Andrew Avery (1901-1990) was a farmer and educator in Decatur County, Georgia. A 1929 graduate of the University of Georgia, Mr. Avery served as superintendent of the high schools in Whigham, Grady County (1929-30), and Hahira, Lowndes County (1930-31), prior to his return to Decatur County as principal at Mt. Pleasant School in 1931. He was elected superintendent of Decatur County schools serving from 1933 through 1948. While county superintendent of schools, he worked tirelessly to procure federal monies for vocational education in Georgia. In 1938, in recognition of Mr. Avery ‘s spearheading the legislation providing free textbooks to all the children of Georgia, Georgia State Superintendent of Schools M. D. Collins honored him as the “man who has given free textbooks to the children of Georgia and library service to the rural children.”
Throughout his farming and education careers, Mr. Avery filmed daily life in Decatur County and beyond between the 1930s and 1950s. His 16mm “home movies” document small town parades, political speeches and rallies, downtown Bainbridge, and classes at an African-American vocational school in southern Georgia. The collection contains important footage documenting agricultural harvesting techniques no longer practiced. There is also film from the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, and of Franklin D. Roosevelt receiving an honorary doctorate at the University of Georgia in 1939. Mr. Avery produced a short film called "Footsteps of Progress in the Flint River Valley" that is a compilation of silent footage he shot in black & white and color. The film features agriculture, education, business, and religion in Decatur County and southwest Georgia.
Mr. Avery was a tireless promoter of Georgia’s peanut industry and instrumental in the establishment of the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Peanuts in 1961. In 1968, the Commission awarded him their most honored award, the Distinguished Service Award. During the final years of his life Mr. Avery was probably best known by the Peanut Commission’s little red bags of Georgia Peanuts he gave to all he met. At the time of his death the Peanut Commission presented the Avery family a special memorial plaque that expressed “appreciation for his unselfish giving of his time and talents to Georgia's Peanut Industry.” Evolving growing methods and harvesting equipment for peanuts are featured through his films.
Mr. Avery also had a passion for sharing events of farm life with his neighbors and held an annual “old fashion cane grinding,” of which there are examples in his footage. This was an annual event for his friends and neighbors where sugarcane was fed into a mill powered by a mule going in a circle around the mill. The sugarcane juice was then boiled and skimmed to produce sugarcane syrup. This required continuous boiling in a wood-fired, 80-gallon iron kettle for 3 to 4 hours before being bottled or canned for use later on pancakes, biscuits, or used in cooking.
There is a concentration on teaching work or survival skills in the footage, such as the National Youth Administration camp (Camp Sawyer in Decatur County) that shows a program for young white woman teaching them farming, canning, sewing, washing, etc. The NYA operated from 1935 to 1943 as part of the Works Progress Administration, which was the largest and most comprehensive New Deal agency. The NYA operated numerous programs for out-of-school youth.
Mr. Avery was a Baptist his entire life worshiping at Delwood Baptist and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Churches. These and many other places of worship including the Temple in Bainbridge appear in his footage. He was an active member of the Gideons and according to his obituary gave out almost as many Bibles as he did peanuts.
Also included in this amateur footage is a hospital built in Bainbridge by African American physician Dr. Joseph Howard Griffin. Under the Knife, written by Dr. Griffin's great-nephew Hugh Pearson, explores how a black physician managed to wield so much power in the pre-Civil Rights movement South. Dr. Griffin built a small hospital for blacks in the 1930s and in the early 1950s built a larger hospital with $250,000 of his own money.
About The Collection:
The Andrew Avery Home Movie Collection is a unique treasure documenting the people and events of southwest Georgia and beyond from 1934 to the early 1950s in over 8000 feet of film that lasts for over 200 minutes. The collection consists of 23 rolls of 16mm black and white and color Kodachrome film. In 1996, the family of Andrew Avery donated his film collection to the Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection. This collection brings to life images from Georgia’s past, and shows a history of rural America that is sometimes neglected in history books.
Andrew Avery’s professional and personal papers and other mementos including the 16mm camera he used to make the films, are available for research at the University of Georgia Special Collections Libraries.firstname.lastname@example.org or Margie Compton at email@example.com for more information.