Retired chief helps preserve black history

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brigitte N. Brantley-Sisk
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
On a rack of military uniforms mostly from World Wars I and II, it is the service dress uniform of a chief master sergeant who retired in 1984 that stands out the most.

Now 74 years old and married for more than half a century to his high school sweetheart, retired Chief Master Sgt. James "Jack" Hadley's mission in life is to educate as many people as he can about African-American history.

"One day in 1979, my son came home from school and said nothing was being done to commemorate Black History Month," Chief Hadley said. "We made a few posters about significant achievements by black people and he took it to school. Students and teachers loved it, and that was the beginning of my collection."

Chief Hadley still has those posters, and his collection has grown to more than 4,000 other artifacts, documents and pictures of black history. Quite a few of these are directly related to history within Thomasville, Ga., the town in which he grew up. He now owns the Jack Hadley Black History Museum there and educates approximately 3,000 visitors each year.

"Jack worked hard in the military and he works hard now," said his wife, Christine Hadley, who still laughs at the mention of their high-school romance. "He's a good Christian man, father and husband who has always provided for his family. His life dream was to own this museum and he did it."

Mrs. Hadley served as the museum's secretary until last year and still makes an occasional appearance when a tour goes through. The couple has been married for 53 years. They have two daughters and a son.

"We got married after Jack had been in the military for just one year," she said. "Whenever we got orders every few years, the kids and I were ready to move. It got harder when our children were in high school because then they were more reluctant to move and leave their friends, but overall it was a good lifestyle that we enjoyed."

Chief Hadley graduated from high school in 1956 and joined the Air Force two weeks later.

"My high school didn't become integrated until 1970, after I had left, so things like having a separate water fountain were the normal way of life," he said. "When I left for basic training, segregation wasn't as prominent in the Air Force, but once I graduated from there, I was reminded nothing had changed.

"I was riding a bus to go back home on leave and I was wearing my uniform," Chief Hadley said. "Once we reached the Mason-Dixon Line, the bus driver stopped the bus and told us to go the back of the bus."

Remembering history is the overall goal he hopes to achieve through his museum.

"We've heard a lot from the older visitors that their towns don't have anything like this," Chief Hadley said. "For our younger visitors who might be working on a school project, I have something else in mind. I want them to be able to come in here, look at any subject and learn about it. Then they can go to the Internet and other sources and learn even more."

The museum covers subjects from the 1800s to present day and focuses on local history. One notable citizen from the area is Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, the first black graduate from the U.S. Military Academy.

"Of course we also want to highlight the military accomplishments of our citizens," Chief Hadley said. "I proudly served for 28 years, and am happy to give back to our community in any way, including educating visitors on black history."

Other artifacts within the museum include obituaries used to track genealogy, chains previously used to hold slaves and plenty of pictures illustrating Chief Hadley's life and military career.