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Archive for the tag “Georgia”


By Elizabeth Tammi

Long-time fiction author Ann Hite’s memoir Roll the Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse releases May 2020 from Mercer University Press. Hite’s novels have won numerous awards, and won her a spot as a Townsend Prize finalist and the 2012 Georgia Author of the Year.

In addition, many of her short stories and personal essays have been published in national anthologies. Hite said her journey of writing her memoir was a process completely unlike how she approached tackling her previous writing projects. She looks back at the complex and sometimes gruesome aspects of her heritage and family, and tells us what it felt like to put that truth on the page.

After the publication of your novels, what inspired you to write a memoir? 

I thought if I told the “truth”, the dark themes that fill my fiction would become less prevalent. This was a naïve idea. I have just finished a short story collection last week, and you probably guessed the themes are still coming through. But this isn’t the only reason I set out to write a memoir. I never set out on this journey with a book in mind. But I did decide to find out exactly what happened to my family. In doing this, I hoped, at the very least, I would come to understand some of the reasoning. Many of the mysteries and legacies surrounding my extended family touched my life and not in a good way.

How did the process of writing a memoir differ from how you approach drafting a novel?

When I begin writing the first draft of a novel, much has taken place first in my head. Characters speak to me long before I get to the place of writing. I explore who he or she is. What story do they have to tell? So when I sit down with notebook and pen—I write most of the first draft by hand—I know so much about the character the flow kicks in, and I’m off and running.

With this memoir, I was at a loss on how to even attempt to tell these stories. That’s when I met Jessica Handler at SIBA—a conference for independent booksellers—and she introduced me to her book, Braving the Fire. I took her workshop soon after and this changed my whole way of writing about grief and trauma. One of the most helpful tools I learned was writing down the events I wanted to include in the book on index cards. Then placing them in an envelope for a short waiting period. When I did begin writing, I drew one card. This would be the only subject I would approach that day. One event a day. Out of order. Just thinking about this one memory. This is a much different process than writing fiction.

What factors did you consider when deciding the structure of the book?

Structuring a book, whether fiction or memoir, is an intricate process for me. How do I tell the story? Sometimes I write two drafts before I know what structure to use. With Roll the Stone Away, I finished the third draft and found the story held the reader far away, which I would imagine is the first instinct of a new memoir writer. You’re revealing the core of yourself, the stuff that made you who you are. But for the reader to come on my journey, I had to be brutally honest. I had to show them up front just what my history was and my role in the making. So I began the process of truth-sharing in the introduction and continued this into the first chapter before I regressed into the extended family history. The parts in the book about me were told in present tense. These chapters, or stones as I called them, were strategically placed throughout the memoir, so the memories were not told in chronological order. More than five complete drafts later, I finally released this body of work to Mercer University Press.

How did your life change when you began writing?

I began when I couldn’t write. I told stories, long intricate ones that were “too old for my age” according to my mother. My life has always been about reading and writing. I did not live in a house with big readers. Mother never read anything outside of an occasional magazine except Little Women, a book she read to me at a very young age. Those who know me well, know I have a very strong faith in God. I believe that writing was the gift bestowed on me before I was born. And using this gift has always been my peace and home. That’s not to say I don’t struggle with this art, but writing is a deep part of me.

Family ties can be complex and painful. What, if anything, do you believe people owe to their family members?

This is a question many ask and debate, and there are as many answers as there are writers writing memoirs. My answer is that our story is most important. I believe we all have a right to our truths, no matter who agrees or disagrees with us. Truth is fluid and changes shape from one person to the next. Two people can experience the same event and have much different takes on what happened. Does that make either person a liar? No. Each perception is the truth for the person who owns it. With that said, I began writing this book after all the parties involved had died with the exception of my brother, who lives within a hundred miles of me. I explained my project to him. In all truth, had he told me not to write the book, I would have anyway. I wasn’t asking for permission. He supported my decision with encouragement but explained he would not be able to read the work because it would cause pain. Fair enough. He understood I was not writing the book out of revenge or malice. He was well aware that I had forgiven all parties involved. Remember forgiveness is not forgetting or saying what happened was okay. My children know some of the stories, but shocking points do exist. I think a writer has to approach personal stories with compassion and empathy for those who play roles in your history. This does not mean the writer has to change their truth.

What does it mean to “own” one’s history?

