Sam Burnham, Curator
There has been a lot of discussion about “canceling” Alexander H. Stephens. There has been serious talk of removing his statue from Statuary Hall in the US Capitol. His critics reduce him to one speech, one role in government, one issue. The move to mothball his legacy in favor of a more politically correct narrative would rob us of a lesson, a priceless example, and a voice of wisdom that we desperately need right this minute.
In the aftermath of the 2020 election the state of Texas led a lawsuit against a few other states. They took their complaint to the Supreme Court and the court refused to hear it. Shortly afterwards the Texas GOP released a statement suggesting certain states should form their own union, a slightly veiled threat of secession. Several pundits including Rush Limbaugh have gone as far to say the actual words. Twitter, and on a larger scale Parler, was abuzz with rhetoric of secession and civil war.
My thoughts we back to Stephens. Such is the danger of eliminating him. He has already been marginalized to the point that he doesn’t come up in these conversations. He spent much of 1860 touring Georgia, asking, no, begging people to stay put. His message was fairly simple. He argued that Georgia had not exhausted every option at working within the Constitution to defend their grievances. He predicted that the inevitable war would be fought on our land, in our fields, at our homes. The horrors of war would be laid on our doorsteps.
He gave these warnings at Floyd Springs Methodist Church in September of 1860. In May of 1864, elements of Sherman’s forces marched through the churchyard on their quest to find a suitable crossing of the Oostanaula River. Stephens had warned them less that four years previous. Less than a week later, those soldiers captured Rome, Georgia. In November of that year they burned Rome to the ground and set out to march to the sea.
He told Georgians to wait, to be patient, to let cooler heads prevail. He tried to walk us back from the ledge. In churches and town squares he repeated his warning. In December of 1860 he again gave his plea. In the house chamber in Milledgeville he fiercely debated his best friend, Robert Toombs at Georgia’s Secession Convention. Toombs won the day. Georgia left the Union and the rest is history.
And so we have a cautionary tale from the past. Some of the similarities are striking. A divisive presidential election, regional allegiances, cultural upheaval, even the dubious addition of two states to pad the Electoral College. Regional and political factions spent four years killing each other. Cities were burned to the ground, lives were shattered.
I can’t go so far as to say it was all avoidable. The rifts were profound. But Stephens embodied Georgia’s state motto: Wisdom, Justice, Moderation. There were others but he stands out.
In the end, emotion, angry rhetoric, arrogance, and stubbornness brought secession, war, and destruction. As the rhetoric of our current political reality continues to polarize, we approach a similar situation. The question: do we have a real moderating voice? This doesn’t mean sound bites or campaign snippets. It means listening. It means compromise. It means leadership.
Stephens embodied that. Canceling his history is not only foolish. In our present circumstances, it’s dangerous.
Sam Burnham, Curator
We’ve got a lot of loves at ABG. Among them are locally owned businesses and long established institutions. I’ve got a perfect meshing of the two for you. For this one we’re going to Jacksonville...Alabama, not Florida. This review is of a gem of a place in Calhoun County. Let’s talk about The Rocket.
I first walked into this establishment in the fall of 1993. When I walked in earlier this year it looked just like it did 27 years ago. I’m pretty sure it lookedp the same when it opened in 1958. The only change I noticed since my first visit was some of the ladies working behind the counter hadn’t been born as of then. That made me feel kind of old.
But it made me feel better knowing that this local icon was holding up to the test of time. Same furniture, same decor, same everything.
The Rocket is a BBQ joint. Let me say this, you aren’t going to see The Rocket on TrueSouth or Chef’s Table BBQ. It’s not that kind of place. Their BBQ is solid, it’s good. But they don’t have a trophy case. In fact, I don’t typically eat the BBQ when I go there. Coach Drew does and speaks well of it.
There’s a backstory to what I order. Just around the corner from our childhood home was our own local spot. They had a twin burger basket that everyone on that side of town still raves about. A simple concept: two burgers and fries in a basket. But Peyton’s is gone and their baskets (and the Evel Knievel pinball machine) went with them. So when I saw the twin burger basket on the menu at The Rocket, I had to know. It was perfect. 27 years later, it’s still perfect.
One of the best things about The Rocket is just how local it is. I mentioned there’s no trophy case but there is a plethora of local articles framed on the wall. And you’ll see people who’ve been going there since 1998, 1988, 1968. Lord willing, they’ll be going in 2028. This isn’t gourmet. It’s not an oddball joint with a cult following. This is over six decades of sustained support by the locals. It’s 100% small town phenomenon.
The dining room is pretty small. They have a strong takeout business, partially because a table is a commodity during lunch rush. We got there on Georgia time so the place was pretty empty. But we watched the crowd roll in. All the tables filled up. Folks flowed in and out with takeout orders.
They have a pickup window. It’s not a drive thru. You can walk up and place orders as well as pickup call-in orders without going inside. There is currently shielding between the few booths as well as the counter. COVID precautions are in place. The strong takeout game got them through the lockdown. It will continue to help them thrive.
And the twin burger basket was on point, just like always.
So I leave you with this tip. That little stone BBQ joint on Pelham Road South is worth a stop. Dine in or take out, it’s highly recommended. If you find yourself anywhere near it, check it out.
Sam Burnham, Curator
On Friday nights in the fall, high school football teams take center stage across The South. Like anything else, the big, the successful, the wealthy are the best known examples. Valdosta, Parkview, Buford. Large schools fill big stadiums every week. There’s an atmosphere that rivals the college game.
But I’d like to turn your attention to some smaller schools. There’s something about small communities that roll up the sidewalks early on Friday because the local team is taking the field. If you’ve never been to a small town high school football game, you’re missing out. The crowds both rival and resemble those at local churches on Sunday morning...because they’re usually the same people. The game is usually the biggest thing in town on a given week. It’s a social event, the place to be.
This fact has always been in my mind but it hit me hard this past Friday night. It was homecoming in Trion, Georgia. This town in northern Chattooga County has struggled against COVID-19 and a closing cotton mill. 2020 has not been kind. Trion Bulldog Football offers a distraction from bad news. The team has done ok this year but not as good as in recent years. They need a strong finish and maybe a little help to extend their season.
The visitors were from Armuchee High, some 20 miles down the highway. The Indians have picked up a couple of wins this year, better than in recent years but still struggling with a losing record. Barring a miracle, there won’t be a playoff appearance this year. What’s left of the regular season is all these kids get.
When you consider all of the game experience, teams, cheerleaders, marching bands, fans, so much of this season has been a disappointment. Games have been canceled. Many games have omitted the bands to limit crowd sizes. A lot of kids have put in a lot of hard work and practice for very little of the reward of demonstrating their craft. As a dad, it’s heartbreaking.
Last Friday was a full experience. Both schools had their teams, cheer squads, and marching bands in attendance. The homecoming court was presented. As the season’s end draws nigh, opportunities are becoming fewer. The pain stings a little sharper. But for one night, things were a little more normal.
Both sets of stands held healthy crowds. Both schools, and therefore both communities, were well represented. It was fueled by pride in our kids, in our schools, in our towns. It was seizing a chance to have the full experience. In a year like 2020 you don’t know that you’ll have that chance again, schedule or no schedule. We made the most of it.
In this season there’s a lesson. We’ve learned the importance of the moment. We’ve learned to appreciate each time our kids take the field. We are a little more aware that this time is fleeting.
As a dad, I hope next year is back to normal.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire