Entries by Jamil Zainaldin

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.

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.

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.

Desegregating an entire community: Albany Movement takes flight (Part 3)

After the arrest and jailing over a six-week period of 755 peaceful protestors, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for whom the Albany Movement had become a personal mission, the protest leaders announced just days before the 1961 Christmas holiday that the city had agreed to begin formal talks with Albany Movement leaders — a development that had been one of the movement’s goals.

The city released King from jail. He returned to Atlanta, anticipating more good news in this season of good tidings.

By early January, however, it became evident that the leaders had been fooled.

Desegregating an entire community: Albany Movement takes flight (Part 2)

In my previous column, I talked about the efforts of SNCC Freedom Riders to conduct a voter registration drive and to instruct locals in direct nonviolent action in southwest Georgia’s commercial hub, Albany.

The 1961 campaign, which in the beginning involved two local black churches, began with 9 students who attempted to integrate the Trailways bus terminal on November 1, 1961, and were warned away by police. A week later a core of black civic organizations, including the local NAACP chapter, met and agreed upon a campaign whose goal was nothing less than integrating the entire community.

Aware that nothing like this had ever been attempted in the South or anywhere else in the United States, for that matter, they dubbed their campaign the “Albany Movement.”

Desegregating an entire community: Albany Movement takes flight (Part 1)

In the last column, I wrote about the Freedom Rides of the summer of 1961, testing the compliance of the Supreme Court’s ruling that banned segregation in buses and terminals involved in interstate travel. The opening legs of that journey, in Birmingham, in Montgomery, and outside Anniston, Alabama, witnessed violent attacks on the riders.

But that did not stop hundreds of others who boarded buses north of the Mason-Dixon line, integrating the South’s roadways and bus terminals as they went. Also making the journey that summer were two men, one a minister and recent graduate of Virginia Union College — Charles Sherrod — and the other a Nashville native who joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as a full-time organizer at the age of 17 — Cordell Reagon.

The winding road of the freedom movement: A time for remembrance (Part 2)

Earlier I wrote of the anniversaries this year of some significant events in the American civil rights story, moments that bear discussing as we welcome the long-awaited opening of the Center for Civil and Human Rights here in Atlanta. And I began describing how small victories in the civil rights struggle led to real change and to more struggle, paving the way for a remarkable moment in the history of the movement as well as the state: that of the Albany Movement.

Two years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court (which made the “separate but equal” doctrine unconstitutional), the surprise victory of the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott catapulted into international notoriety Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the icon of a community deep in the South whose courage in the face of threats to life and limb radiated commitment and strong leadership.

The winding road of the freedom movement: A time for remembrance (Part 1)

“It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come” — Sam Cooke

A trio of militaryjudicial, and legislative anniversaries coincides with the opening of the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the city of one of history’s foremost human rights leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

One hundred and fifty years ago this summer, the Battle of Atlanta raged in what would become the final year of the Civil War. The fall and virtual destruction of the city ensured the reelection of Abraham Lincoln and made possible the enactment of the 12th, 13th, and 14th amendments, which promised equal rights, civil liberties, and the vote for the new freedmen.

‘Woke up this morning with my mind on freedom’: the civil rights crusade has been a long time coming

It is difficult for many born after 1965 to imagine what life was like in the South before the “freedom movement,” which is exactly what the civil rights crusade was.

Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a mere fifty years ago, life in the segregated South was risky, even fatal, for those who crossed the line of racial mores engraved in law and social customs.

Felt by everyone and in every dimension of life, the danger of disregarding segregation affected persons of all color, gender, and age. Any attempt at change to this bedrock of social order, from any quarter, by anyone, became a threat to the South’s way of life and was immediately responded to.

The Okefenokee, Folkston’s Funnel, and Other Wonders of Georgia

Not long ago my wife and I visited the great Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Somehow, in our 15 years in Georgia, we had missed this spot, though it had always been on our must-see list. We read up on the surrounding countryside and the largest blackwater swamp in North America in the New Georgia Encyclopedia and the Georgia Humanities Council’s New Georgia Guide (University of Georgia Press).

Mountains and beaches tend to be more familiar, accessible terrain for most of us, while a swamp rightly conjures up the idea of a forbidding place where we need special skills or guides to help us penetrate its full beauty.

The Physician as Moral Leader

Not many people realize that the proposed health care reforms of the Clinton administration and President Obama’s national healthcare plan have roots in the term of a former African American Secretary of Health and Human Services who served under a Republican president.

That information is only one of the revelations to be found in Breaking Ground: My Life in Medicine (University of Georgia Press, 2014), coauthored by Dr. Louis W. Sullivan and David Chanoff.

Letter to a liberal arts graduate: the world awaits you

This commencement address was delivered by Jamil Zainaldin at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia, on May 3, 2014.

This is an important day for graduating seniors. It marks the completion of the requirements for a bachelor’s degree. You are about to walk out the doors of this college and into the waiting arms of the world.

And what kind of world is that? Let’s take a quick survey. First, the difficult part: we have poverty, here and abroad. We have war. We have various kinds of inequalities and unfairness. Today we have competition — plenty of competition — in the world marketplace, and that brings its own kind of pressure to bear on U.S. companies and workers.

There’s good news, too, about our world. We’ve experienced in recent years amazing breakthroughs in science, medicine, and public health. And we are seeing great strides in human rights and equality that have their roots right here in Georgia and the civil rights movement of the last century. And we might add, at long last.

A timeless tale of conquest: how the Cherokee created a civilization in good faith, then lost their place in Georgia

If the founding of Georgia began as an effort to create a civic City on a Hill, then the formation of a “new” Cherokee Nation in north Georgia was yet another one, something homegrown but also more than that. The Cherokee Nation won friends and garnered immense national respect, too.

Nevertheless, the Cherokee Nation and the state of Georgia were on a collision course. The American economy was taking off, and in the South, land for growing cotton — land the Cherokee occupied — became ever more valuable. The 1829 discovery of gold in those lands only added fuel to the fire of removal.

Under intense pressure from Georgia and other southern states that wanted Indian lands, Congress reluctantly gave in and passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. The new law empowered the president to negotiate with Native American tribes for their relocation in the West.

A civic dream: Cherokee Nation in Ga. was another kind of “City on a Hill”

In a previous column I talked about the founding of Georgia in 1733. A second “civic moment” in our history is equally remarkable, and likewise inadequately acknowledged: the story of the Cherokee of north Georgia.

When the Europeans arrived in the New World they encountered Native American tribal societies, inhabitants of the land for millennia. The nature of the encounters varied, but the overall story is the same: Europeans eventually wrested the lands from those already here.

But what is not much spoken of is what the Cherokee Nation did before they were pushed out. That story begins in the state of Georgia in the 1790s. White settlers migrating west out of the coastal region into the Piedmont bumped up against the Cherokee, not far from present-day Atlanta.

To maintain peace, the Cherokee agreed to successive treaties ceding portions of their land, and eventually found themselves backed into the northwest quadrant of the state.

In their tribal councils, they pondered whether to cede yet more of their lands to the federal government by treaty, in exchange for land beyond the Mississippi River; or perhaps go on the offensive, defending what they already had; or become a “civilized” tribe (adopting Anglo-European ways), which would allow them to continue living on their land.

The mill industry created the modern South — and left behind structures we can regard as civic monuments

Around Georgia, a number of mostly crumbling brick cotton mills remain — the remnants of massive buildings that employed hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children. For the most part mill workers were poor, uneducated, and white. (Few blacks worked in the segregated mills until after World War II.) Mill hands migrated from the countryside’s sharecropping and tenant farming families, as did laborers who struggled to scratch a living from a land that was still trying to recover from a devastating war.

Mill work was rough and not infrequently dangerous. The average day began with the factory morning whistle. Shifts typically ran 10 to 12 hours, and the workweek six days. The high-end hourly rate for men in 1928 was 25 cents, and as low as 10 to 15 cents for women and children.

Cotton mills and the fabric of our past

Old cotton mills can make for beautiful ruins.

Those weather-beaten red-brick buildings with bell towers and rows upon rows of windows have a haunted quality. They stand like long-abandoned monuments, scattered through the countryside and in our towns and cities.

And they give no hint of the deafening roar and lint-clogged air that once spewed from their machines during one of the most culture-changing periods of Georgia history.

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.