George Washington Carver State Park

 
 
Submitted by:         12/2005
 

GW Carver State Park

 

*This information is derived from the website of The Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, written by Billy Townsend, State of Georgia Chief Historian (ret). Although Georgia has the oldest public recreation area in the nation (Indian Springs deeded to Georgia in 1825), it wasn't until 1950 that Georgia had its first Negro State Park. It is also the only State Park in Georgia to ever be named for an African American.

The History of George Washington Carver State Park is illustrative of the times. Immediately after the war, there were no parks for blacks and segregation laws were strictly enforced in state parks for whites. John Loyd Atkinson, a Tuskegee Airman, returned from the Second World War and sought a recreational facility for African Americans. He had little luck getting permits on his own until the State Parks system stepped in. The State Parks Division leased, 1457 acres, which became Red Top Mountain State Park and 345 acres, which became George Washington Carver State Park on the newly created Lake Allatoona (1950). John Atkinson became the first Black Park Superintendent in Georgia and while there built a clubhouse/concession stand, playground, boat ramp, boat and fishing docks, swim beach with diving platform and residence.

Robert Benham, while Georgia's First Black Supreme Court Chief Justice, writes that Carver became "...a black recreational Mecca and attracted visitors from throughout the southeast. Several well-known entertainers such as Ray Charles and Little Richard performed at the park.... The park also served as the summer home of the St. John's Ski Bees, a black ski club, which was headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. The St. John's Ski Bees was the only black water ski club in Georgia, performing each summer and drew people from throughout the southeast. They did barefoot skiing, sock takeoffs, one legged skiing and ramp jumping." This is the lake where Rev. Andrew Young and his family learned to water ski ("A Way Out Of No Way") and where Mrs. Coretta Scott King remembers her family spending many weekends at church outings.

Atkinson operated the park from 1950 to 1958 and helped start a black Girl Scout Camp at Carver as a sub-lease on the Corps of Engineers property. Samuel Nathan was the last superintendent of Carver. In one of the all-to-familiar cost-cutting moves, Carver operations were combined with Red Top, Mr. Nathan was transferred to Richmond Hill State Park to become the first black superintendent of a formerly white state park. The Atlanta Girl Scout Council then took over the operation of the Carver area on Lake Allatoona and what started as a Girl Scout Camp for Negroes became fully integrated as had Red Top Mountain State Park. It is now Bartow-Carver Park, operated by Bartow County.

 

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