Sam Burnham, Curator
With the news that the disaster relief bill has stalled out in the Senate, we sit here scratching our heads. With much of South Georgia still struggling to recover from Hurricane Michael as well as tornadoes that damaged small towns and agricultural infrastructure, farmers were counting on federal disaster relief to make repairs, buy equipment, and to be eligible to secure loans for seed. And now planting season is upon us and those who lost last year’s crop to weather have lostvthis year’s crop before they even had a chance to plant it. Many may lose everything they own.
As Washington becomes more and more divided and the two major parties make moves only in the interest of gaining or maintaining power, the pawns become odder. This is not a frivolous topic. Sure, agriculture is the livelihood of those affected but their livelihood is the most important one on Earth. It’s not only the biggest industry in Georgia, it’s where we get our food and ots what drives our industries. It is all of our livelihoods.
The Judge, Augustus Romaldus Wright, put it this way:
"Agriculture is the foundation of all production absolutely necessary for the use or comfort of man. He must eat and be clothed, to live, to think, to modify matter into ten thousand forms for his use. By locking up the soil, you dry up the fountain of life and being."
This failure is locking up the soil. That’s not an option we can accept. We cannot allow this to happen. It also seems that we cannot expect to change what goes on in Washington. The only option that leaves us is to start conversations on how to never be at the mercy of Washington. We have to be able to handle this at the state and local level. That requires us to develop sustainable systems of finance, energy, agricultural practices, and disaster relief that are completely independent of Washington. The answers will be local, local, and local.
I don’t have answers and don’t claim to. I’m saying we gotta start talking about these answers among ourselves and with anyone in Atlanta who will listen. And we might have to talk a little louder to those in Atlanta who won’t listen.
Washington is not the answer. We were fools to think it was. Our survival depends on a future with limited influence from Washington. If we don’t count on them, they can’t fail us. It’s time to count on us and to set the example for other states to do the same.
Got any ideas?
Sam Burnham, Curator
At the turn of the 20th Century, agriculture wasn’t just Georgia’s top industry, it was everything. While Georgia farmers grew food and other items for their own sustenance, money came from just a few products including cotton, turpentine, and tobacco.
Georgians baled cotton, cat-faced pines, and hung tobacco leaves in rows in their tobacco barns. Later in that century boll weevils ate the cotton, the pulpwood industry made cat-facing obsolete, and various government policies shuttered tobacco barns. Georgians diversified. Peaches, pecans, peanuts, poultry, pulpwood, even some things that don’t start with P took the baton and ran with it.
These days the boll weevils are mostly eradicated. Cotton has somewhat returned. Turpentine is likely gone forever and cat-facing will never return outside of history demonstrations or some hardcore hobbyists here and there.
But down in west central Georgia a young man is trying something old. Meriwether County’s Blake Pearson is an agriculture student at ABAC and he’s applying some of his education and a lot of his love of the land, history, and tradition by putting tobacco back into the red earth of Georgia.
Pearson says he wants to “show that old times aren’t forgotten in these busy times. That southern agriculture is still capable of being king instead of outsourcing products from other countries. I’ve seen sugar cane pressed by a mule, a steam powered cotton gin run, and a turpentine still produce turpentine from pine gum. That’s another thing you don’t see anymore and that’s turpentine farms.” I’ll let him get his tobacco crop going before I ask if he’s planning to start cat-facing pine trees.
It will not be an easy task. Going to school full time in Tift County and growing cotton in Meriwether County means he will have to enlist the help of his parents who will tend the crops while Pearson is away at school. He’ll be tending them over the summer and on weekends.
Pearson isn’t starting huge. He’s not coupled with Philip Morris or some huge agribusiness firm. He’s doing this the old way. He’s starting with what one man can do and he’s going from there. “I’m currently in the process of planting 1.5 acres. I’ll be transplanting over Easter weekend. All 5,760 plants. With that, I should have a crop of roughly 1500 pounds of dried tobacco.”
A small start up farm is best suited to partner with a small start up business. So Pearson is teaming up with our new friends at Southern Tab and together they plan to produce a cigar that’s not only Southern made, but Georgia made, from seed to smoke. That will be hard, if not impossible, to find anywhere else. Plus, a small farm and a small business working together means neither is taken advantage of by big business. Neither is reduced to an account number. Handshakes and first names seal deals instead of long distance phone calls and emails from people who’ve never had dirty hands. It’s business like business should be done.
