Phyllis and I signed on for a trolley tour of downtown Milledgeville, which was supposed to last for two hours but actually went quite long and reached three. We wanted to get to Andalusia farm before an afternoon cell of thunderstorms blew through town, so I was getting impatient. Our volunteer tour guide was a true Georgian — dare I say a good-ol’-boy — and this three hours was my experience of a certain remnant — maybe a large one — of the old South. The experience was important, and ultimately tedious and even offensive in parts. What we heard was the white history of Milledgeville, which was in sharp contrast to the experience of standing in the old State Capitol builidng, now a military college, that enrolls both young men and women and students of all races. I doubt our tour guide was even aware of the irony of having young black men and women walk smartly by on their way to class while he drawled on about the Reconstruction-era governor who decamped to Canada with 400K to preserve the money for Confederate widows and orphans. Have you heard of the 40 acres and a mule that freed slaves were supposed to get but mostly didn’t? Those start-up benefits might have gone to the ancestors of current black students.
Our tour guide also expressed mixed feelings about the inmates being freed from the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. At its peak there were 12,000 people held there, and our guide mused about how many well paid jobs there were keeping all of those inmates in line. When the inmates went away, so did the jobs. I think he pretty much lost me at that point, and I barely heard the “no’therner” comments he occasionally slipped in at my expense.
I’m struck by what history lives on in different parts of the country. In the Pacific Northwest, where I live, the WWII experience of the Japanese internment is still a very present story, kept alive by Japanese Americans who were children when their lives and families were disrupted and they were sent to camps in remote areas of Idaho. Here in the South, the Civil War lives on. I don’t know anyone in the North, where I’ve spent all of my life, who cares. But people here in Georgia do. When the lady manning the Visitor Center was responding to my questions about Central State Hospital, she made its closing a matter of “the guvment up there in Washin’ton gettin’ into our bidness.”
I don’t do the regional accent as well as Flannery O’Connor, but you get the idea.
Phyllis and I did get to see things in downtown Milledgeville that we hadn’t seen before. Here are some of the pics.