Jamil’s Georgia

Jamil Zainaldin, president of the Georgia Humanities Council, is a wonderful storyteller who will share tales of our state’s past and connect them to our present.

An awakening in Tifton: An old photograph of child mill workers inspired one man to search for clues about a forgotten past

In March of this year, about 100 people came together in Tifton, Georgia, from all parts of the state and the country to commemorate the memory of a lost, invisible past that was now found. Not long before, most had no idea of their connection to it.

The occasion was a special event convened by the Georgia Museum of Agriculture. The centerpiece was an exhibition on child labor in Georgia in the early 20th century, the mills who employed children, and the story of a single family: that of Catherine Young. To understand why this story is so remarkable to all who attended the event, we need go a back a century in time.
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Waffle House #786

Neighbors Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner opened their first Waffle House in Avondale Estates, in DeKalb County, in 1955. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the restaurant featured its namesake — of course, the waffle — as well as eggs, grits, hashbrowns (a specialty), burgers, and T-bone steak. Initially restricted to the Deep South, Waffle House today operates in 25 states and is America’s second-largest family-style restaurant (after Denny’s). With its “retro-style dining room where customers can watch their food being prepared,” writes journalist Chris Starr, “the look and quality of the restaurant has never really changed.”

That’s the official story from the New Georgia Encyclopedia. The unofficial story is the one every regular customer knows in his or her own way, which is why that yellow sign is a southern icon.
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Communities need civic education and involvement in order to thrive. The State YMCA leads the way

Modern education reform is part of a national effort to promote student achievement. A thoroughly modern idea, it grew in response to the 1950s Cold War race between the United States and the Soviet Union for worldwide technology dominance. If one could point to a symbol of that era, probably it would be the 1957 launch of the satellite “Sputnik,” a threatening image in the American mind.

Indeed Sputnik not only launched a space race but changed forever how we talk about education. Certainly the space race unlocked the U.S. treasury in pursuit of new national priorities. And near the top of this list was education — at every level.
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The surrender of Atlanta — a Civil War story of universal significance

In 2014 the city is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta. Certainly most of us are familiar with the devastation that Sherman visited on Atlanta and the surrounding area in his campaign to deal a lasting blow to the Confederacy.

Less familiar, and almost entirely unknown until recent years, thanks to the work of the late University of Georgia historian Thomas G. Dyer (see Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta), are the circumstances of the city’s surrender and the composition of the surrender delegation.
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The Georgia roots of one of 20th century’s most successful songwriters

By Laura McCarty, vice president of the Georgia Humanities Council. She is a guest columnist for “Jamil’s Georgia” this week.

Music- and film-making are thriving businesses in Georgia now, but Georgia native Johnny Mercer – writer of such memorable songs as “Glow-Worm” and “Jeepers Creepers,” which were wildly popular in their day — successfully blended both during his long career.

A recent book by New Georgia Encyclopedia author Glenn T. Eskew, Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World (published by the University of Georgia Press), explores the life and global legacy of Mercer — one of the most prolific, successful, and popular songwriters of the 20th century.
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Godfrey Barnsley’s dream: A southern Eden in the wilderness, its collapse, and a modern-day rebirth (Part 3)

Earlier I wrote about the migration of Godfrey and Julia Barnsley from Savannah to the mountains, where Godfrey Barnsley built their dream estate, “the Woodlands” — not as a plantation, but in the style of an Italianate manor sustained by the countryside. Yet the existence of Barnsley’s dream house was dependent on his work as an international cotton agent that tied his fate and that of his family to the cotton industry.

Thus, the war of secession that engulfed Georgia came in time to the Woodlands. In May 1864 Union and Confederate troops skirmished on the grounds of the Barnsley estate as General James B. McPherson passed through Woodlands on his way to Atlanta (where he would die two months later). Seeing the manor, its gardens, fields, and vineyards, he was overwhelmed: “This is a little piece of heaven itself.”
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Godfrey Barnsley’s dream: A southern Eden in the wilderness, its collapse, and a modern-day rebirth (Part 2)

Last week I wrote of the genesis of Barnsley Gardens, of Godfrey and Julia Barnsley’s decision to relocate from Savannah, where Godfrey was engaged in the cotton trade as a broker, to the mountains of pre-Civil War north Georgia. After a three-week journey by wagon, they settled on more than 3,000 acres of fertile land amid undulating hills, natural springs, and forest that was formerly occupied by the Cherokee. They named their estate “Woodlands.”

Their first task (with their servants and hired local help) was to begin building cabins and wood structures that would be their temporary housing. Barnsley, who seemed always to have a plan, acquired a steam-driven sawmill for lumbering and a kiln for making brick. While the challenges were obvious and included “roaming wild animals” and “wolves so numerous,” there was also nature’s bounty. Continue reading

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Godfrey Barnsley’s dream: A southern Eden in the wilderness, its collapse, and a modern-day rebirth (Part 1)

Today we know Barnsley Gardens as a world-class resort tucked into the rolling hills of north Georgia, 90 minutes from downtown Atlanta. On the edge of the resort are the ruins of an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind southern manor. Its namesake, Godfrey Barnsley, is tightly woven into the fabric of Georgia’s history.

It would not be easy to find a more extraordinary figure in Georgia’s first century of statehood than Barnsley, whose life was made successful by his profits from the cotton industry and whose downfall was due to the war that freed the slaves who made those profits possible. From the coast to the uplands he took advantage of what this new territory offered to those ambitious, opportunistic, and intrepid enough to see the possibilities. Continue reading

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Desegregating an entire community: Albany Movement takes flight (Conclusion)

For me, an important thread in the worldwide narrative of human and civil rights is the story of the Albany Movement, which I’ve discussed over the last few weeks. It is a story — or more properly, stories — involving a place whose ground we stand upon.

Almost 400 years ago, traders brought Africans to the first English colony in the New World, Virginia, where tobacco plantations and slavery grew hand in hand, and spread. Four of the young nation’s first five presidents were Virginians who owned slaves, even as they trumpeted liberty as a natural and universal human right.

More than 400 years of slavery transitioned to a post-Reconstruction segregation policy that continued to thwart and distort the lives of millions of American citizens who lived under these laws.
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Desegregating an entire community: Albany Movement takes flight (Part 4)

Before the advent of federal civil rights legislation (1964-65), the Albany Movement found its sustenance in song. Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, workers Cordell Reagon and Charles Sherrod learned “freedom songs” during the student sit-ins in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee in 1960.

Their Mississippi Freedom Rider experience in the summer of 1961 added new material to their repertoire. When they got to Albany, Reagon and Sherrod taught freedom songs to high school and college students in the NAACP Youth Council.
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