Owning my history means no longer hiding what happened to my family or the choices they made. I don’t feel the need to sugar-coat the story to fit into a group of people. I don’t have to have the best childhood or parents. Our pasts do not have to be squeaky clean. Owning my history is looking the bad and good dead in the eyes and understanding good and bad can be mixed on a paint palate and become the grayest of gray. But most of all owning my history is pure freedom from the expectation that I will forget and stay silent.

Do you think more memoirs or autobiographical materials are in your future?

Two weeks ago, I would have said no way. Then my brother threw me a real zinger. A package from UPS arrived on the doorstep containing all our dad’s military files, along with old photos of us when we were little. This was packed in the old briefcase he carried to work every day until he retired in 1974. The inside still smelled of cigarette smoke and peppermints. I did not know this stuff existed. My brother said, “This is a book for you to write.” As I went through the papers, I realized the story was much larger and deeper than I could ever imagine. Yes, I will write this story that spans from the CCC (Civil Conservation Corp) to NATO in the 70s. I don’t know how I will shape this narrative. Maybe fiction or maybe memoir. It is too early to tell.

This memoir deals with dark, toxic behaviors and incidents; was writing about these times more cathartic or painful? Or both?

This is a good question. I would say both, but I discovered a lot about who I was and who I am while writing this book. When I first began writing Roll the Stone Away, I jumped straight into it, ignoring what I learned from Jessica’s workshop. In one week, I wrote 13,000 words. I promptly became very ill. I’m not one to get sick at all. But a simple cold morphed into something larger, and I was down for the count. Later I spoke with other writers who have written memoirs and was told this often happens when taking on too much at once and ignoring the signs I was stuffing feelings. There is a reason why one has to take writing a hard story slow. Much of the first draft was spent with me in denial. How could any of the things that happened to me be that bad? To others, this was very clear, but I couldn’t see much of the abuse pointed at me was abuse, even though I could see the pain it inflicted when pointed at others.

I learned to cut myself a break and that I was worthy of telling this story.

How did the stone metaphor come about? What do you think it represents?

The stone metaphor came to me one Easter. I thought of how the women went to Jesus’s tomb and the giant stone that had blocked the opening had been rolled away. This was a miracle and a sign that nothing is too large for God. I saw the index cards in the envelope on my desk and how each one represented a story, an obstacle, I couldn’t get my head around. Of course the weight of carrying them around was paralyzing at times. They kept me from running and playing like a child when I was a kid and influenced each book I wrote. And maybe that was my strength, not my downfall. Maybe if I looked at every stone, I could find a part of me.

This is when I began to collect stones, placing them in a pottery bowl on my desk. I have one from the grave of my great grandmother, who was murdered by my great grandfather. There is a rough jagged stone I dug up from the land where my grandfather was stretched and tied between two trees and beaten to the brink of death. One each off the graves of my mother, grandmother, and grandfather. And one from the middle of the Nantahala River, normally deep and raging with water but because of a severe drought reduced to a light trickle. The rock is smooth and worn from thousands of years of water wearing away the rough edges. This rock represents me, standing in the middle of what should be raging water, finding my way through the drought of family history.

What projects are in the works now?

I just finished a short story collection entitled, Haints on Black Mountain: a haunted story collection, that will release in late 2021. And I’m hard at work on a nonfiction narrative about Lucille Selig Frank, Leo Frank’s wife. I came to know about Leo Frank through my grandmother’s stories when I was young. Then as an adult I was captured by his wife, Lucille. She has a story that should be heard.

In the future, I have my sights set on beginning a new novel series based on Jeff Clemmons’s book, Atlanta’s Historic Westview Cemetery. This book is full of rich history and stories concerning generations of those buried in the four hundred acres plus grounds. There are so many stories Jeff couldn’t put in his book. These interest me to no end. What ghost story reader doesn’t love a series of novels set with a cemetery as the narrator?

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Terry Kay — Book Events

Celebrate with Terry Kay at two upcoming book signings of his new novel,

The King Who Made Paper Flowers


In 2006, Terry Kay was inducted into the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame in ceremonies conducted at the University of Georgia, honoring the accomplishments of a man who began as an errand boy for a weekly newspaper. The journey of his career covers more than fifty years of the most dynamic changes in the state’s history. The award-winning novelist was born in Hart County, Georgia, the eleventh of twelve children, on February 20, 1938. He was reared on a farm, graduating from West Georgia Junior College in 1957 and then LaGrange College in 1959. Kay began his career in journalism in 1959 at the Decatur-DeKalb News, a weekly newspaper in Decatur, Georgia, and later worked for The Atlanta Journal as a sportswriter, and for eight years, as one of America’s leading film-theater critics. In 1989, he left a corporate job in public relations to pursue his passion for writing.

