A retired librarian, teacher and archivist, Hattye Thomas Yarbrough spent nearly her entire life collecting and documenting the history and artifacts of African Americans so she could share them with others. (Courtesy photo)

by Brianna Smith-Herman —

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, Beta Epsilon Omega Chapter honored Mrs. Hattye Thomas Yarbrough with a historical marker dedication last Saturday (Aug. 28) in her hometown of Covington. 

The dedication was at the Tipton County seat’s Frazier Park, where Yarbrough was honored for her service and sisterhood through her extraordinary historic accomplishments.

The icing on the cake is that it also was the celebration of her 100th birthday.

Yarbrough has earned a reputation as a pioneer in her family, community and sorority.

The retired librarian, teacher and archivist spent nearly her entire life collecting and documenting the history and artifacts of African Americans, so she could share those with others. 

She was lauded with a beautiful pink and green celebration and unveiling ceremony that included family, friends, community and political leaders, past students and her sorority. 

“I would think that if we did this unveiling at the FedExForum we still wouldn’t have enough seating for everyone who wanted to be here today,” said Jane Venson-Talford, president of Beta Epsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha. 

Yarbrough received resolutions and proclamations from the mayors of Bolivar, Tennessee and Covington.

“When they asked me where I wanted the marker placed, (with no hesitation) I said on the Frazier campus,” said Yarbrough.

“This is where the beginning of my contributions to Tipton County began.” 

Frazier Park is where Yarbrough had her first teaching assignment. She taught fourth grade and coached the boys and girls high school basketball teams.

The historical marker noting the contributions of Hattye Thomas Yarbrough was dedicated at Covington’s Frazier Park, the site of her first teaching assignment. (Courtesy photo)

Her passion and interests for the history of her people started as a young girl in the home of her aunt, Annie Sybil Thomas Jarrett, in Paris, Tennessee. 

There, she discovered books by African-American authors such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson, and publications such as the Negro Digest and the Chicago Defender

For Yarbrough, exposure to these periodicals helped her learn about the scholarship and achievements of great African Americans, something she was not learning in her school in Tennessee’s rural Hardeman County.

She vowed, “Never ever would there be a Black child growing up around me that would not know African Americans have contributed to every piece of history in America.”

After graduating second in her high school class, she attended Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee, where she also graduated with honors. 

She continued to build an educational resume that would present even more opportunities for her to meet African Americans who made great contributions to African-American history.

At Fisk University, Yarbrough earned her Tennessee library teacher certification and studied with Arna Bontemps, a noted poet and member of the Harlem Renaissance. 

She went on to summer courses at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College in 1964, where she earned a master’s of Library Science degree. 

As an aspiring artist, Yarbrough worked at the Waynesville Junction USO near Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where she had an opportunity to help celebrated painter Samuel Countee create a backdrop for a play by one of the soldiers stationed there – Ossie Davis, who went on to great fame as an actor, director and playwright. 

During the summer of 1943, Yarbrough worked the soda fountain at the Army’s Camp Tyson just outside Paris, near the Tennessee-Kentucky border. It’s there that she began to build a collection of items given to her by the African-American soldiers she met. 

“I collected pictures, insignias and patches from military men on the troop trains, those who came into our town for recreation or church, and those who came to our house or to Lane College, where I was a student,” Yarbrough said.

“Wherever soldiers were traveling, I would ask their names, hometowns and branches of service. It’s all written in the scrapbook.”

One particular soldier sent her rocks from the Normandy beaches

Today, Yarbrough’s scrapbooks and the memorabilia she diligently collected from the African-American soldiers, who served during World War II, are on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. 

Yarbrough dedicated her life to documenting the stories of African Americans and ensuring those stories were told in the right venues. 

Her efforts garnered several honors, including, receiving the George H.W. Bush Points of Light award in 1989 and being named one of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated’s Pioneering Sorors in 2014.