Pitts, Ga (Photo Courtesy Vanishing South Georgia)
We often hear the old adage that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. That sounds morbid, particularly to a historian that cherishes so many of the treasures from days gone by. What if the repeating of history were not a curse? History as a whole is not a journey through loathsome atrocities that we'd all be better off forgetting. Some of it was quite winsome, perhaps even worthy of repeating. That is the point I want to focus on in this post
Rebecca, Ga (Photo Courtesy Vanishing South Georgia)
Georgia is speckled with a plethora of small towns. Often, town might not be the right word. If a home is the people in it, than may of these towns have, at least metaphorically, ceased to be. There are still a scattering of residents but the shops are closed up, the industries shuttered, All that remains are the structures that were left along the now quieted streets. Weeds may have crept in and the pavement may be cracked but we are left with an image of what once was.
Ocilla, Ga (Photo Courtesy Vanishing South Georgia)
While the Peach State is blessed with thriving historic downtowns in places like Rome, Columbus, Cartersville, Milledgeville, and, of course, Savannah, many more of the old towns are sitting, waiting to see what happens next. And for far too long what has happened is nothing.
Toomsboro, Ga (Photo Courtesy Vanishing South Georgia)
Occasionally, you encounter a town where someone stepped in, invested some money to refurbish a building or two in hopes of sparking a revitalization. They may have even started a unique enterprise in hopes of attracting visitors...and money. But more often than not, there was a sad ending. And now a refurbished building sits empty, probably surrounded by others that look a little more weathered.
Donalsonville, Ga (Photo Courtesy Vanishing South Georgia)
There are several reasons that a town might have died. Their local traffic artery may have been replaced by the new superhighway that bypassed town. The local cotton mill might have relocated to another country in search of cheaper labor and operating costs. The younger residents may have left for the big city, searching for excitement and opportunity. Our economy has, in recent decades, favored the larger cities, leaving the rural towns trying to survive after being born in an era where local businesses were more sustainable and therefore more profitable.
Talbotton, Ga (Photo Courtesy Vanishing South Georgia)
However, as real estate prices soar in the urban areas, I wonder if we will reach a time when doing business in these small towns might once again become more profitable. We have the strength of the connections offered to us by the technological advances of the past few decades. Our ability to communicate in real time has erased distances and allowed us to be in several places at once. It's as if a business operating in Talbotton could be in metro Atlanta, or even Boston or New York, while paying rural Georgia rent and taxes.
Rebecca, Ga (Photo Courtesy Vanishing South Georgia)
If such an idea were to catch on, these small towns, with some existing infrastructure, could be brought up to speed with the larger cities. If businesses that are capable of bringing money into the local economy were to relocate, it could raise the market demands for service industry jobs to return. There would be a greater demand for the arts - which is not always lacking in these towns. Music festivals and venues, as well as community theater already exist in many of these towns. And considering the variety of buildings that are available - ranging from churhces, tho cotton warehouses, the tobacco barns - the opportunities could be limited by only the imagination.
Donalsonville, Ga (Photo Courtesy Vanishing South Georgia)
As the popularity of locally-owned businesses grows, these small towns could provide a home to people who wish to start something different but might be looking for a slower pace of life. Bringing these towns back, on some level, would be a healthy thing for Georgia - and so many other Southern states that have these same types of towns. The economic and cultural strength that they could provide would diversify the economy of the state and spread out resources more evenly across the state. We could see a revitalization of hospitals and schools in the rural areas. The real estate and some level of infrastructure is available. Many of these towns have access to highways and railroads. The electrical, water, and other utility systems are already in place. There are already streets and roads, churches, schools, even the buildings that can hold businesses are already in place. They are just waiting for someone with an eye for polishing a diamond in the rough. It could be an opportunity whose time has come. It's just a matter of details.
...To Be Continued...
