Sam Burnham, Curator
Towards the back of the great lexicon of Georgia place names which are pronounced differently than they are spelled you’ll find White. Any true citizen of Bartow County can tell you it is pronounced “Whites.” Such a name makes for interesting headlines in the Cartersville newspaper such as “White Man Charged With Robbery” or “White Residents Angry About Tax Hike” or maybe “White School Sees Enrollment Increase.” You know, since there aren’t enough controversial headlines out there already.
White is a unique place. Nearby you can find the world-class Tellus Science Museum and the modern yet beautiful Cass High School (which was relocated from Cassville but understandably wasn’t renamed White High School.) The museum and the school are relatively recent developments.
Let’s talk about some other locations in White.
First of all, let’s just say this is one of those fun, quirky places that you’ll find scattered across the rural South. There’s a lot fewer of these places than there used to be - too few for my taste anyway.
Old Car City is a slice of Americana. It’s kinda rusty, a little beat up, and pretty odd. Calling this place a junkyard would be like calling The Louvre a building filled with old pictures. Old Car City is a collection of masterpieces, cars you don’t see every day. Some are in rough shape and the mosquitoes might fight you for them but if you come prepared, you’ll see some cool stuff.
The best primer I can think of on Old Car City is the article my friend James Calemine did on the place for Snake Nation Press. He has done a lot of photography there and many of the photos found their way into his books. Old Car City is one part preservation and one part disposal. A museum and a salvage yard where history is what is salvaged.
While I love old and unique automobiles, food is the way to my heart. Just across the street from Old Car City you’ll find Wes Man’s.
Now I’ve done a review of Wes Man’s before. ABG can vouch for the burgers as well as the steak and gravy. They even have an Old Car City Burger that is a burger with bacon, pulled pork and BBQ sauce. There’s a full breakfast menu as well. The food is good.
But if you’ll look around as you’re waiting for your meal you’ll notice all sorts of oddities. Newspaper clippings, autographed photos of celebrities, old license plates, numerous Sheriff Woody dolls line the walls. Some of the items might leave you scratching your head. Coach Drew commented more than once that “they hung that up there and they don’t even know what it is.” It’s a plausible theory.
As sort of a gateway to White, there’s an old Chevrolet panel van out on the corner of the Wes Man’s parking lot. It is coated in layers of paint. A special request can get a birthday greeting painted in the side of it for a special someone. It’s right out beside the highway for all the White residents and even the White visitors to see. (See how crazy that sounds?) Anyway, Happy birthday to Daddy Billy Joe, Luke, and John.
I really hope these two places last forever. As the creep of strip malls and fast food climbs up I-75 like kudzu emerging from the bowels of Atlanta, I fear pavement and progress will ruin this pristine weirdness. The best thing I know to tell you is do not delay. Plan your White visit today. Check out Old Car City and grab a bite at Wes Man’s. You’ll thank us for it.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Just stop for a minute.
During the lockdown a lot of us were freaking out about not going anywhere. I can still remember the highly diminished traffic in town as I putted around on “essential” errands. So much came to a screeching halt. That was a detrimental event for a lot of business owners and I get that. But I realized something else as well.
We’re too busy.
How often do you carve some time out of your busy schedule to participate in that longtime Southern art of doing absolutely nothing? Do you remember what it is to sit on the porch on a stormy evening in late July with no one to talk to but the thunder?
Oh, you can accomplish a lot on such an outing. You could whittle a stick. You could enjoy a cold beverage. You could pluck at a guitar. You could blow a few gnats out of your face. You could wave at cars as they pass by while you pity the poor souls who aren’t as fortunate to be as busy as you. You could ponder the grass you just mowed and how good it looks. You can debate with yourself the pros and cons of a non-native species such as the peach tree. You know, important stuff.
Most importantly, you can unwind, decompress. You can be thankful to not be stuck in Atlanta traffic. You can be present in the moment. You can put away the stress and demand of the rat race - this modern contraption we call an economy.
Maybe a friend drives by and sees you living the good life and decides to join you. Y’all can sit together and solve all the world’s problems. A porch is a fantastic venue for socializing, sharing news, shaping ideas, daydreaming. There’s a great multitude of things you can accomplish by sitting on the porch doing nothing.
While a porch is the ideal I shared here you can get the same benefit from a free standing porch swing, a chair on a patio, or any number of other lawn furniture options. You might get extra credit for a hammock. The point is to stop for a spell. Disconnect from modernity for a moment and see how it changes your life.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Complex times call for complex solutions to complex problems. And so Disney now faces a choice to either re-theme a fan favorite or capitalize on an opportunity to do some of their best storytelling ever.
Disney’s Splash Mountain is a cornerstone of their Magic Kingdom parks in Florida, California, and Japan, Based on the controversial Song of the South film (1946) that was based on the Uncle Remus stories of Georgia author Joel Chandler Harris.
The reactions to the announcement from both sides have been to usual crossfire of “tear down racism” and “leave history alone.” But the cultural significance of the moment is lost in between those simplistic points. The stories of Br’er Rabbit and his neighbors are steeped in the history of the South and also West Africa, Harris was abandoned by his unwed father shortly after his birth and raised by his mother before dropping out of school in his early teens, He spent years in slave cabins learning the stories and perfecting the dialect from the men and women who toiled on Turnwold Plantation bear Eatonton where he lived while apprenticing with a newspaper. His own humble origins drew him to the enslaved people and made him want to relate with them. He wanted to share the oral tradition of enslaved people to "preserve in permanent shape those curious mementoes of a period that will no doubt be sadly misrepresented by historians of the future."
The dialect, stories, clothing, songs, traditions, and culture that once spanned the South are now diminished to a few hundred people on the coast of Georgia. Their stories are presently hidden in plain sight on one of the most popular rides in the Happiest Place on Earth.
Disney needs to do a risk vs reward assessment. What do they stand to lose vs what they stand to gain?
Changing the theme of Splash Mountain would pacify calls for change and be a benign step to creating new entertainment opportunities. But at what cost? Should thet bury forever the folk heroes of the oral tradition of enslaved people? Disney has the resources, the audience, and the machinery in place to do something so much greater.
Disney should partner with The Wren’s Nest in Atlanta and The Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton to make a film that celebrates these narratives. Show their audience who Br’er Rabbit is. Shift away from the live action portions of Song of the South that people find problematic. Focus on the characters who appear in the ride, the subjects who make up a fable tradition as rich as Aesop’s. Give film audiences and park visitors an experience with the wit and wisdom that these stories celebrate.
Provide a space outside the ride for authentic storytellers to share the narratives for park visitors. Present these stories for a mainstream audience in a way that educates and entertains. Use the queue line to expand on the stories. They could even tie in scheduled ring shouter performances or other appropriate cultural demonstrations in that space. The possibilities are endless. Make it culturally appropriate, make it historically accurate. Tell the story.
If racism and poor cultural representation are the stubborn stumps we can’t dislodge, Splash Mountain can be a stick of dynamite to loosen things up a bit.
Do the right thing, Disney. Do not bulldoze the Briar Patch. Elevate the king of that briar patch. Tell his story and those of his neighbors with the help of people who know them best. Don’t sweep him into obscurity. Tell an even bigger story, the right story, the real story.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire