“As I got in line to register for the first day of school, I had no money in her pocketbook. I was speechless as I approached the principal. I held out my hands. ‘Here are my hands, they can work,’ I said. The principal was silenced and pushed me along in the line. My heavy heart became as light as a feather.”
Beulah Rucker Oliver in The Rugged Pathway
The daughter of African-American sharecroppers, Beulah Rucker Oliver literally worked her way through school with the dream of becoming an educator. She often didn’t have the means to pay tuition, and in one instance returned to school with an empty pocketbook. When it came time to pay the principal, she offered out her hands instead. “Here are my hands; they can work,” she told him, to which he responded by moving her along in line.
Her hard work earned her a degree with honors, and she continued to work multiple jobs with the dream of opening up her own school, The Industrial School. Between teaching public and private school, giving music lessons and making and selling hats, Rucker also began to work toward her college degree at Savannah State College through correspondence and summer courses. She eventually received her degree in 1944 at age 56, showing her determination and will to reach her goals.
Despite objections at a black woman being in charge of a school facility, Rucker opened her first school on Norwood Street in Banks County. After having two schools in the city, she moved her facility out to the country, where she proved to be an excellent fund-raiser and educator for the African-American community. Her Industrial School eventually merged with the City of Gainesville school district in the 1950s.
Rucker achieved a number of firsts for an African-American woman of her time: the first to receive a Rosenwald Grant for her school, the first woman to establish a school in Gainesville and the first to start a Veterans Night School in the state. She also was responsible for educating hundreds of African-American children and adults alike. In recognition for contributions to the community, her daughters and a former student founded and dedicated The Educational Foundation and Museum Beulah Rucker Inc. to memorialize her life and great work.