Kay published his first novel in 1976, The Year the Lights Came On, a story inspired by his memory of the coming of electricity to his rural community. He went on to publish After Eli 1981, and in 1984 Dark Thirty, an examination of justice vs. vengeance set in Appalachia. These three publications established Terry Kay as a versatile writer able to navigate through genres with authority. His signature novel To Dance With the White Dog, positioned Kay’s works as Southern classics, winning him the Outstanding Author of the Year award in 1991, two nominations for the American Booksellers’ Book of the Year (ABBY) award, and a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The production earned the highest television rating of the 1993 season, with more than 33 million viewers.


Since 2007, Mercer University Press has proudly published the writings of Terry Kay. The Book of Marie, Bogmeadow’s Wish, The Greats of Cuttercane, The Seventh Mirror, Song of the Vagabond Bird, and his new novel, The King Who Made Paper Flowers.

Kay’s works have been translated into numerous foreign countries, including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Sweden, Germany and Holland. His work has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies, including Reader’s Digest, Atlanta Magazine, A Confederacy of Crime, The Chattahoochee Review, and the Georgia Review. He scripted an episode of In the Heat of the Night and won a Southern Emmy for his original teleplay, Run Down the Rabbit.

Kay’s many honors and awards include induction into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2006, the Governor’s Award in the Humanities (GA) in 2009, the Georgia Writers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, and The Terry Kay Prize for Fiction, an annual award presented by the Atlanta Writers Club.


The King Who Made Paper Flowers

Sunday, April 17th — 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Friends of the Library—Café au Libris
Athens-Clarke County Library
Appleton Auditorium
2025 Baxter Street
Athens, GA 30606

Monday, April 18th — 7:15 pm – 9:00 pm
Georgia Center for the Book’s Festival of Writers
Decatur Library, Main Branch
215 Sycamore Street
Decatur, Georgia 30030

* adapted from

Announcement of Winners — 2014 Mercer University Press Book Awards

Mercer University Press is pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 Annual Book Awards. Each 2014 award comes with a $500 advance and a book contract for publication in Spring 2016.

Mary Anna Bryan has been awarded the 2014 Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction for her submission entitled Cardinal Hill.

Past recipients of this award include Marly Youmans, Raymond L. AtkinsStephen Roth, and Dale Cramer.

Judge’s comment: “The writer of this novel displays a talent for description, dialogue, and interesting plot twists. Margaret [the main character] is no saint, but her stubborn determination to uncover the truth of her family history turns Cardinal Hill into an interesting detective story. Margaret is smart and imaginative, with a wry sense of humor that holds our interest. Cardinal Hill is a novel that speaks authentically to a specific time and place in the South.”

Lesley Dauer has been awarded the 2014 Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry for her submission entitled Carnival Life.

Past recipients of this award include Seaborn Jones, Kelly Whiddon, Megan Sexton, and Philip Lee Williams.

Judge’s comment: This is a beautifully written collection of poems.”

William E. Merritt has been awarded the 2014 Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction for his submission entitled Crackers: A Memoir.

Past recipients of this award include Kathy A. Bradley and Joseph Bathanti.

 Judge’s comment: “One of the elements that strikes me as being quintessentially Southern is the author’s ability to describe the most poignant, even heartbreaking, moments with wry humor, that singular trait that has enabled the South and Southerners to endure.”

 The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction is given to the best manuscript that speaks to the human condition in a Southern context. This category includes both novels and short stories.

The Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry is given to the best manuscript that exemplifies the poetic language and vision of the author.

The Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction is given to the best manuscript that speaks to the human condition in a Southern context. This category includes memoir, natural history, essays, and other genres of nonfiction.

Mercer University Press, established in 1979, has published more than 1400 books in the genres of Southern Studies, History, Civil War History, African American Studies, Appalachian Studies, Biography & Memoir, Fiction, Poetry, Religion, Biblical Studies, and Philosophy. Publishing authors from across the United States and abroad, Mercer University Press focuses on topics related to the culture of the South. The reputation of the Press significantly enhances the academic environment of Mercer University and carries the name of Mercer and Macon, Georgia throughout the world.

