Remembering one who fought for freedom

By Megan R. Harrell

   Martin Luther King Jr. has become one of America's most vivid images of freedom. King paved the way for millions of African Americans to enjoy freedoms that they never knew before. A display of African American Veterans stands at the Elizabethton Library as a reminder that no freedom comes without a cost.
   The display is the second put on by the Cedar Grove Foundation, and consists of rare and vintage memorabilia from African American Veterans who served in wars spanning from the Civil War to Vietnam. All of the veterans on display are Carter County natives.
   "Everything that is in this display would not be possible if it were not for the people within the community. They welcomed us into their homes, strangers as we were, and trusted us with their photos," Cedar Grove Foundation Director J.C. Augustus said.
   Augustus started the Cedar Grove Foundation three years ago. A 19th century African American cemetery sparked her interest in the history of the African American people in this region. Augustus then went from door to door in the community and discovered a rich history of African Americans in Carter County that no one knew about.
   The foundation is dedicated to educating the entire community on the roles African Americans played in its heritage. There are currently six members of the Cedar Grove Foundation.
   The veteran display at the Elizabethton Library holds pictures of two brothers, James Franklin Avery and John Paul Avery. The Avery brothers both served as Marines in the Vietnam War. James Franklin Avery was a pallbearer for his brother, John Paul, who died in combat.
   Augustus stated that the idea for the display came after families in the community donated Bibles and photos, and offered their family's histories to the foundation. Augustus wanted to honor and show respect to those who contributed their family histories by sharing their stories with the rest of the community.
   The display is in honor of George Livingston-Avery, Augustus' great-uncle. Livingston-Avery returned to Carter County after he served in WWII. Most of his history was lost over the years, but thankfully some of it was passed down from generation to generation through storytelling. "He came back to Elizabethton a very sad and changed man," Augustus said. "He did not come back to a hero's welcome, and that is so sad."
   The display was put together to remember African American Veterans, but it also stands as a reminder for young African Americans looking for their lost heritage. The display shows youth that their ancestors were brave men who fought and died for their country. It serves as a page out of a history textbook that was never written. "Today you cannot walk into any library in this area and pick up a book about African Americans in Carter County," Augustus said. "This lets young people know that they have a rich history after all. We do have a lost history, but young people can come in here and actually see that so many people fought bravely for their country."
   Augustus believes that in order to thrive, young African Americans need to have pride in their heritage. She believes that the knowledge of their ancestors empowers and strengthens teens. "If teenagers can have their lost heritage back to say your great-great-grandfather was so strong that he came out of slavery. He became a farmer, he rose up against all odds and they are in a day and a time where they are so blessed," Augustus said. "They need to pick up the baton and keep on going. They have absolutely no excuse for dropping it."
   Part of the education the display offers is part of a healing process to the African American community. Looking at history, accepting it, and moving on with life is a crucial aspect of this process. "Yes, racism still exists, yes, there are still forms of slavery in other countries, but we have to put that in its proper perspective," Augustus said. "If we don't, we, as a people, cannot grow. We cannot move on."