All of the photos in this post were graciously provided by Brian Brown at Vanishing South Georgia. The fact that Brian has published such prolific blogs featuring the vanishing history of North, South and Coastal Georgia speaks to the existence of these disappearing communities. Much of what Brian documents is already gone or is beyond saving but there is much more on his sites that are ripe for the scenario I've laid out above.
If you like the photos you've seen in this post, check out his sites: https://vanishingsouthgeorgia.com/ https://vanishingnorthgeorgia.com/ https://vanishingcoastalgeorgia.com/
Needless to say, the Georgia Bulldogs fought the good fight in the closing minutes Saturday evening. It wasn't always pretty but they got the job done.
Let me start with the disclaimer that I was a big supporter of Mark Richt. I was at least mildly disturbed when he and UGA parted ways. And while I still say that he was not the problem, I think it is time to be hopeful that Kirby Smart might be the answer.
The biggest takeaway from Saturday night was the last 4 minutes. Georgia managed to pull off a defensive stop, marched down the field, scored in dramatic fashion on a 4th-and-ten pass from true freshman Jacob Eason to Isaiah McKenzie, and then recovered a fumble on what could have been a big play for the Tigers. This was the same sort of break that has gone against Georgia the last few years. And while you can't really directly connect coaching to such an event, it did feel really good to see the break favor the Bulldogs for a change.
Georgia's offensive line still needs some work. And while I'd like to blame at least part of the struggle on one offensive tackle from Massachusetts, the problem wasn't limited to him alone. I think they do need Southern caliber players on the field but regardless, these guys will have to step up. Nick Chubb, who rushed for 63 yards, was not a major factor in the game and that lies mostly with the offensive line's inability to move the line of scrimmage. Given a line surge Chubb will find himself battling against linebackers and safeties and that match-up is going to favor Georgia, regardless of the opponent.
Seeing the confidence of Eason, facing his first hostile crowd and his first SEC opponent, was a strong indication of the kind of player he is becoming. He made a few errors, including an intentional grounding penalty, that were likely caused by the fact that his pocket was breaking down way too fast. He handled the crowd well. The Missouri defensive line was, at times, another story.
Isaiah McKenzie had a stellar game. He made plays when Georgia really needed them. Sony Michel and Terry Godwin also had a good night.
But for all the woes of the game, that last few minutes are where the difference was made. Georgia was down late, stopped their opponent, scored, and then had a break go their way. Those three phenomena have been elusive for Georgia in big games over the last few years.
The Dawgs have Ole Miss coming up next week and that promises to be a challenge as well. But one thing that they have in their pocket now is an experience. They have overcome adversity on the road against a conference opponent. It's a milestone. It doesn't make them invincible but it puts some confidence into the team culture. Now they know a break can go their way. They know they can make a win happen and they'll be working toward and expecting that, as opposed to wondering what might go wrong to snatch the rug from under them.
ABG went 8-2 this week on college football picks. Shoulda known better than to pick Duke and FSU. (The picks were posted to our Twitter:@BiscuitsGA )
I have had a bit of an internal struggle this week. I have wrestled in my mind over what topic should be tackled with this week's post.
I thought about the protest sparked by a certain mediocre and overpaid professional football player and how he claims to be trying to attract attention to an issue when he is just attracting attention to himself - attention that his career has been unable to attract for him. But I wondered why I should give him any more attention than he's already giving himself.
I thought about addressing the recent Anti-Southern actions of the NCAA in removing playoff competition from the sate for the coming year. I think that might be a task better suited to the pen of a Carolinian.
But I was blessed to have a reader share an old New York Times article with me. The date of publication is February 23, 1982. It is an acknowledgement of a correspondence sent to the NYT in response to an article of February 10th of the same year. The article covered the epic filibuster held by Huey Pierce "The Kingfish" Long of Louisiana, in which he spoke on the Senate floor of the glories of Southern cooking for over 15 solid hours. One of his biggest points was on that sweet nectar that we all know as potlikker.