MUP Authors to Attend Decatur (GA) Book Festival!

Mercer University Press is proud to announce a number of our fine authors will be attending the Decatur Book Festival!

Stephen Davis (What the Yankees Did to Us)
Robert Jenkins (The Battle of Peach Tree Creek)
Daniel Cone (Last to Join the Fight)
Raymond Atkins (Sweet Water Blues)
Carolyn Newton Curry (Suffer and Grow Strong)
Megan Sexton (Swift Hour)


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Decatur BookFest

MUP represents at the 50th GAYA!

GAYA SealIt’s this weekend y’all at Kennesaw State  University! This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Georgia Author of the Year Awards (GAYA), the oldest literary award in the Southeast.
The ceremony is free and open to the public and does not require registration. The ballroom doors will open at 7:30 PM to ceremony guests. Please note that if you do not have a banquet ticket, you will be unable to enter the ballroom before 7:30 PM.

We hope to see you there. Please say Hello, and ask about Pressley. He gets a little attitude when he is ignored, and we’ve gotta ride home with him. Just sayin’.

MUP has an impressive list of Georgia writers nominated: Jaclyn Weldon White, William Rawlings, Veronica Womack, Ray Atkins, Terry Kay, Charles Campbell, Jackie K. Cooper, and Martha Ezzard.


The Warm Springs Story Available Today!

The Warm Springs StoryThe long-anticipated release of F. Martin Harmon’s The Warm Springs Story: Legacy and Legend has arrived! Mercer University Press is proud to be part of such important scholarship on a much neglected aspect of medical, presidential, and Southern history.

Today, F. Martin Harmon stops by the blog to offer us a few insights into the book.



1. Why has Warm Springs been so ignored in the studies of FDR?

This question is easy to answer because of the voluminous ways Franklin Roosevelt impacted his era. Looking back now, it seems he was involved in everything. By being president for so long, his fingerprints are all over the twentieth century, such as coping with the Great Depression with his various social programs, the build-up to WWII and the war years; the start of Social Security, rural electrification and the TVA, and national parks and the continued conservation efforts started by his cousin, Teddy, and so on. I just think historians ran out of time and space when it came to his adopted home. After all, Warm Springs was very much tied in with his disability and his own, very personal efforts to overcome polio, a struggle he kept in the background. With all of the other pieces of history that he touched, I just think historians have largely missed the important role he played in disability awareness, compassionate healthcare, rehabilitation, medical fundraising and research, and independent living—all things the famous “spirit of Warm Springs” was about. It’s understandable, but in its own way was no less impactful than all the other things for which he has been better known.

2. In the book, you discuss how close Warm Springs came to closing despite its historical significance. Why do you think states are so shortsighted in such matters?

In the early years, immediately following FDR’s death in 1945, polio was still very prevalent and there were good reasons for keeping the historical and medical parts of Warm Springs separate. The Georgia Warm Springs Foundation was still a very active force under FDR’s anointed lieutenant Basil O’Connor and although the Little White House and its environs was an immediate and ongoing attraction, it made sense to keep the two entities separate. That all changed, however, with the advent of the Salk vaccine. The hospital’s emphasis had to shift with polio’s gradual decline. Naturally, other forms of rehabilitation were embraced by the medical powers-that-be. Meanwhile, the state kept alive Georgia’s FDR history at the Little White House and eventually got into the rehab business itself with vocational rehab, and, unfortunately, kept it all separate after assuming control of the medical side from the foundation. As with many things at that level, politics probably got in the way of logic. With more than one department in charge at Warm Springs and elected officials coming and going, the merging of everything that could have been so beneficial never happened. Tourism was continued through the FDR story, but the much larger (and warmer) Warm Springs story never got its due and so never had a chance to enhance the ongoing rehab legacy and economic potential. Worst of all, the famous water was allowed to fade away—the very reason for (and name of) the place—a marketing gaff rarely committed at a location with such historic significance. With so much on their plate, I think many Georgia leaders didn’t want Warm Springs, but they also didn’t want to be responsible for its going away. It’s a shame the federal funding (and control) that was discussed never happened because the significance warranted support from that level. The state was never up to running a rural hospital no matter how famous, especially given ever-increasing competition in the medical marketplace, and, as always, visionaries were few and far between. I’m sure other states have endured similar missteps for similar reasons. In tough economic times, which state budgets almost always profess, common sense solutions are often missed even when obvious advantages far outweigh risks. It all becomes too political to handle.

