s ribbon cutting ceremony for a new sculpture which contains Irene Jackson’s likeness.

The “Pillars of the Golden Blocks” at the Twiggs Circle Roundabout highlights the contributions of African Americans to the medicine in Augusta during a time of segregation.

Another angle of the Pillars of the Golden Blocks. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Jackson represented the Lamar School of Nursing, where she received her nursing degree in 1958. Also on the four-sided sculpture is Dr. Scipio S. Johnson (1879-1940), whose visage faces his residence on the corner of Twiggs Street, where as a pharmacist, he dispensed medicine.

The son of Augusta’s first African American dentist, Dr. James E. Carter Jr. (1906-1993) practiced for 51 years and was the first Black Georgian to become a fellow in honorary dental societies. He was a founding member of the Georgia Dental Society in 1937 and served as its president in 1941. He also served as the president of the National Dental Association.   

“He loved Augusta like you wouldn’t believe, and anybody who was a patient of his was a captive audience because while you were there, he gave you a history of this city. And those of you who know me, if you sit with me five minutes you get another history. Nevertheless, he loved this city like you would not believe,” said his son, Dr. James E. Carter III.

Also on the sculpture is Dr. George Nelson Stoney, a graduate of Howard University School of Medicine, who opened an office in Augusta in 1889 and along with Lucy Craft Laney started a nurse training program that later became Lamar School of Nursing.

Inspired by Dr. Leslie Pollard Sr.’s book “Segregated Doctoring: Black Physicians in Augusta, Georgia, 1902-1952,” Ashley Gray created the sculpture out of hundreds of pounds of clay over the course of 19 months.

She called these medical forerunners “truly inspiring. They really were pillars in their community.”

Dr. James E. Carter III speaks at Thursday’s ribbon cutting. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

She created their likenesses using multiple photographs, taking extra time on their faces. The most difficult one to sculpt was Johnson as she only had one picture.

The figures’ clasped hands represented the support and sharing in the medical community while their open hands showed their generosity to the community.  The piece was topped with a magnolia bloom and a building. The magnolia symbolized domesticity and family life, and a building was in honor of the Golden Blocks.

The Golden Blocks signified an African American business district within Augusta, but it was more than that, it was a community with churches, schools and other institutions as well as a thriving medical community, said Corey Rogers, executive director of the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History.

“Pillars of the Golden Blocks will stand as a constant reminder that even with the dark clouds of segregation looming large in our country, these individuals – nurses, doctors, dentists – never wavered in their pursuit of professional excellence and their willingness to give back to their community,” he said.

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

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