Hattye Yarbrough, left, and Leader managing editor Echo Day look over Yabrough’s World War II scrapbook in this October 2011 file photo. The book will be on display at a Smithsonian museum later this month.

Covington resident Hattye T. Yarbrough isn’t bragging about her upcoming trip to Washington, D.C.

“I feel about it the same way I felt a few years ago,” the 95-year-old said Tuesday.

It’s not just any trip, though.


Later this month, the former educator’s World War II era scrapbook will be one of the exhibits on display when the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opens.

The book, which was featured in a November 2011 story by The Leader, features quite the collection of artifacts.

“This is just my collection,” she said, “but it shows participation.”

During the war, Yarbrough, then a student at Lane College, collected letters, cards, telegrams, photos, unit patches, liberty cards and other memorabilia sent to her by African American soldiers she befriended while working at Camp Tyson and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

The scrapbook also contains photos from Africa, India and Europe; patches from almost every branch of the military and many different units; newspaper clippings; programs from plays performed at Ft. Leonard Wood; ticket stubs and more.

When she pasted the items in, Yarbrough identified each soldier, his rank, unit, duty station and hometown, if she knew it.

“I’ve always been interested in history and interested in what was happening around me,” she said in 2011. “In order to preserve it, I had to keep it in scrapbooks.”

When she was a freshman in high school, she first became aware of the historical contributions made by African Americans after discovering pocket books belonging to her cousin.

“I started reading them and one day I asked my aunt, “Is this true? Did colored folk really do this?”

She has dedicated her life to documenting as much as she could ever since.

Keeping a record of the contributions made by African Americans during World War II is something of which she is immensely proud, but for quite some time believed she’d never see again.

For two decades she thought the scrapbook was lost, and blamed it on her sister, but was surprised when it was found while her attic was being cleaned out.

“I had to call her and apologize, but she still didn’t know what I was talking about,” Yarbrough laughs.

The war ended more than 70 years ago, and many of the soldiers she once knew, soldiers who served in once-segregated units, have died, she doesn’t want their service to the country to be forgotten.

Yarbrough hopes her scrapbook will be to someone what her cousin’s pocket books were to her.

“This shows participation and shows we were there, we were part of this, too. We have played a role in every segment of America’s history and we made a difference. It’s not to glorify one group over another, it’s just to say we were there, too.”

The museum, according to its mission, is a new one which will be a place visitors can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience and how it helped shape not only the United States, but the world.

“(It) will give voice to a story that is quintessentially American,” it states.

The museum is hosting a grand opening celebration on Sept. 24 and Yarbrough plans to make the trip with special guests including Marjorie Yarbrough Embry of Covington and Jackson; Fred Yarbrough of Chattanooga; Mattie Pearl “MP” Carter, Joan Patterson and Beverly Bradford Watkins, all of Memphis; her sister, Alma LaMar of Detroit; Laura Moore White and Marsha Edwards of Washington, D.C.; Andrew Schulert and Joy Lucas, Sara Browne, J.J. Browne, Franklin Schulert and Luke Schulert, all of Cambridge, Mass.; and Sara Browne of New York.

Among those on the museum’s advisory council are Oprah Winfrey, Laura W. Bush, Colin Powell and Quincy Jones.

President Barack Obama is expected to attend the event as well.

Yarbrough is among a group working to open an African American history museum in Covington as well, encouraging city leaders to get started on the project in early August by telling them, “I’m not getting any younger, and I’d like to see it in my lifetime.”

For more, see https://nmaahc.si.edu.

Echo Day
Author: Echo Day

Echo Day is an award-winning journalist, photographer and designer. She is currently The Leader's managing editor.