3. Do we have a modern polio, that is, a disease that is wrecking lives and ruining human potential?

At one time, diabetes was called the new polio and a diabetes management program was even proposed at Warm Springs to renew its medical glory. Unfortunately, that idea came at a time when Warm Springs was more concerned with upgrading vocational rehabilitation as part of the labor department rather than branching into a new medical rehab future. And although cancer probably remains the disease we would like to conquer most, it does seem that the ongoing problems caused by a lifetime of diabetes probably most closely mirrors a life with polio and what we now call post-polio syndrome.

4. How has the social stigma of physical handicap changed since FDR’s struggle with polio?

There’s no doubt Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a trendsetter and one of the trends he clearly established through the creation of Warm Springs was bringing disability out into the open, where it could (and should) be dealt with honestly and fairly on a day-to-day basis. Obviously Warm Springs was way ahead of its time in the use of automatic doors, ramps and inclines, hand rails, accessible bathrooms, and even elevators. Warm Springs was ADA compliant fifty years before the actual act made such things mandatory. In the final twenty-one years of his life, FDR returned to Warm Springs repeatedly for his own restoration, but also because he wanted each and every Warm Springs patient to realize that disability should be no excuse to abandon one’s dreams. How else could you view a “handicapped” or “crippled” man who had achieved the nation’s highest office? He was (and is) a hero to the disability community. When the great debate was raging over whether or not to allow a statue of him in a wheelchair at the Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC, no less an authority and historian than Hugh Gallagher, a man with polio himself, famously proclaimed, “Don’t let them take our hero” in support of the statue.

5. What were you surprised to learn about FDR during the writing of the Warm Springs Story?

Perhaps my biggest surprises concerning Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to do with the what-might-have-beens that could have altered (for good or bad) the history of Warm Springs if FDR had never returned to politics, allowing his vision of Warm Springs to come to pass. With such a prominent, energetic, and charismatic man working constantly on Warm Springs rather than the economy, war, politics, and the nation’s future, imagine what he might have achieved for Warm Springs’s tourism and medical fronts. In fact, his documented plans for the place in lieu of all he accomplished as president and how famous he became make it even more of a head-scratcher that such things have been ignored by the generations since. Added to that was my realization of the marketing corners he was willing to cut and the truth he was willing to stretch to ensure survival of the place. He was, after all, a master of public relations, in his own words “one of America’s two greatest actors” (along with Orson Welles), and no place exemplified his talent for the well-placed comment (or con) more so than Warm Springs.


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Related Titles

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Georgia’s Confederate Monuments Released Today!

Confederate Monuments  Today, the Press released Georgia’s Confederate Monuments and its author, Gould B. Hagler, Jr., has graced the blog with an interview.



1. Did you sense any sort of emotional pattern to the various monuments throughout the state?

There is a pattern that changes over time. The earlier monuments were expressions of grief. Every family was in mourning. These memorials evoke strong feelings a century and a half later. Take, for example, the cenotaph on Greene Street in Augusta. The names of Richmond County’s dead are so numerous that they spill over from the tablets on the sides to the steps of the base below. Or consider the small memorial built by the Linwood Sunday School, which lists the twenty-three young men from that one country church who lost their lives.

Soon the monuments took on another function, evoking a sense of pride. The Confederate soldier fought with bravery and determination against great odds. While the monuments continued to function as expressions of grief, they also praised the martial qualities of the Confederates living and dead.

The monuments also have things to say about the cause for which the Confederates fought. The obelisk in Decatur is the best example. A long inscription argues the legitimacy of the Confederate case and says emphatically that might does not make right, that the constitutional principles remain valid.


2. Well, you’ve seen them all now. What’s your favorite and why?

Many of the monuments have features that make them special. I could not pick one favorite, but I will mention three that are special in different ways.

The monument on Broad Street in Augusta, my home town, is one of several Georgia monuments built on a grand scale. It has a statue of the Confederate Everyman at the top, and statues of four generals at the base. It is covered with beautiful carvings and inspiring words. This monument is a beautiful and unique work of art.

The monument in Fayetteville is quite different. It is a very modest granite slab honoring the Confederate heroes of Fayette County. What makes this one special is its date: 1934. During the Great Depression, when people were struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead, they still remembered.

The Brunswick statue is close to my heart because of what I had to do to get the picture. I took a decent picture but it did not have the qualities I wanted. Because of the monument’s orientation and the surrounding trees, in order to get a good shot I had to be there near the summer solstice and late in the afternoon. Plus the weather had to be exactly right. And there was a deadline to meet. One July day, I knew it was now or never. I drove five hours to Brunswick, spent an hour or so taking pictures—and then turned around drove home. So instead of having a rather pedestrian shot of this fine monument, I managed to get what I think is the best photograph in the book.


3. Had memorializing wars been significant in Georgia prior to the Civil War? What made this war unique in that sense?

There are some monuments and memorials related to the Revolution, I am sure, but I do not know whether any were built prior to the Civil War. Two Georgia towns have names related to the Mexican War—Ringgold and Buena Vista.

The Civil War was unlike anything before or since. The casualties were enormous, unique in American history. The battles were fought here, Georgia men dying on Georgia battlefields, buried by the thousands in cemeteries near these battlefields, near their homes. Georgia women nursed the wounded and dying. No family was untouched. This was not something they read about in the newspapers. They saw it. They lived it. They endured it.


4. We’ve had significant conflicts since the Civil War, but local memorializing of them does not seem nearly as common. Why do you think that is?

You are right; it is not as common. World War I was not nearly as costly as the Civil War, so that is a factor. I should say not nearly as costly to Americans. Go to Canada and everywhere you will see memorials to the men who died in the Great War.

It is interesting that four of our monuments honor Georgia’s Confederate veterans and Georgia men who served in the United States Army in World War I.

Few monuments were built after the Second World War, but now interest is increasing. There are now many “all-wars” monuments, and many of these new ones have elements honoring Georgia’s Confederates along with the veterans of other wars from the Revolution to Afghanistan.


5. Was there a sentiment you were surprised to find absent among the memorials?

No, quite the opposite. They cover the whole range. As I said before, they mourn the dead, honor the bravery of the living and the dead, and honor the Confederacy itself. But they do more than that. As time went on, the theme of reconciliation appeared. There is the famous Peace Monument in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. The monument in Westview Cemetery quotes the verse from Isaiah about beating “swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.” Two monuments in Atlanta honor the men who fought on both sides at Peachtree Creek. More recently, two monuments in the North Georgia mountains honor local men who fought for the Union as well as those who fought for the Confederacy.

Interest in this era is not waning. Almost all the monuments are well maintained. Many have been cleaned more than once since I started photographing them in the early 1990s. Some have been damaged over the years and have been carefully repaired.

Even more significant is the construction of new monuments. Not counting the “all-wars” monuments, there are thirty-one that have been built in the last twenty-five years, one of which was too recent for inclusion in the book. I know of one being planned, and there are probably others I don’t know about—yet.


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MUP Remembers Carl Vinson

Carl Vinson was the youngest person to become a US Representative when he was sworn in as a Georgia representative on November 3, 1914, at the age of thirty. He would go on to push for major expansions and modernizations of the US Navy, some of which would greatly aid the US’s readiness for World War II.

So great was his support for the US Navy that a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, was named after him. Then retired, the ninety-six-year-old Vinson attended the ship’s launch in 1980.

After serving fifty-one years in the US House—the first person to do so, Vinson retired to Georgia where he died on this day in 1981.


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An Interview with Matt Jennings, Author of The Flower Hunter and the People

JenningsWith the recent release of Matt Jennings’s The Flower Hunter and the People: William Bartram in the Native American Southeast, we thought it a good idea to tap the author for some insights into the book. Here’s what Dr. Jennings had to say:



1. What were the differences between Bartram’s view of Native Americans and that of most British colonists?

Most British colonists, and the Americans who succeeded them as the would-be masters of eastern North America, took a dim view of Native Americans. At best, Native Americans represented people trapped in an early stage of civilization who might benefit from exposure to Protestant Christianity and capitalism. At their worst, the continent’s first nations represented evil and savagery, and they deserved whatever violence the European invasion and subsequent expansion of the United States might unleash. William Bartram was not willing to admit a basic social equality with Native Americans, but he did believe that Native people had histories and cultures that merited serious study and understanding, and that alone set him far ahead of most of his contemporaries on this issue.


2. Who was the audience for William Bartram’s writings and how did they fit in with colonial and British culture?

Bartram was plugged into one of the most vibrant scientific communities in the British Empire (and the most vibrant scientific community in the early United States in Philadelphia). Principally, he wrote for his colleagues. However, during Bartram’s time, the study of natural science was not just the province of elites, or university-trained scientists. Well-read amateurs also contributed their findings, and Bartram’s writings blend cutting-edge eighteenth-century thought with writing that, even today, is fairly accessible to laypeople.


3. How did Bartram’s Quaker faith affect his view of nature and Native Americans?

Bartram’s Quaker beliefs influenced him profoundly. At several points in his studies, he invoked a “Great Monitor,” a divine force that oversaw all of nature, including Native and white people alike. Like all Quakers, Bartram also supposed that everyone carried around an aspect of the divine within her or himself, sometimes known as an “Inner Light.” And all people had access to this Inner Light.


4. How would William Bartram view today’s environmental policies?

This is a tough question to pose to a historian. Historians preach repeatedly that we must avoid judging historical figures by current standards, and pulling people of the past out of their historical context. On the other hand, why study the past if you believe it has absolutely no bearing on current affairs? As a student of Native American history, I’m also particularly wary about putting words in the mouths of the people whose stories I try to interpret. Having said all of that, I’m fairly certain that William Bartram would be dismayed by the callous disregard that our policymakers, and we as a society, have shown for our environment. Climate change is one part of it, but I think that William Bartram would be dumbfounded by our inability or unwillingness to wean ourselves from fuel sources that are clearly detrimental to our environment, and he certainly would disapprove of any policies that threatened to limit the diversity of species that he probably viewed as embodying some piece of the divine.


5. Most Americans probably still hold some “noble but primitive” view of pre-colonial Native-American culture. How do scholars’ views differ?

Another tough question. I’m wary of using pre-colonial, pre-contact, prehistoric, or any such descriptor when referring to ancient North America, and I’m just as wary of drawing lines between categories like “scholar” and “Native American.” since the lines are quite blurred. For a long time, historians and archaeologists wrote as if Native Americans could be easily consigned to some past age. To be blunt, in the West, history and archaeology evolved to serve the very states that committed genocide and dispossessed Native nations. Native activism and more sensitive scholarship have helped to improve this situation, but you’re right. Most non-Native people have a limited understanding of Native-American history, and it often rests on half-remembered racist history-class lessons and pop-culture stereotypes based on Hollywood films, to say nothing of the “tomahawk chop,” the use of Native mascots, and other such tomfoolery. I must also point out that most non-Native scholars have fairly limited experience in Indian Country, and, as such, they risk repeating stereotyped or inaccurate images of the type you asked about. For what it’s worth, these images are really old in Western society. Columbus himself praised the simple, yet attractive Taínos, and denigrated the “savage Caribs.” We are not likely to erase these caricatures overnight, but recognizing they exist is a step in that direction. For non-Native scholars, trying to forge connections with Native communities is crucial. At its best, the scholarly community (largely non-Native), takes Native voices seriously and incorporates them into an inclusive, even-handed narrative of early American history.


6. What are the main things you hope readers get out of The Flower Hunter and the People?

Well, I think it’s important to recognize that William Bartram was both firmly rooted in his own time, and yet, his vision managed to transcend that time. He advised the American government as it plotted to extend its dominion over Native nations, and that can’t be overlooked. He also failed to fully understand, or wasn’t granted access to, the full flowering of Native-American knowledge. But in the same set of texts, Bartram laid forth a vision of Native America as a diverse people, an ancient people, and a people that deserved consideration and respect. Like a lot of great nature writing, Bartram’s words reflect his own time, but they also carry a certain timeless quality. Bartram’s passion, along with his fairly accurate renderings of Native-American culture, allow his writings to reach us in our own time.


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House Proud

Lori Eriksen Rush’s pictorial history of Atlanta’s interior design, House Proud: A Social History of Atlanta Interiors, 1880-1919, was released this week. Take a peak into the premiere homes of one of the most significant cities in the South and gain insight into a region that has shaped a nation. Order your copy today!



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