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Museum honoring black educator opens in Delray

Museum honoring black educator opens in Delray

By John Murawski, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2001

DELRAY BEACH -- Carther Brailford, 75, still remembers the day in high school farming class when a mischievous friend picked a green pepper from the field and threw it at a classmate.

The student ducked, and the pepper sailed on, hitting somebody else -- the teacher, upside the head.

That teacher was Solomon David Spady, affectionately known as Professor Spady, the principal of Colored School No. 4 Delray from 1922 to 1957.

Spady was more than a schoolmaster. His house was for years the community's source for information on personal finance and home buying. And as of Saturday, the 1926 house became a museum, commemorating the early days of the local black community in Delray Beach.

About two dozen people came to the Saturday opening of the S.D. Spady Cultural Arts Museum, a project that took about 18 months and $455,000 in renovation costs.

Love probably wasn't the emotion Professor Spady felt some 60 years ago in that instant when the green pepper bounced off his head. He threatened that if he ever learned who beaned him with the vegetable, "he would teach him a lesson he'd never forget," recalled Brailford. Spady never did find out who threw it.

But love is what his students still feel for the educator to this day, 34 years after his passing.

"He was just a beautiful person," said Tressie Washington, a longtime city resident.

The two-story museum's displays include a replica of an African hut, complete with artifacts; a picture gallery showing Delray Beach's old-time black neighborhoods; and an exhibition of the country's first black baby dolls, created by then-Belle Glade resident Sara Lee Creech.

Creech, a white woman, received many letters of praise for her dolls. Some of those letters now hang on the wall of the Spady museum.

Famed writer Zora Neale Hurston wrote Creech in 1950: "(Y)ou have not insulted us by a grotesque caracteristic (sic) of Negro children, but conceived something of real Negro beauty. These dolls are adorable!"

The museum displays three original Saralee Dolls, as they came to be known, from 1949 to 1953, all wearing bonnets and donning white dresses with lace trim, bowed ribbons and puffed sleeves.

The models for the dolls were local children from Belle Glade, captured in photographs by Creech and on display at the museum. An artist's rendering for the dolls, based on the photographs, hangs near the photos.

The S.D. Spady Cultural Arts Museum, at 170 N.W. Fifth Ave., is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m., and by appointment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (call 279-8883). Admission is free.

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