When you put these two events together, you have a crowded flagpole this Saturday if you live in Georgia. The powers that be, of course, in all their wisdom, have tried to lump all the presidents together and have us celebrate Presidents’ Day on the third Monday in February But many of us will forever and always know that Lincoln’s official birthday is never on that day.
Surely most Georgia history books make very clear the importance of General Oglethorpe to the establishment of the colony of Georgia.
His name is everywhere, and the story of Georgia’s colonization and later history is filled with other names, names that are slowly fading from many textbooks.
During the 1960s, Bernice McCullar compiled a history of Georgia that included names and events that gave the state’s history and heritage a familiarity that is rare in such textbooks. I love to browse through its pages. There’s a tidbit of interest on every page.
The one that caught my eye today is about Henry Grady. We hear the name often, but a new generation of Georgia students and a new population of newcomers to the state probably have no idea of who Mr. Grady was.
His Irish ancestors, the O’Gradys, came to America in the 1700s. Later his grandfather settled in Mountain Town near Ellijay. The families later moved to Athens where Henry was born on May 24, 1850.
The South was recovering from the Civil War as Henry grew into manhood. In McCullar’s words, “The clearest voice that sounded in the postwar South was that of a newspaper editor named Henry Grady.”
He became a noted speaker in both the North and the South during his short-lived career. (He died at age 39 in 1889 after a speaking engagement trip to the North.)
In his most famous speech, he tells a story that focuses attention on Georgia’s need to manufacture its own products and not be dependent on Northern factories who would only get richer at the expense of the South.
“I attended a funeral in a Georgia county. It was a poor, one-gallused fellow. They buried him in the midst of a marble quarry; they cut through solid marble to make his grave; yet the little tombstone they put above him was from Vermont.
“They buried him in the midst of a pine forest, but his pine coffin was imported from Cincinnati. They buried him within touch of an iron mine, but the nails in his coffin and the iron in the shovel that dug his grave were from Pittsburgh.
“They buried him near the best sheep-grazing country in the world, yet the wool in the coffin bands was brought from the North.
“They buried him in a New York coat, a Boston pair of shoes, a pair of breeches from Chicago, and a shirt from Cincinnati. Georgia furnished only the corpse and a hole in the ground.”
In a later speech, with General Sherman in the audience, he made a few more points.
“I want to say to General Sherman, who is considered an able man in our parts, but kind of careless with fire, that from the ashes he left us in 1864, we have built a brave and beautiful city in Atlanta, that we have caught the sunshine in the brick and mortar of our homes and builded therein not one ignoble prejudice or memory.”
Grady’s vision of a bright future was contagious. In 1881, the first of numerous expositions opened in Atlanta with over 2,000 exhibits featuring Georgia’s resources. McCullar states more than a million visitors came to see Georgia products and talents during the various expositions. The North sat up and took notice, investing more money in industry and agriculture in Georgia.
A quick look at the “New Georgia Guide” (1996) reveals other opinions about Grady’s role in Georgia’s history. The writers call his actions “uncritical promotion,” as if he could possibly have done otherwise. The guide’s authors call Grady the “premier and ultimate mythmaker” in discussing those of like mind during his time and the icons of today such as “Gone with the Wind” and Coca-Cola.
I can’t think of that segment of Georgia’s history as a myth, nor of Grady as a mythmaker. He was a cheerleader at the top of the pyramid. When I hang my Georgia flag on Saturday, I’ll think about him. And I’ll salute Abe’s memory as I hang the Stars and Stripes.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and the former director of the Woodstock Public Library.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock's official historian and the former director of the Woodstock Public Library.