On February 12, 1733, the first English settlers arrived at Yamacraw Bluff on the Savannah River. The site is now the historic city of Savannah.
James Oglethorpe has secured the charter from the King’s privy council the previous summer and then led the movement for a colony based on Christian charity. Many of the settlers were seeking a new life. Contrary to reports, Georgia was not a penal colony but rather a second chance for debtors who had little chance of improving their lot in Britain. With legal prohibitions placed on slavery and attorneys, Oglethorpe established a colony for small landowners, especially farmers. It was hoped that Georgia would be a contrast to the wealthy planters of South Carolina.
Oglethorpe relied on cooperation with the local tribe of Native Americans, the Yamacraw, led by Tomochichi. In a spirit of friendship, Oglethorpe and Tomochichi worked together to help both groups succeed together. Tomochichi even returned to Britain with Oglethorpe to meet the King.
By the 1750s the original plans had been discarded and Georgia continued onto the path where we find ourselves today. We still look for the opportunity to get back to our roots. We hope to see a Georgia that offers opportunity and second chances to the little guys. May Oglethorpe’s original dream never be fully abandoned.
Alexander H. Stephens - February 11, 1812 - March 4, 1883
On February 11 each year we stop to remember the life of a legendary Georgia political leader. While it has become fashionable in these modern days to malign the character of the men who built this nation, particularly The South, we choose to focus on the entirety on their lives and their contributions before passing judgment.
Alexander Hamilton Stephens was a moderating voice in American politics during some of its most heated years. While he is often (erroneously) lumped in with the secessionists, Stephens actually spent a large part of 1860 touring the state to appeal to cooler heads, begging them to prevail. He gave a level-headed address on the floor of the Georgia Capitol in Milledgeville, pleading with the delegates to the Secession Convention to act reasonably and seek to advance their grievances through Congress rather than the war he knew secession would start.
During The War he communicated with the Lincoln Administration, searching for ways to bring peace and end the costly and tragic conflict.
At the war’s close, as other Confederate leaders fled the nation or were caught trying, Stephens was found at his residence, playing cards in the parlor. With a military unit assembled on his lawn he calmly explained to the arresting officer “had you sent word for me, I’d have saved you a trip.”
After The War, Stephens returned to Congress where he continued to represent Georgia, despite continued failing health.
One commercial is stirring some conversation about rural America, particularly rural Georgia. There seems to be two camps who are debating whether this ad celebrates or insults rural folks. And both sides of the argument make a few good points. But this is yet another example of where the truth of both sides can be assembled to create option three, the right option.
I wanted to write this piece after reading an op-ed by AJC writer Maureen Downey. Downey says she is undecided about the ad but was bothered by the child narrator. While I agree with her that childhood should be a hopeful time the word that comes to my mind about this ad is “reality.” It’s the uncomfortable reality of rural life that city and suburb dwellers would rather not be confronted with while at a Super Bowl party.
I’m glad they chose a kid to narrate the ad. I think it communicates the message more effectively. Here we have a young man who actually sounds like he’s from Georgia (except for pronouncing the second ‘t’ in Atlanta) explaining to the entire nation that he was born in this small town, and he hopes to have a future in this small town. His “big dreams” aren’t about leaving the only home he has ever known to seek fame and fortune in some big city. He’s content to have a career, a home, a family, a future. And those who know much about rural life can tell you that if you have all those, you’re probably living better than your neighbors.
If you’ve never seen the sprawling Kia factory in West Point you can’t really understand the impact that place could have on a town of 3,728 people. I’m sure most of the employees commute from elsewhere as West Point doesn’t have the population to support that kind of operation. And yes, I’d rather there be many small successful businesses to help build the local economy but you work with what you have. Left with the option of Kia and nothing, I’ll take Kia in this situation.
What Kia did, purposely or otherwise, was to draw a contrast between life in rural Georgia and the glitz, the glamour, and the excess going on 81 miles up I-85. It drew the contrast between Atlanta and the rest of Georgia - a place where we spend billions to secure a party that will gross a few million vs a place where we don’t spend squat for any reason.
There were several small town guys in Sunday’s game. Quite possibly the local heroes of those towns. For every one of those players there’s 5 or 10 thousand back home who will never leave that town. If you ask them they’re liable to tell you that’s okay with them. That’s home. It’s where they intend to take their stand, for good and bad. Some will farm, some will build things, fix things. Some will run a cash register at the local gas station. Some may go away to college and then come home to teach at their local school. Many will do whatever they can to make a living. That’s reality. While it’s not encouraging kids to dream big, it is showing them that if your football or acting career doesn’t take off, you’re not less of a person. If you’re not an executive in an office tower 81 miles down the road, you still have value as a human, what you will do still matters, perhaps even more than that fancy job in the city. It’s telling them what was said in the closing line, that I do so love, “No, we are not famous but we are incredible and we make incredible things.”
That’s not just true at the Kia Motors Assembly Plant in West Point, Georgia. It’s true in thousands of small towns across America.
So, did the ad celebrate or insult? I’m afraid the better question is: how did the ad impact you and how is your perspective on reality in small rural towns changed? Watch it again. Be uncomfortable. Be changed.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire