Richard Hyatt: Lula Lunsford Huff fights the good fight

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerApril 3, 2013 

When Lula Lunsford Huff talks about the neighborhood around the Liberty Theatre, she talks with passion -- not politics.

She's our tax commissioner, elected by voters all over the county, but if you know her history, you know the debate she's embroiled in over the future of the Liberty District goes beyond the redevelopment of the area near Booker T. Washington Apartments.

If you grew up a Lunsford, you aren't usually out in front of a controversy, but that's where Lula Lunsford Huff finds herself, going nose-to-nose with Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

Water really started to boil March 26 when the city's chief executive released a memo that indicated some of the demands being made by Huff's faction could be deal-breakers when it comes to obtaining federal funding and tax credits.

Politics is all over this rift, not unlike a past argument over the future of the land around the Columbus Public Library. That one started out simple but ended up a barnburner that went all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court.

For her family, conflict isn't a new thing. Neither is getting things done or making money as their list of entrepreneurial successes indicate. It began with Lizzie Lunsford, was passed down to her son, Walter, and continued by his nine children, including Lula Huff.

Their history begins with giving.

When black soldiers at Fort Benning had no place to go, the Lunsfords put up money for a USO and a YMCA. To get GIs to those facilities, they started the city's first taxi company for African Americans. And to service the cabs, Walter opened a service station near the Liberty Theatre where his own children pumped gas.

When soldiers got thirsty, Walter drove trucks to Chicago and brought back cases of Peter Fox Beer. When the Rev. Primus King was fighting for the right to vote in Georgia, Lizzie funded the successful fight against the all-white primary.

When George Washington Carver came to town in 1939, Walter headed the sponsoring committee. When people needed to be entertained, he opened a supper club and booked world-class entertainers, including Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When black families could find no place to live,

the Lunsfords built apartments and single-family houses.

Lizzie Lunsford died in 1966 with the memory of crosses burned in her yard. Walter Lunsford died in 2007, after 90 years of fighting for justice and challenging his church to listen to its own gospel.

Over the years, the Lunsford family put black people to work, bought church organs, sent young people to college and the foundation of their success was the area now called the Liberty District.

That's also Lula Lunsford Huff's foundation and it is on her mind as she fights the good fight in honor of her past.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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