The poor Times writer, being a New York Yankee and therefore sentenced to a lifetime of eating bagels and cream cheese, spelled it "pot liquor" which all Southerners know to be two completely different things, both of which are frowned upon by both the Southern Baptist Convention and our grandmothers.
In February of 1982, Georgia was blessed to have in office our greatest lieutenant governor in state history. This man would go on to be the greatest governor of my lifetime thus far. After his two terms on West Paces Ferry Road, he would try to retire. But, in its only decent act as governor, an unmentionable appointed the great Georgian to the Senate where he furthered his legend as a proper heir to one of the seats once held by men like Toombs, Gordon, Brown, Colquitt, and Russell. His name was Zell Miller, known affectionately to everyone (except of course the Southern Baptist Convention and our grandmothers) as "Give 'em Hell Zell". Zell Miller is an old Marine from Young Harris, a true traditional Southern Democrat and one of his many gifts is that he knows how to talk to New York Yankees. I'll let Zell take it from here:
(The entirety of the aforementioned Times article) In an article on Senate debates on food that ran on this page Feb. 10, mention was made of a 1935 filibuster in which Huey Long lectured his colleagues on the merits of potlikker. Due to an unfortunate consultation with a dictionary, that great Southern delicacy was referred to as ''pot liquor,'' prompting the following communication from a regional authority on the subject:
Dear Sir: I always thought The New York Times knew everything, but obviously your editor knows as little about spelling as he or she does about Appalachian cooking and soul food. Only a culinarily-illiterate damnyankee (one word) who can't tell the difference between beans and greens would call the liquid left in the pot after cooking greens ''pot liquor'' (two words) instead of ''potlikker'' (one word) as yours did. And don't cite Webster as a defense because he didn't know any better either.'' Sincerely, ZELL MILLER Lieutenant Governor State of Georgia
And we could never have said it better.
*Note: any references to "Zig Zag Zell" in the comments will be unceremoniously deleted with extreme prejudice.
Back to the local corporate bookstore. I told you that visit was good for more than one story. Being a Georgian, a historian, a bookworm, I was perusing the biography aisle. Now, the biography section over at my local independent, new & second hand bookstore is magnificent and fierce and huge-ish. And there's a separate section for Georgians. So, it is by far superior. But as I mentioned in my previous post, The South is in a bit of a crisis in which our standards of cultural identity and history are being set by New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles. So the corporate bookstore offers biographies on Cuban Communist madman Che Guevara, Supreme Court Justice and New York City's own Sonia Sotomayor, and President Abraham Lincoln who, in 1864 gave to order to burn this entire city to the ground.
There was a book on Jimmy Carter. so ou of 82 Georgia governors, there is a biography available on exactly one of them at this store.
The Irwin Family Plot Photo Courtesy Vanishing South Georgia
But to top that, hidden away in a family grave plot in Washington County you'll find (if you are lucky) a legend buried. A hero of the first order. No corporate biography, no house museum, I'm not even sure that he has a portrait at the capitol. Just the family plot, a monument at the courthouse in Sandersville, and a page in the New Georgia Encyclopedia remain to tell the story of Jared Irwin, a man who served three terms as governor, and presided twice over the relocation of the state capital.