I’m keeping an eye on Blake Pearson and Southern Tab. I’m sure we'll be talking more about them before too much longer. In the meantime, you can follow along with them both on Instagram here and here.
Sam Burnham, Curator
I want to take a closer look at some of the themes in this film. There’s a lot going on here and I’d like to examine it in light of the earlier commentary on Hell or High Water.
Again we see Texas Rangers chasing down bank robbers. Again we see, on a much larger scale this time, an affinity for the outlaws from the general public. The evil banks are getting theirs and there is a cult of personality, a wild fandom that has grown out of the gratitude the people have for what they believe is vengeance, a reckoning even.
Looking at one of the Rangers, Maney Gault, played by Woddy Harrelson, we see a man who is struggling with events that haunt him. These events date back to the earliest days in his career when he and his partner, Frank Hamer, played by Costner, raided an encampment of Mexican bandits, killing dozens, including a young boy. The memories drive his convictions as he expresses adamantly that how they conduct themselves should reflect that they are better than the monsters they seek.
A pivotal scene is when Hamer confronts Clyde Barrow’s father, Henry, played by William Sadler. The two discuss how Clyde evolved from a “good kid” to a murderous outlaw and, in turn, how Hamer became a Texas Ranger and eventually a highwayman on a special assignment to take down Bonnie and Clyde. Like any father would, Barrow points to the good in his son. He wants Hamer to know this wasn’t how his boy was raised or who he really was. They discuss the idea of “one turn on the trail,” the idea that one decision can lead to a series of decisions that can change the course of a life. While Barrow is defending his son, he also stresses to Hamer that the only way this rampage ends is with Clyde’s death. He’s almost weeping as he asks Hamer to end it quickly. A father has already lost his son. What must come will bring an odd relief to his family.
That end comes as Gault and Hamer, with the help of a Dallas deputy and a Louisiana sheriff and deputy, set an elaborate trap for Bonnie and Clyde. The moment they spring that trap is the first real glimpse you get of the couple. They’re young, attractive, well dressed. They don’t look like soulless monsters. They look like two kids with their whole lives ahead of them. That is where you feel that tug at your heart as the barrage of gunfire erupts and their youthful bodies are obliterated by hundreds of bullets. It is all so senseless and yet, there was no other way their violent rampage was ever going to end.
What we should take take away from this film is a true and complete respect for and commitment to the sanctity of human life.
Bonnie and Clyde were revered for what they did because everyday folks cheapened the lives of bankers. Hamer and Gault were each tormented in their own ways for their taking of human life. Bonnie and Clyde found their own unnecessary destruction through their disregard for human life. Viewers are left to ponder the value of human life as two beautiful yet sinister people are blown to smithereens.
If we value human life, we value all human life. And that can seem like a paradox at times. When Hamer and Gault stormed the lair of the bandits and killed them, it ended a terrible threat to human life. But it also ended human lives. When they killed Bonnie and Clyde, it ended the threat of violence to banks, law enforcement, and even average people, but it also cost the lives of two human beings.
In the end the deaths were beneficial for the safety of others. But that doesn’t make the loss of life something to celebrate. In the case of Bonnie and Clyde, their souls died long before their bodies were killed. What really could have come from their lives? What of the grief of their families? What of missed opportunities? What of wasted lives? In short, killing them was necessary. It was the only way to save lives but their deaths were no less tragic for it.
Valuing himan life does not mean never killing. It means that sometimes killing is the only way to save life. It means being willing to kill to save lives. But it also means that killing, no matter how necessary, is never good. There’s a toll that killing takes on the human psyche. There’s a cost for all involved.
The best option is to value human life and prevent the death of the soul that builds monsters like Bonnie and Clyde. This means appropriate methods of incarceration and rehabilitation. This means education and mentoring. It means loving life first and applying appropriate and necessary justice while maintaining our own souls and not becoming the monsters we fight.
The Highwaymen offers many lessons in life , love, mercy, and justice. We’d be wise, as individuals and a society, to take these lessons, learn from them, and apply them.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire