Campus News

Papers of ‘extraordinary’ educator, peanut champion added to Hargrett Library

An extraordinary educator who took over operations of the family farm after his father’s death, Andrew Avery helped create the Decatur County Peanutorama, which highlighted the crop and the surrounding counties’ contribution to its marketing.

Avery’s family has donated his papers to the University of Georgia Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The donation includes correspondence, photographs, printed material, notes, legal documents, plats and various ephemera. Of note is the scrapbook documenting farm improvements he made for the Atlanta Constitution’s Plant-to-Prosper contest of 1938, which he won, as well as several photographs of schools he was involved with in southwest Georgia.

Avery (1901-1990) attended Young Harris College, graduating in 1927, and the University of Georgia, graduating in 1929. He taught in Whigham, Hahira and Mt. Pleasant before being elected Decatur County superintendent of schools, serving from 1932-1948, then ran for a seat in the state Senate in 1948.

Avery was recognized as making unusual and extraordinary contributions to public education in Georgia. In addition to serving the boys and girls of Decatur County, Avery was active in state and national education activities. He spearheaded the drive for free textbooks and rural library services in Georgia. In 1938, M.D. Collins, Georgia state superintendent of schools, presented Avery to the annual meeting of the National Education Association as the “man who has given free textbooks to the children of Georgia and library service to the rural children.”

During Avery’s three terms as NEA vice president, he traveled extensively to lobby for federal financial aid to education, especially vocational agricultural education.

“Daddy’s recognition by the state superintendent of schools as the one who spearheaded the drive for the legislation that provided free textbooks in all Georgia schools is partially evidenced by papers in the collection,” said his son, Daniel Avery. “The collection contains the original surveys sent to and returned to Daddy by county and city school superintendents in Georgia. The original summary of this survey is in the collection and was used to support his efforts in his work with legislators.”

Previously the Averys donated a collection of home movies to UGA’s Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection. The films picture scenes of South Georgia and elsewhere from the 1930s to mid-1950s. Over the years, he made several films about Decatur County for historic and educational purposes and to promote local agribusiness.

Avery produced the short film Footsteps of Progress in the Flint River Valley, which is a compilation of silent footage he shot in black and white and color. The film features agriculture, education, business and religion in Decatur County and Southwest Georgia. Avery pushed hard for the peanut business in Georgia and gave away bags of peanuts constantly until his death.

Also included in the amateur footage is a hospital built in Bainbridge by African-American physician Joseph Howard Griffin, who built a small hospital for black people in the 1930s, and in the early 1950s built a larger hospital with $250,000 of his own money.