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.

Natasha Trethewey: poetry of place

Natasha Trethewey’s poems are like anonymous dispatches from a southern past, waiting to be opened by the reader.

They are evocations of another time, another place — stories told hauntingly through the sustained contemplation of a single aged photograph in which bales of cotton and American flags, black children in freshly starched clothes and the image of an American president merge; or a clouded childhood memory of a mother’s bruises hidden by makeup; or the preserved Civil War–era fortress on Ship Island, where the hopes and dreams of the African American native guard — the first black soldiers mustered into the Union Army — swelled for a time and was then forgotten.

Georgia’s natural world

Georgia’s history is closely tied to our natural environment, which has been the source of economic opportunity and a destination for leisure activity, a magnet for explorers and tourists, an inspiration for writers and other artists.

Our natural world — Georgia’s wilderness — is of ineffable quality, breathtaking beauty, mysterious beckoning. Our expansive landscape is gifted with a range of natural diversity. The records of Europe’s earliest visitors document their astonishment at the variety of flora and fauna they encountered in this place.

No empty place

All place has meaning, so long as it can still support memory.

The spot of earth upon which we stand has importance if we can remember what once was there. The stories about the places we occupy give meaning to them and thus to our own lives. Sometimes our sense of place becomes so strong that it establishes sacred space.

For many, Camp Toccoa in north Georgia is sacred ground.

The boys of Currahee: they stood alone (Part 2)

In part one of this story, I talked about the origins of Easy Company — the boys of Currahee — and their training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, and their participation in the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944.

By November 1944, the Allied push toward Germany had stalled in the hills and valleys of France and Belgium. German defenses along the Rhine River were seemingly impenetrable. Then, on December 16, at the onset of winter, the enemy launched a massive counteroffensive that caught the Allies by complete surprise.

A German force of seven tank divisions, 250,000 Wehrmacht soldiers and Waffen-SS infantry pushed through the Allied lines in the Ardennes forest of Belgium—the first step in a daring lightning strike to the Meuse River. If successful, it would divide the American and British forces and quite possibly lead to their defeat.

The boys of Currahee: they stood alone (Part 1)

Seventy years ago, dug into the bitter ice and snow of a Belgian forest, a U.S. Army infantry company helped to withstand a massive German onslaught and thereby changed the course of history. Did you realize that the story of Easy Company began at Camp Toccoa, Georgia?

At Camp Toccoa, in 1942, the 150 men of Easy Company, part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), began an excruciatingly arduous training regime to forge them into a strike force whose members could withstand virtually any physical challenge.

Much of that training involved literally running up and down 1,735-foot high Currahee Mountain both day and night. The HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (based on Stephen Ambrose’s 1992 book of the same name) brought international renown to the mountain, and to the men who called themselves the Boys of Currahee.

What is true leadership?

A trip down the main aisle of most any bookstore will make it clear that leadership continues to be a hot topic in our 21st century. What I as an historian find interesting, however, is that this greatly admired trait, once commonly applied exclusively to male war heroes or politicians or industrial leaders, is now generally recognized as a gift or skill that also includes women, men, and young people from the highest rungs of the corporate ladder to one’s immediate family. True leadership is the story of success, not for one’s self, but for others.

The truly effective leaders I have observed seem to share similar inclinations and ways of functioning in the world, regardless of the sector from which they come or their scale of leadership.

Remembering Susie Wheeler

Between 1917 and 1932, some 5,000 lovingly designed and constructed Rosenwald Schools were built for rural African American children throughout the South. They constituted a network of educational training camps in which minds were fed and nourished against the dark backdrop of legalized segregation. As such, they helped to lay the groundwork for the civil rights movement.

But the Rosenwald Schools were only physical forms and shapes. To animate the education that took place in them required hundreds of dedicated teachers who devoted their lives and careers to the inspiration and transformation of the children in their charge. To name them all could fill several columns, but to honor them all, let us remember the grand story of Dr. Susie Wheeler—an authentic Georgia hero.

Bearing witness: the Rosenwald Schools

By 1917 the Reconstruction that was to have secured freedom and equal opportunity for 4 and a half million former slaves in the South had vanished. In its place was the vision of a “New South” that promised commercial success for the crippled region and profit aplenty for Northern industry.

Marring that vision, however, was the Jim Crow system built upon the legal separation of the races that was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. By the second decade of the 20th century, most of the region remained an agriculture-dominated society that suffered from economic, educational, and cultural poverty and deprivation.

The poorest of the poor were African Americans who lived in the country, for whom the dream of freedom was virtually extinguished. Public education in the South was generally lacking for everyone, including most whites, but the minimalist support for rural black schools (where they even existed) was appalling.

A civic dream: Oglethorpe and the founding of the Georgia colony

Hidden in Georgia clay, floating in Georgia air, are stories that have the power to tell us who we are, where we’ve come, and maybe even where we’re headed. These are what I call “civic stories” — stories about building new kinds of communities.

Such stories can be thought of as dreams, as civic dreams, and even if they lack a happy ending, civic dreams can’t really die. They usually carry some message for us to decipher. When this message is revealed, civic dreams can become guides and even inspirations. They can help us take the measure of the present in our long journey of learning how to live together.

Georgia’s rural churches

Passing through rural towns and countryside, drivers come across unmistakable beacons of another time. They represent glad tidings, plain beauty, and sacred space. They are the ground of memory, where words once uttered inside their walls hang like invisible curtains. They are spiritual mountains, despite their modest presentation — aging, mostly one-room structures graced by the simple lines of clapboard siding, shingles, pitched tin roofs, colored glass, and modest bell towers.

Lillian Smith: The artist as activist

The arts are entertaining, educational, invigorating. The arts are part of life, though we may not all agree on what constitute “the arts.” I am inclined to put music, drama, literature, stories, poetry, and so forth into “the arts” category. Of course, categorization has its own challenges. Shakespeare’s plays are theatrical, and also proper subjects of deep scholarly inquiry by experts in literature and history, areas of study sometimes described as “the humanities.”

Education for all seasons

We have grown accustomed to seeing front-page news concerning K-12 public education in Georgia and its progress (or lack of progress), but some of us may wonder what is prompting all the attention. Is the public school system “broken?” Are we falling farther behind the rest of the nation, and the world, in our educational “race to the top?”

Education has always been on our national mind. One of the very first legislative acts produced by our young national government was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The ordinance’s most astonishing provision involved education. Free public schools, which previously existed only in New England, were mandated in every township of the new territory.

The Roots of Georgia Roots Music

Georgia’s musical influence looms large, extending far beyond its borders. The examples are legendary, including Johnny Mercer, Ray Charles, Brenda Lee, James Brown, Otis Redding. What is the nature of this place that nurtures such powerful roots?

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, an annual event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., used the term roots music in the early 1970s to describe “folk” or “old-time” music that combined singing with acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle and accordion.

The Making of a Southerner

Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin’s heritage extends back to Georgia’s antebellum planter elite, and includes a governor, judge, state supreme court justice, and founder of the University of Georgia Law School (not to mention a county named in honor of her family).

The Lumpkins also contributed sons to the Confederacy’s war effort, and like their planter neighbors, experienced the war’s aftermath as a personal and economic catastrophe.

Radical Southern women – Part 1: Eliza Frances Andrews

Two spirited Georgia women of the post-Civil War era are remarkable for the clarity of their voices, their roots in the state, and their achievements. If in some ways they are alike, they are also profoundly different.

Eliza Frances (“Fanny”) Andrews was born in 1840 in Wilkes County; Kathryn Du Pre Lumpkin was born in 1897 in neighboring Oglethorpe County. Each benefited from the prominence of their families.

“The Heart of the Matter”: Why we need the humanities

The urge to examine and understand is what Socrates recognized as intuitively human, and worthy of encouragement. For self-examination is a confirmation that we are living and breathing and thinking beings. And that’s the great conversation that the arts and humanities invite us into.

We in Georgia are engaged in a national conversation on the value of the arts and humanities. One of the leaders in this dialogue is Wayne Clough, the former head of Georgia Tech and now the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

Secession of another kind

The steps leading up to the nation’s disunion in 1861 were many. If we are looking for one of the significant cracks between North and South that foreshadowed the irreconcilable chasm to come, we might look no further than the tiny community of Oxford, Georgia, about 35 miles southeast of Atlanta.

Bishop James Osgood Andrew, one of the first residents of Oxford, was a Methodist minister who practiced in South Carolina and North Carolina, and in the Augusta and Savannah circuits. In 1832, as a delegate to the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, he was elected as a bishop.

Before the Flood: Alexander H. Stephens and Abraham Lincoln

“We are passing through one of the greatest revolutions in the annals of the world.”

With the Confederacy barely a month old, so began Alexander H. Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, in a speech in Savannah. This sesquicentennial season of the Civil War gives us an opportunity to explore the most devastating event in American history and one of the deadliest of all civil wars: more than 600,000 combatants died, leaving no American household untouched.

The Actress and the Planter: A Lesser-Known Civil War Story

Pierce Mease Butler and Fanny Kemble had a tempestuous marriage and divorce, the effects of which passed on to their children and grandchildren — not unlike the separate regions of the nation where they lived.

Fanny Kemble was a brilliant Shakespearean actress and prolific writer, born to a London family famous for its performances before kings and queens.

Ships Passing? Aaron Burr, Jefferson Davis and George Washington in Ga.

Aaron Burr, Jefferson Davis, George Washington. Each man who passed through Georgia was following his own destiny; each was a traitor to those who held power and who had the resources to punish him.

Aaron Burr, prior to his election as vice president of the United States under Thomas Jefferson, had compiled an impressive record. Many considered him a brilliant lawyer as well as an able and strikingly handsome politician. And during the Revolutionary War he had distinguished himself for bravery and leadership.