Irwin Monument, Sandersville Photo Courtesy Vanishing South Georgia
I think that we can allow the inscriptions on the man's monument tell his story: "A true patriot. He entered the service of his country as Captain and soon rose to the rank of colonel in the Revolutionary War. As a soldier, he was brave and gallant. He distinguished himself a the sieges of Savannah and Augusta and in the battles of Camden, Brier Creek, Black Swamp, and several other engagements, he was at all times foremost leading his gallant band to victory. And not with his sword, and in his person only did he do service for his country. From his private means he erected a fortress in Burke County for protection of the people of the surrounding districts. His pure devotion to the cause of liberty marked him in the eyes of the enemy, and on more than one occasion was he plundered of his property, and his premises reduced to ashes. At the close of the War of the Revolution, with the rank of General, he was actively engaged in the service of the state, in repelling the attacks and invasions of the hostile Indians; and here, again, was his liberality called into activity. He, at his own expense, built a fort at White Bluff, for the security and protection of the frontier inhabitants against the savage attacks of the merciless foes. General Irwin was one of the convention which met at Augusta in 1788, and ratified the constitution of the United States. He was a member of the convention in 1789, which formed the constitution of the State of Georgia. In 1798, he was president of the convention which revised the constitution of the State of Georgia. He rendered distinguished to his country as commissioner, in concluding several treaties with the Indians. At the close of the war of Independence he was a member of the first legislature under our present form of government; a position which occupied for several years. He was elected president of the senate frequently, at various periods from 1790 to the time of his death. He was governor of Georgia from January 17, 1796, to the 11th of January, 1798, and again from the 23rd of September, 1806, to the 7th of November, 1809. His administration was distinguished for his justice and impartiality; and his was the honor, after several years’ labor in the behalf, of signing the act rescinding the Yazoo Act. In his private relations Governor Irwin was beloved by all who knew him. The spotless purity of his character, his benign and affable disposition, his widespread benevolence and hospitality, made him the object of general affection. To the poor and distressed he was ever a benefactor and friend. In every position of public life, as a soldier, a statesman, and a patriot, the public good was the object and the end of his ambition; and his death was lamented as a national calamity. But his memory will ever be embalmed in the hearts of his countrymen; and the historian will award him a brilliant page in the records of the country. Peace to his ashes! Honor to his name."
The Burning of the Yazoo Act
The Yazoo Act. January 7, 1795 Governor George Matthews (note: there is no Matthews county, Georgia. This is not by accident) arranged the sale of 35 million acres of Georgia frontier - essentially everything from the current western border of the state all the way to Mississippi River. He was a lame duck governor, just waiting for Irwin to take the oath of office and he just up and decides to try to sell Alabama and Mississippi to private companies via Georgia's Federalist senator, James Gunn (there's no Gunn County either). Georgia's Jeffersonian senator resigned in a fury and raced home to help stop the fraud.
Matthews would move to Mississippi, where no one wanted him dead. Gunn died shortly after finishing his term in the Senate. Matthews, finding no work for scoundrels was sent by President Madison to cause trouble in Florida. As Matthews was whipping Florida near St. Augustine (remember, that's an old Georgia tradition) Madison changed his mind and sent him the order to stop. Matthews decided to go to Washington to try to whup the 5'4", 95 pound Madison. While en route, he stopped to spend the night in Augusta, caught a karmic case of Oglethorpe's Revenge and died.
But back to the fraud. Irwin took his seat as governor and Jackson went to work in the legislature. They repealed the illegal act and cancelled the sale. But that wasn't enough. Georgians know how to repeal a law. You don't just vote it out, you don't just unceremoniously discard it. No, they carried the Yazoo Act out onto the Capitol lawn and set it on fire in full view of the public. That is how you repeal a law. These are the men who deserve volumes in Georgia bookstores.
Long story short, the good guys did the right thing, the bad guys died, and as per usual in the South, the federal government eventually admitted two states in legally held Georgia territory, Alabama and Mississippi. But I guess it's ok in the long run. While our offical stance is anti-Yazoo, we typically think of these states as our little sisters...our really ugly little sisters that not even Tennessee would date but our little sisters just the same.
*I'd like to give a special thanks to Vanishing South Georgia for their photos, info and inspiration for this post.
I was recently in the local corporate bookstore. You laugh but I came out of there with ideas for at least three articles. This is one of them.
Scanning the shelves I came across a recent volume by Rick Bragg. Let's stop here for a minute to clarify a few things. What follows is in no way a critique or knock on Rick Bragg. Rick and I both attended Jacksonville State (Go Gamecocks, Fear the Beak), we're both Southerners, and, my delusions of grandeur aside, Rick is the elder and more successful writer. Dude's paying the rent doing what we both love so let's not get him entangled here.
