The Press Falls Silent in Waycross
Sam Burnham, Curator
Today will be the last edition of the Waycross Journal-Herald. It’s a sad end for a local and independently-owned publication that has been reporting in southeast Georgia for 105 years and has been owned by the same family since 1916. I learned of this story from another local publication in southeast Georgia, The Brunswick News. I found the link to that story from yet another local news outlet, Hometown Headlines, located in Rome. That’s local press spreading news from other local presses.
It has only been a few weeks since we shared the news about the closure of The Vindicator, the longtime paper of Youngstown, Ohio. There are some parallels. Both towns have suffered economically, both papers had been owned by the same families, respectively, for decades, both were the predominant news source for their respective towns.
The shuttering of the Journal-Herald comes at a bad time for the town. A combination of stories are developing in area and now have no local outlet. With strip mining proposed near the Okefenokee, a regional economic engine could be under a serious threat. There is also the reports that the town is a “cancer cluster,” having an above average number of diagnoses of rare cancers, possibly linked to local industry.
The mining issue will still receive scrutiny. It’s a more regional threat and papers in Brunswick, St. Marys, and other towns are covering the developments. (And they’ll continue that coverage as long as they survive.) The swamp is also famous enough to get the Atlanta based outlets involved.
The cancer cluster issue is another story. There were a few mentions of it from a few outlets. But recently the discovery of the possibility that potentially harmful substances are being emitted from the Sterigenics plant in Cobb County has eliminated any and all statewide mention of the confirmed diagnoses of rare cancers in children in Waycross. My complaints to Georgia Public Broadcasting on this phenomenon were answered with one link to one segment of one show in their lineup. GPB is a reliable source for news you won’t hear from large commercial outlets and even they have only one segment they can point to. Conversely, their coverage of the Sterigenics story has been ubiquitous. Poor kids in southeast Georgia who have confirmed cancer aren’t as newsworthy as wealthy kids in Smyrna, Vinings, and Buckhead who might be potentially somewhat exposed to something that might be harmful. That’s not acceptable. Waycross deserves better. Georgia deserves better.
Local news outlets, specifically independent newspapers, are where stories get their start. These publications initially find the stories that the national outlets cover. Once these reports are made, larger outlets, and even other small presses, pick them up. If there is no local outlet to dig up the story, there’s no way that the New York Times or Washington Post will ever find them. They couldn’t find Waycross on a map of Ware County. Even ABG relies on these presses for stories that we share. We need boots on the ground, reporters who know the landscape, who have local interest, who are part of the community. As is the case with everything, over-centralized news outlets are less effective. We need voices close to home.
The only way to reverse the troubling trend of local independent news outlets going belly up, is for us to support those outlets in our communities. These are the entities that watch our local governments and businesses and keep them honest. These are the sources of all news. Think of it as the numerous and distant outstretched roots that are needed to hold up one of our majestic live oaks. If the tree of journalism is to survive, we have to be mindful to water and fertilize those outstretched roots. We have to support our local press.
Not Rural But Still Vanishing
Sam Burnham, Curator
A recent AJC article directed my attention to the Facebook group Skip Mason’s Vanishing Black Atlanta History. On the surface, it’s hard to imagine that anything in Atlanta could be vanishing on the level that our friend Brian Brown documents at Vanishing Media. But that is where a segment of the urban South has an unlikely connection to the rural South. That connection is based on the fact that modern development and progress has little, if any regard for rural small towns or the historic black communities in the inner cities.
The AJC article gives a perfect example. The City of Atlanta recently saw fit to partner with Arthur Blank to drop a $1.5 billion monstrosity on one of these neighborhoods. The structure blocks the neighborhood’s view of Atlanta. It’s also the ugliest building ever constructed.
One part arena, one part mechanical sphincter, Mercedes-Benz Stadium was pitched as an economic engine that would help the community it was dropped on. I guess that depends on the definition of “help.” Sure there has been some development, mostly the type known as gentrification. There’s some fancy new development but nothing congruent with the long established residents. It’s done a lot to make the area less affordable. It hasn’t done much to improve the existing community.
These communities have suffered for decades due to neglect by the city at large but also from the unintended consequences of desegregation. A recent segment on GPB’s On Second Thought discussed, among other topics, the apprehensions of Zora Neale Hurston regarding desegregation. This was not an unprecedented viewpoint as other prominent black people echoed it but was largely sneered at. It has proven to be somewhat prophetic. Once bustling neighborhoods like Nashville’s Jefferson Street and Jackson’s Farish Street have totally collapsed and crumbled. The Southern Foodways Alliance documented the Farish Street example in one of their productions. Geno Lee, owner of Jackson’s Big Apple Inn on Farish Street has communicated how desegregation was “good for black people but bad for the black community” - meaning that it helped people advance individually but they often left their neighborhoods behind.
