Sam Burnham, Curator
The northwest corner of Georgia, from Haralson County, north to Dade County and from the Alabama line east to near Talking Rock, is designated as the 14th Congressional District. The district includes apple country, the spillover of Chattanooga’s southern suburbs, down through the Ridge and Valley region to where Atlanta’s Blob-like sprawl is consuming Paulding County at an alarming pace. It's eastern border, described as a "jagged line," follows the long-established borders of Murray, Gordon, Floyd, Polk, and Paulding Counties. Only Pickens County is divided by the district's limits.
I know this district well. I’ve spent most of my life here. I’ve hiked these mountains, floated these rivers, roamed these towns. I’ve toured parks and museums and played in and cheered at sporting events. I’ve dined in restaurants and bars. Perhaps you’ve read about some of these places on this site.
So it should come as no surprise that I was troubled to read Charles Bethea’s recent New Yorker article on Georgia’s 14th. The article is billed as an exposé on the rise of the current Republican congressional candidate, Marjorie Taylor Greene. I’ll be offering no defense of Greene here as i find nothing about her defensible. I’m neither a supporter nor a fan. However I can’t seem to get past how much this article, particularly the first half, comes across as a hit piece on the people of GA-14, a group to which Greene has no real claim to membership. This is not the first such story I’ve read from Bethea. As I don’t know him personally I don’t want to pass judgment but it seems he makes a good living writing unfavorable stories about his fellow Georgians for his New Yorker audience.
He kicks this article off by describing the support that Greene has found in the district. He gives a long description of the people, immediately invoking race before pointing out educational and economic statistics. The way he presents the educational, economic, and electoral statistics is important to the election of Greene and the late Larry McDonald. Allow me to go a little deeper into these to demonstrate why the people of the 14th really vote the way they do.
It is true that the 14th voted for Donald Trump. But they also voted for Mitt Romney, John McCain, George Bush 41 & 43, and Reagan in 84. That looks like a pattern and it is but then consider that a Republican couldn’t have gotten elected as dog catcher in this area until the late 1990s. In my youth Buddy Darden, a Democrat, was our representative in Congress. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, for differing reasons, ensured Democratic control of this area for over a century.
He mentions a statue of “the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.” This is a misleading statement that would make the district look particularly racist in the eyes of his New Yorker readership. I can see the images in their mind, that opening flourish of Forrest Gump of Forrest leading the Klan on horseback.In fact, the statue in question depicts General Forrest, the soldier, in the city he saved from destruction. Forrest pursued Col. Abel Streight across Alabama to stop the destruction of communication, transportation, and materiel infrastructure which was already sparse in the South. Forrest forcing the surrender of a force three times the size of his own prevented Streight from reaching Rome. The monument includes praise for Forrest by one William T. Sherman. As far as local Klan activities, the last demonstration held in Rome was held by Klan and neo-Nazi groups from Michigan while a larger group of locals held a counter protest across the street. Northwest Georgia doesn’t have enough local Klansmen to hold a rally. They have to come from elsewhere.
Sidebar on statues: since one of his sources mentioned it, I haven’t seen diapers on the Capitoline twins in in Rome in about 40 years.I suspect the true motivation for this is similar to the motivation for inundating the neighboring fountain with dish detergent. We probably shouldn’t read too much into it.
Bethea continues with information gleaned from sources describing the region as “a greenhouse for heretical religious beliefs.” It is very true that you can have a startling experience in a small country church around here but this quote is excessive, doubtlessly inspiring visions of widespread snake handling throughout the district.
Do you see the picture that is being painted? Low incomes, few college graduates, widespread racism and religious fanaticism all swirling together to give the outside world a view of these people suggesting they are stuck in the past and entranced by a crazy woman.
Marjorie Greene found success in the 14th due to that depiction and a thousand more like it. And the more the people are presented as imbeciles and Neanderthals, the more they will support Greene and candidates like her.
To be honest, I am sickened by Greene myself. I didn’t and won’t vote for her. I see her as Hasbro’s newest action figure: QAnon Barbie with Kung Fu Battle Grip™️ - totally plastic, comes with rifle and Hummer. But we have to understand what is really going on to see why she was so successful. It helps to have a least sampled some of The South’s political history. A reading of V.O. Key’s Southern Politics makes Greene’s ascent quite understandable. Eugene Talmadge and Huey Long immediately come to mind.
What just happened in northwest Georgia can be explained by a population disenchanted with “weak” candidates, like Romney, finding a woman who knew how to present herself as “God, Guns, and Guts.” They saw someone who they thought would fight for them. After years of candidates willing to compromise and maintain their manners, she offered a powerful, if shallow, message for people so often maligned in the media. “I’m one of you. I believe in you. We’re the same. Vote for me and I’ll punish the people who look down their noses at you." They don't care about QAnon. Most of them have no idea what it is. They care about their lost jobs after the textile industry rode NAFTA out of town. They care about big city politicians and pundits threatening the things they hold dear. They aren't "scared." They're angry.
Bethea’s article is a perfect example. A graduate of The Paideia School and Brown University, he’s easily got more invested in a year of education than many people in the 14th will make this year. He’s what the “poor, uneducated Trump voters” he has singled out would call “elite.” From where they stand he’s a rich man who portrays them as subhuman to his bourgeois audience. It’s no wonder they don’t have some Damascus Road experience and convert to his side of the aisle.
I was contacted by a local Democratic political leader wanting me to be interviewed for this story. She knew of my distaste for Greene and thought I could add my thoughts to the story. I declined. Perhaps that was a mistake. I feared that this story would go like several others: a hit piece on conservative leaning Georgians. I didn't want to be a part of that sort of story. The stark raving crazy Marjorie Taylor Greene deserves the hits. The good people of the 14th do not.
I’d like to think that Charles Bethea means well. I’d like to think he is acting on good faith and is writing these articles because he has bad sources. A law professor in Athens is a poor source on the 14th so perhaps that’s the problem. But as the article progresses he continues to pile on the products of his personal political beliefs. Even after interviewing locals he seeks no true understanding. He started with a conclusion and then built a story to support it.
I wish we could get national journalists to visit areas like the 14th, to mingle in, to understand, to write stories that are honest and fair. I wish these places wouldn’t just be “flyover country.” The stories being written about rural America in the large newspapers, magazines, and journals are not only abusive, they serve to perpetuate and intensify the culture war and the political divisiveness that is destroying these United States.
Should Mr. Bethea, of any other big press writer, want to get a good look at Georgia's 14th, I'd love to help them. All my inboxes are open.
Sam Burnham, Curator
When a young man stepped out on to C.E. Hamil Field to take up the task of playing offensive line, they were actually taking up the task of convincing Coach Rick Walker that they were up to the challenge. That is the predicament I walked into in spring practice of my freshman year.
Over the next three years I learned technique, formations, fundamentals, assignments, and discipline. But that all composes just a fraction of what I learned while playing guard for Rick Walker.
He preached “mental toughness.” The weight room and the practice field could condition our bodies but if our minds weren’t tough, we would quit when things got tough. We learned that toughness pushing him all over creation on a seven-man sled. We learned it “popping pads.” We learned it by doing agility drills. We learned it by stepping with the right foot, getting low, delivering at the point of impact, driving through our blocks, and returning to the huddle to do it again. And we learned it by repeating these things until we were exhausted and we had to force ourselves to do it again. “If you can’t get to that linebacker, we can’t run Belly. And we’re gonna run Belly, so you better get there.”
He was a mountain of a man. He stood at least a head higher than most of his colleagues. He had broad shoulders and enormous hands. I remember being in the weight room while some players were trying to improve their maximums on the bench. He walked into the room and stopped when saw one of them struggling with 315 pounds on the bar. One of them jokingly challenged him to join them and suggested a “300 Pound Club” t-shirt was on the line. Walker took his place on the bench and then effortlessly rattled off three reps and placed the bar back in its place before sitting up and announcing “you owe me 3 t-shirts.”
But the true measure of the man was in his faith, character, loyalty, and dedication. He was our Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader, a role he served in for 37 years. During his career he coached multiple sports, notably football and girls basketball, in addition to his regular teaching duties. He operated as an educator, a coach, and a mentor. He was bold and honest. The memories shared by his students and players have poured in since the announcement of his passing. There has been a consensus that Coach Walker positively impacted the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men and women.
He was known for being tough. He was a strict disciplinarian who didn’t waste time looking for the gentle way to say something. He demanded your best by telling you to “get your head out of your butt.” But he was also the guy who led the singing during our FCA rallies, boldly belting out “beep-beep, toot-toot, nana-nana, waka-waka.” There was a time for seriousness and a time for silliness and he excelled at both.
I’ve got a lot of great memories of him. But I think the best one comes from one of the last games of my senior year. He was giving us instructions on the bench between possessions. After he finished what he had to tell us, he looked me straight in the eye and told me, “you’re doing a good job for me out there tonight.”
Now this mighty man of faith has moved on to his reward. The world is better because of him. My prayers are with his family.
Sam Burnham, Curator
“...kind of a mistake. It’s a song that should have never been a hit single.” Michael Stipe
”Think about it. You’ve got a five minute song with no discernible chorus and the lead instrument is a mandolin. Why would anyone play that on the radio?” - Mike Mills
This is how two members of REM introduce a show featuring the creation of their 1991 single Losing My Religion. Yet this is the song that, after it was recorded, was the band’s consensus choice for the first single from their album Out of Time.
The new Netflix series Song Exploder offers a look behind the scenes into how these four men created one of the greatest songs ever released by a Georgia band. Seeing the magic of the creative process just added to the greatness and the mystique of the song.
Peter Buck teaching himself to play the mandolin and just building that iconic riff in the process booked the band a date with destiny. From there the show meanders through the creativity of Stipe, Mills, Buck, and Berry as each one made their mark. REM collectively decided to do something different. That’s what they did. It was different than anything they had done before and much different than anything else in the radio at that time. Stipe choosing an old Southern phrase is indicative of Georgia as an anchor for the music.
One of the greatest parts of the show is to see how they talk about the band and each other. So many bands out there that have the years together that these men have are burned out or even hate each other. These four are still very much friends and obviously love each other the way long time friends should. It’s refreshing.
I remember this song so vividly. Even on such a great album this one stood out to me. It was one that I listened to over and over. For me in 1991 that meant rewinding a cassette over and over, which I did. Whether it was on my stereo in my room or on my Walkman on the bus headed to a football road game, this song was never far away. In 2020, I find it just as enjoyable as I did in 1991. In fact, I’ve been through it 6 or 7 times while writing this piece.
I would have thought that the samples, those that were singled out in the show would have been detrimental. Such a mechanical separation of vocals, or percussion, or strings should peel back some of the magic and cost the song it’s soul. But it didn’t. It gave me chills, made me take notice. It proved to me, even more than I already knew, that this is just a truly great song.
If you are a fan of REM or even just enjoyed Losing My Religion then this is 25 minutes well spent. It is well worth your time.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire