If LaGrange had a king and queen they surely would be Annie and Oliver Greene. This couple, married for 64 years, are great patrons of the arts and community-wide events. Before COVID demanded a much more cautious approach to public outings, the Greenes could be seen taking in every theatrical production, musical performance, art museum, art gallery exhibition opening and guest speaker events. Looking every bit like the statuesque movie stars from the 1950s, their style is iconic. Annie always dons a fashionable hat and lovely dress. Oliver also wears a hat, suit and tie. Oliver could teach a class on gentlemanly manners, always quick to open the door for Annie or offer her his hand.
As life-long learners and retired from admirable careers in public education, the couple have often expressed amazement that area citizens do not take advantage of the low cost and often free happenings in this community that enrich minds. An active supporter of the arts, Annie is also a well-known artist and author of three books. Her yarn art works are her claim to fame but she is also an exceptionally talented artist in many media. Her book entitled “What Color is Water? Growing Up Black in a Segregated South” is a must read year ‘round but especially poignant during Black History Month. “When I read this book I was moved to tears,” said Jeff Denny, a local resident who collects Annie’s art. Annie said she felt compelled to capture this difficult era in history in an educational and interesting way.
“This book is a collection of stories and art that represent my life growing up in the segregated South. Despite obstacles and challenges, I have been blessed,” the artist wrote. Annie encountered one such challenge as a young woman shopping for a new hat, her signature look. Entering a hat shop on the LaGrange Square Annie was directed by the owner to the back of the store where there were two tables piled high with hats for “colored” women. The hats were not displayed, just stacked. Annie was asked to put a piece of plastic on her head before trying on hats. She never returned to that store.
When integration took place in the county school system, Oliver and the two other Black principals were made assistant principals. The principal positions were given to White men, although Oliver and his colleagues were equally qualified. Having lived a life that has spanned many decades, Annie has witnessed countless remarkable changes, events and inventions such as World War II, television, astronauts walking on the moon, computers, cell phones, and nuclear power. As the artist reflects on all the many changes in the world, she pinpoints the civil rights movement as the most important milestone.
“Segregation meant the playing field would not be level. Remember, it was supposed to be ‘separate but equal,’ but equal was not part of segregation’s equation,” Annie wrote in her book. “My experiences as a child during this period taught me to be resilient, to work hard, and to pursue my dreams. Oliver and I raised our children to be the same way. I often told them to ‘put yourself in a position where you can’t be denied.’ This means be prepared, well-trained and well-educated so that lack of experience or education will not determine your future,” she states in the book.
Parents to two exceptional and highly successful adult children and two grandchildren, Oliver and Annie have great concern over the deterioration of the family unit and the lack of parental oversight in teaching children how to be motivated to improve themselves. “There is still so much work to be done. We must constantly work together to develop sound educational programs to help every American citizen gain a better understanding of the principles that are the foundation of the U.S. Constitution,” concluded Annie in her book. LaGrange and Troup County have certainly benefitted from the perseverance of these two role models – Oliver and Annie Greene.