I picked up the shiny hardbound volume and started exploring the dust jacket looking for details that would let me into the secrets of the book and help me decide if I was willing to part with $27, a feat I admittedly do not attempt often.
Here's what I found on the back of the book:
The New York Times. People. The San Francisco Chronicle. The Chicago Tribune. The front cover lauded the volume as a "New York Times Bestseller". Does this strike anyone else as odd? If I'm going tout to find a truly Southern work of literature do I really care that it impresses the New York Times? Am I swayed that People Magazine finds it "as toothsome as a catfish supper"? I mean really, if I want to find out what's toothsome, I'm headed to People Magazine and right there between the results of the latest pregnancy test of a randomly selected Kardashian and an article debating whether Justin Beiber should have gone with the blue or black skinny jeans I'm sure to find a reliable list of the most toothsome items of the week.
Declarations of Southern goodness from San Fran, Chitown, The Big Apple, and more Big Apple. Was Southern Living unavailable for comment? Did anyone check with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution? I suppose if Garden & Gun changed their name to Garden & Universal Background Checks then their opinion on a book might instantly become relevant.
I'm reminded of a speech by Henry Grady given to The Bay State Club of Boston in 1889:
I attended a funeral once in Pickens county in my State. . . . This funeral was peculiarly sad. It was a poor “one gallus” fellow, whose breeches struck him under the armpits and hit him at the other end about the knee—he didn’t believe in decollete clothes. They buried him in the midst of a marble quarry: they cut through solid marble to make his grave; and yet a little tombstone they put above him was from Vermont. They buried him in the heart of a pine forest, and yet the pine coffin was imported from Cincinnati. They buried him within touch of an iron mine, and yet the nails in his coffin and the iron in the shovel that dug his grave were imported from Pittsburg. They buried him by the side of the best sheep-grazing country on the earth, and yet the wool in the coffin bands and the coffin bands themselves were brought from the North. The South didn’t furnish a thing on earth for that funeral but the corpse and the hole in the ground. There they put him away and the clods rattled down on his coffin, and they buried him in a New York coat and a Boston pair of shoes and a pair of breeches from Chicago and a shirt from Cincinnati, leaving him nothing to carry into the next world with him to remind him of the country in which he lived, and for which he fought for four years, but the chill of blood in his veins and the marrow in his bones.
The only things The South provided for these accolades of Southern-ness were the book's author and content. The rest came from people who could very well attest to the authentic BBQ flavor that has been crafted into the McRib. Seriously, you mean to tell me that a man that grew up in the Possum Trot community between Piedmont and Jacksonville, Alabama, a man who has no doubt tasted the deliciousness of The Rocket BBQ, a man who has possibly sat upon an upright log and drank a beer at Brother's Bar, a man who has likely looked upon the world from the perspective offered atop Mt. Cheaha, a man whose mother made ends meet by picking cotton by hand is going to be recommended via the San Francisco Chronicle by folks who couldn't tell the difference between a cotton field and a coal mine?
But let's make this about us, because that's what it's really about. We teach the world how to treat us. We don't demand that our way of life be validated by people who understand it because they have lived it. We accept the New York Times as the authority on the subject rather than placing more of that trust closer to home. We allow modern culture to teach us that the people who know things are in big northern cities. We don't think in our mind that Southern media outlets are credible because they aren't "the big time". But they aren't the big time because we aren't making them the big time. We keep going back to those outlets we are told are authorities on every subject. It doesn't have to be this way.
I want to live to see the day that I turn a bestseller around and see a blurb of recommendation from The Anniston Star, Georgia Connector Magazine, The Ocala Star-Banner, or, in the interest of transparency (and the aforementioned delusions of grandeur) All the Biscuits in Georgia.
Let's let the South tell the world what is and isn't Southern. (And don't hate on Rick Bragg. He's just trying to pay the rent.)