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'Walking, talking history,': Tubman Museum honors longtime Bibb County educator with award

James Caldwell started his career back in 1968 at Central High School as the second black educator to teach there– two years before mandatory integration.

MACON, Ga. — As a Bibb County educator for the past 38 years and patron of the arts, James Caldwell has made many contributions to the community. 

He started his career back in 1968 at Central High School back when it was known as Lanier High– as the second black educator to teach there– two years before mandatory integration.

The Tubman Museum awarded him their highest honor Sunday evening for that.

“I was giving it my best,” Caldwell said.

At the age of 24, Caldwell was offered the chance to teach at an all-white Macon school. Despite racial tensions at the time, Caldwell said he accepted right away.

“I had no problems-- no preconceived notions. I learned that people were people and there were some problems, but I ignored them. I was proud of myself,” he said.

For the next 38 years, Caldwell would teach history, French, and humanities to many kids– both black and white. He developed a taste for art along the way. 

"When I began to teach about French culture, I learned to appreciate some French artists. Art is my passion. It surrounds me, it makes me feel alive.”

Now every wall in his house is covered in art he's collected– as colorful as he likes to dress. However, he's made the decision to donate almost every piece that lines his walls to the Tubman Museum.

"I figured it was the best thing to do for the Tubman because they need it. To me, it's making it better. Adding my little bit-- my little percentage-- it makes it better,” he said.

Caldwell has stayed involved in the community since his retirement from teaching in 2005 through Historic Macon, The Macon Arts Alliance, Hay House, and many more.

He says he brings his love for his community and its history wherever he goes.

"It was great to meet someone who is-- like you said-- walking, talking history,” Jeff Bruce head curator at the Tubman museum said.

He says they're honoring Caldwell with the Act of Courage Award. Not only for donating his art, but also because of his work toward racial equality.

"He came here and he's one of the people who helped break that color line  and help us move from one state to another state in terms of public education,” Bruce said.

He says that they typically give this award away posthumously, but they didn’t want to do that with Caldwell.

“Why wait to have the exhibit 'til then? Why wait to have the award? Why don’t we just do it right now so that way he can enjoy it, and he can be with all his family and friends. We can really advertise and show his generosity,” Bruce said.

Caldwell now has an exhibit featuring 22 pieces out of his extensive collection-- inside the Tubman Museum. If you'd like to look at them yourself, the exhibit is open until October 15th.

The rest of his art will be donated at a later date.

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