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Lights of Gwinnett – Rubeye Neal

Anyone who knows Ms Rubye Neal knows there is to be no standing still when she’s around because she will immediately recruit you to help with whatever mission she is going after at the time!  That was how I came to know her as someone who doesn’t let grass grow under her feet. She is always at work on some community project to educate others on the richness of our collective heritage.

Rubeye Neal

Some may know her as being a voice for the preservation of the Hooper Renwick School in Gwinnett County.  Others may know her for her historical displays at the Gwinnett County Justice Center. And still others may know her as the spirited lady who loves to share stories from our past with younger generations.

Ms Rubye Neal grew up in Dacula, GA, moved to Carl, GA and returned to Dacula.  She attended Clark College in Atlanta and Fort Valley State College. She can often be found enjoying her favorite pastime of sewing.  She believes the key to her being an energetic octogenarian is the desire to keep moving and the enjoyment of what she does. Sewing and a lot of volunteering keeps her mind and body occupied. 

When asked why all the volunteering, her response was that she loves to help.  The enjoyment of helping someone is fulfilling for her. She finds purpose in being a bridge builder to help fill in gaps.  She is a key contributor for the preservation of Hooper Renwick School and she works with the Boys and Girls Club as well as the Ebony Society. Ms. Neal is also a former board member of the Central Gwinnett Cluster Foundation and current Chair of the Robbie Susan Moore Foundation for Education, Inc.

She has a long history of volunteerism in her community and at her church.  She really enjoys helping people.  As a volunteer from way back, her first memory was of being a member of Economic Opportunity Atlanta when it first came to Lawrenceville. 

She also remembers operating a library of sorts out of her home when her children were younger.  During that time, Gwinnett County had a mobile book service where they brought books to residences. She would have the books brought to her home for the children in the community. They would often  come by to check out books or just settled in at her house to read. 

As a Gwinnett citizen, her family is a part of the history of the county. As evidenced in a 1978 recording of family member Amos Hutchins, her family has ties with one of Gwinnett’s founding citizens, Elisha Winn.  Mr. Hutchins is recorded as being a caretaker for the Elisha Winn house in Dacula, GA. It is said that this house was built in 1812 which precedes the establishment of Gwinnett County by six years.  It was owned by Elisha Winn and served as the county’s first courthouse.

Ms. Neal remembers living in the house with her great-grandparents and helping them to sharecrop the land. The house was known as the Sims house during that time. She recalls working in the fields to help bring in harvests. The responsibility for caring for the property was later transferred to her great-grandfather’s nephew, Amos Hutchins around 1942.  Amos Hutchins was born on the Sims plantation in 1913 and moved away as an adult. He then returned to live on the property. When his Uncle became to old to farm the property, he moved into the house with his wife Fanny and their children. 

Currently, Ms. Neal is preparing a book to document the history of blacks in Gwinnett County.  She decided to pursue this undertaking because when she was doing research for information on black history in Gwinnett, she found books about Gwinnett County and Gwinnett County schools and churches that contained VERY minimal information regarding the black Gwinnett population.  She has decided to ensure there is something because she is a product of black Gwinnett County herself.  She is aware of the existence which deserves some documentation.

Her focus is initially unmentioned schools and churches in the area. When she grew up in Dacula, there was church on only one Sunday per month with a handful of people in the community.  Later, it grew to two Sundays per month. The congregants of the Baptist church and the Methodist church would worship together during these times.

Like information about those early churches, there is not much information to be found on black schools in the county’s past either.  Ms. Neal’s aunt, Miley Mae Hemphill was an educator in Gwinnett County. As a part of her thesis, her aunt wrote about the history of the negro school in Gwinnett County covering from 1937-1956. That has been the only information that she has found on these schools.  But it also gives her the history of about 13 different centers where there were schools in black churches like Salem, Mt Zion (Dacula school), Raymond Hill in Snellville and the like. 

Recently, she had the opportunity to attend an interfaith discussion and the theme that stuck out to her was of one God for multiple religions and the permeating theme of a loving heart. She noted it being interesting that when we hear about other religions, we usually hear about our differences.  She found this event to be an opportunity to learn more about our similarities.  Because of it, she says we should be careful to go to the right source to get the right answers to get a better understanding of one another.

Sentiments ran deep as she explained that if we say we are Christians, we need to be doing differently, not being so separate. If my people who are called by my name….  Ms. Rubye thinks that churches should be more unified and less separated.  She feels there should be more cooperation among the churches which would improve the ability to function more as a Christian community. Share events with one another, visit more with one another and communicate better with one another.

By doing these things, she feels that we will be better able to exhibit more love for one another and allow us to move forward in healing hearts and minds.  The question is are we willing to become more loving toward one another? Our hearts must become more loving. We are all God’s creation and we must find a way to get along.

One of the ways she does this is by creating awareness of the stories that she has come across. She has, for years, done Black history exhibits at the Gwinnett Justice Center, Salem Missionary Baptist Church, Hooper Renwick School (when it was a center), Discovery High School and is looking to do one at Moore Middle School. She does it because she loves history, she loves sharing with people and providing a service that will help somebody. 

She started displaying the exhibits picking up the mantle of Mrs. Robbie Moore, the namesake of Moore Middle School. Mrs. Moore started doing the Black History Exhibit at the Justice Center through the Ebony Society.  After her passing, Rubye took up the Black History exhibit and expanded the offering.  Each year, information is rotated and added so each display is different and the exhibit is not the same.  The exhibits include information about people, events, culture and has been known to include samples of food traditionally experienced in the community. 

The exhibits are planned to be displayed throughout the month of February 2020 at both the Gwinnett County Justice Center, 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville, GA and at Heritage Hall on the campus of Salem Missionary Baptist Church located at 4700 Church Street NW in Lilburn, GA.  Tours for this exhibit can be scheduled by contacting the church office.

She has also created additional learning programs for the community. The current program interviews panelist regarding the education of blacks in the county.  These sessions are held at the Gwinnett County library. The upcoming session is scheduled for February 22, 2020 at 2:00pm at the Lawrenceville Branch located at 1001 Lawrenceville Hwy in Lawrenceville, GA.  All are strongly encouraged to attend this very informative roundtable discussion with former students and teachers of both Gwinnett County and Buford City Schools.

These events are just some of the plans Ms. Rubye Neal shared for 2020. As she excitedly shared others, I figured I had better make my exit before I get volunteered to help…AGAIN!

Thank you Ms Rubye!