From 1923 until about 1941, the Lena-Clemons Conservatory was a learning institution that focused on music and art for people of African-American descent. Ninety years ago, the Lena-Clemons Conservatorys address was 104 Spring St. Today, Krystals sits there.
Before integration was ever thought about, blacks in Macon were establishing businesses and schools. Many of these schools were founded before public education existed for black children. I found little documentation on how the Lena-Clemons Conservatory was financially started. However, it was created in honor of Nettie Lena Chandler, Jefferson H. Clemons, Mamie L. Clemons and Lena Redding.
After doing some research, I am pretty sure the money trickles down from the wealth of George W. Chandler, Nettie Lena Chandlers father. He was from Alabama and was in the insurance and real estate business. His wife was Mary Lizzie Redding from Macon. Maybe thats where the start up money came from.
Once it was organized, the Lena-Clemons Conservatory did a great job of developing a well-rounded African-American. Mamie L. Clemons was the founding teacher. Many of the students made music and the arts their professions and eventually became professors.
Some would become perfomers who traveled abroad, while others graduated and carried on a family business or trade. It was the first conservatory to broadcast at the Mercer Broadcasting Station, and four of the graduation ceremonies broadcast over the WMAZ station.
At the Lena-Clemons Conservatory, the students were especially taught violin, vocals and piano. And, their studio was a staple in the community. Many alumni and residents would donate items for the studio and money to its mission.
They had a Drama Club, Glee Club and the Henry W. Lucas Orchestra, just to name a few. The students would perform recitals, cantatas, chautauquas, musicals and operettas in churches and schools locally and around the nation. In addition, many of the large productions would take place at the City Hall and Municipal Auditorium.
One of my elders gave me an original copy of the Lena-Clemons Conservatory of Music and Arts Senior Class of 1941 Commencement Exercises, which took place June 20, 1941, at the conservatory. The members of the graduating class were Willie Thrash, Leon Thrash, Elliott Callahan, William Hutchings, Gertie Hutchings, Gloria Hutchings, Bertha Meadows, Mae Campbell and Emma Campbell.
At some point, the schools location moved to 107 Franklin St. in Macon. It may have been when the old location was turned into a United Service Organizations center for blacks during World War II.
So much of our African-American history lies within this institution of music and art. Its worth the time to learn more about it.
Yolanda Y-O Latimore is founder of Poetic Peace Arts, Macons representative on the Knight National Arts Advisory Board and director of Like Water Publicity, a media and booking agency. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.