But it seems kind of shallow to stack the blame for this phenomenon on desegregation. People follow opportunity. These neighborhoods thrived during segregation in part because there was no opportunity elsewhere. So I don’t want to make out like segregation was a positive good. It wasn’t good and it’s part of the past as it should be. The focus now should be on opportunities within these historic communities and giving the current residents something to be proud of. So seeing Skip Mason using his Facebook group to mobilize these neighborhoods to recognize their history and their culture is encouraging. That’s how a community can build on that sense of pride. People are sharing memories of the people, places, and events that built their communities. The older residents are showing the youngsters what once was and perhaps what could be again. Partner that with real opportunity and you have a realistic chance to benefit and revitalize the established community.
I’ve thrown several links into this article. I do that because I’ve done some background on this issue and I’m wanting to provide some access to that background. Understanding the history will help us all understand what needs to be done. Any time an old traditional community dies we all lose. We are lesser as a society because Farish Street in Jackson is in ruins. We’d be better as a society if it was filled with restaurants, music halls, businesses. It would benefit us economically as well as culturally. As always, the answers are local. Local food, local business, local pride, local architecture, local opportunity.
Finding ways to get the more centralized entities out of the way is primary. Pull down the barriers holding back the local economy. Work with local leaders, who know what’s happening on the ground, rather than assuming we know what’s best from the outside. And for goodness sake, don’t drop multi-million dollar townhouses and bourgeois coffee shops on them. That only runs the historic population off and replaces it with milquetoast modernity. That’s just not good enough.
Build the community tather than displace it.
Eb Joseph Daniels, ABG Contributor
"We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free." - Secretary of State William H. Seward
On this day in 1862 President Abraham Lincoln preliminarily issued the Emancipation Proclamation, decreeing that any slaves residing in territory still in open rebellion against the Federal government on January 1, 1863 would be immediately freed under the war powers granted to the president under the Constitution.
Having already rescinded a number of previous attempts at emancipation, most famously Major General John C. Fremont’s decree in Missouri, Lincoln began to formulate his own plan for freeing slaves in the spring of 1862.
Lincoln had long felt a personal objection to the institution of slavery, but he had vacillated over what ought to be done about it and what authority he had to do it. He also had to balance the wishes of the Radical Republicans and their abolitionist supporters, to whom Lincoln was greatly beholden, and the rest of the nation, for which emancipation was not a principal concern. While many Northerners and Westerners were against slavery as a concept, they could hardly be considered abolitionists. They tended to be opposed to the expansion of slavery or having to be in competition with slave labor, but most had little interest in slavery as it existed in the Southern states. Existing laws and the Constitution itself also provided extensive protections for the "peculiar institution."
Lincoln, therefore, framed his proclamation as a final effort to convince the states of the Confederacy that the Federal government had no interest in tampering with their slaves. He later stated in a letter that "After the commencement of hostilities I struggled nearly a year and a half to get along without touching the institution, and when finally I conditionally determined to touch it I gave a hundred days fair notice of my purpose, to all the States and people, within which time they could have turned it wholly aside, by simply again becoming good citizens of the United States. They chose to disregard it, and I made the peremptory proclamation on what appeared to me to be a military necessity. And being made, it must stand.”
In addition to potentially coaxing some of the more conservative Southern states, such as Georgia and Tennessee, back into the Union, Lincoln also used the proclamation to reassure the border states that he had no intention of meddling with the Constitutional protections afforded slavery; in early 1862, there was still a chance that Kentucky or Maryland might secede.
In order to make it clear that the proclamation was not an act of desperation, Lincoln waited to promulgate it until a Federal military victory. He eventually secured a species of victory, although a costly one, after the Battle of Sharpsburg, and the preliminary issuance was made a few days after the fighting in Maryland had ended.
The proclamation also laid the foundation for the enlistment of black soldiers in the Federal army. Many abolitionists had been pushing for black recruitment nearly since the war began, especially Frederick Douglas, who noted that blacks had been reportedly observed fighting for the Confederate army as early as the Battle of First Manassas. despite the fact that such service was contrary to existing Confederate policy.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation is rightly seen as a precursor to the adoption of Amendment XIII in 1865, its much-vaunted status as the legal instrument by which slavery was ended disregards its primary intended purpose: to save the Union, even if that salvation required the perpetuation of slavery.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire