Sandersville, Georgia: My Home Town, May 23
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Go with Hovey as he traces the evolution of his small Central Georgia town from its earliest beginnings to the present with a walk around a town square thickly occupied with memories from the 1790s to the present. Far from being a backwater community peopled only by WASP and blacks as most might suppose, the town has always contained immigrants from diverse cultures and this trend continues today.
Many of the white families now in their 5th and 6th generations no longer have strictly Scotch-Irish-English roots, but also have some Native American, European and increasingly African and Asian ancestors. Mixed-race families, while once unspoken of when they existed, are now commonplace. Is everything between the races always harmonious and does everybody get along all the time? No. However, the very complex issues of slavery, the Jim Crow South and interracial marriages are often handled in a more comfortable and polite manner here than in other parts of the nation.
For most, the realization has sunk in that we are all just folks. History has tought us that if we are going to survive and prosper in the constantly changing social and economic environment that is our world, it is going to take all of us. Will we ever become one uniform culture who see everything the same way? That utopian existence has never happened before, and there is no reason to expect that it will occur now. We in the small-town rural South were always a diverse people and remain so today, despite stereotypes to the contrary.
Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” was based on some of the life stories of people that she had heard about and then fictionalized for dramatic impact. There is some truth in her depictions of circumstances and events, but for the average southerner, even comparatively wealthy landowners, the life of leisure and comfort that she depicted did not exist. Using the economic tools of the day, including slavery, the Revolutionary War veterans who settled here did their best to make successful plantations out of the heavily forested wilderness, fight diseases that they did not understand and keep everyone alive through challenging times. Were there deprivations having to do with the slavery system? Yes there were. However, those living in the day could see no other way except to use the constitutionally protected institution of slavery in a very labor-intensive era where most work was accomplished by men and animals.
In Washington County, the Civil War brought wholesale destruction to Sandersville with the arrival of a portion of William T. Sherman’s 60,000-man army in December of 1864. Almost the only effective Confederate force remaining in Georgia was Confederate General Joe Wheeler’s cavalry who fought a brief battle in the town cemetery and on the square. The result was that the Courthouse and most mercantile establishments were looted and torched, any available food or fodder taken by the Union Army and many plantations burned.
One of my ancestors, Joseph Henry Hines, was crippled and could not serve as a line officer, but was with the Quartermaster Corps of the Confederacy. He brought five waggons of supplies to Sandersville, after the Union Army departed the smoking remains of the town. Another, Stephen Gilmore Jordan, was called to the colors as a member of the Cadet Corps of the Military Academy at Marietta. He and his classmates, none older than 17, fought at the Oconee Bridge, retreated back to Savannah, suffered from lack of food and exposure, and many died. Jordan succumbed at age 58 from a lung disease contracted during the war. Some 20 percent of the county’s adult white male population died during the war, many of them while serving out-of-state.
Most of the buildings seen now on the town square were constructed during a time of relative prosperity in the late 1800s. Jewish merchants had a large impact in the town and Saturday trade resulted in the stores being opened until 11:00 PM as everyone came to do their weekly shopping. Although the merchants occupying the stores changed, Sandersville served as the shopping center for the entire county continuing through my childhood in the 1950s. With better transportation, the face of retail trade changed, and the arrival of Wal-Mart effectively closed almost all of the remaining retail stores on the square. These have now become offices, eating establishments and the location of service providers. Once you could be born on one corner of the square, live and shop all of your life with city merchants and then be put away by a funeral home on the other side of the same square.
This town was a good place to live throughout most of its history. It is a good place to live now. Sandersville, Georgia, my home town.
One enduring cultural feature that most people can relate to is Southern fried chicken. This is featured on the cooking section and a YouTube video that you can access using this link: http://youtu.be/US8BLwco85s . This is the chicken for Sunday dinner, family meals and church socials. If you want to convert this into a burn-the-backs-of-your-eyeballs chicken you can add as much cayenne pepper to the flouring mixture as you dare. That will do it, but a too-hot product will ruin the chicken for most people. The more typical Southern fried chicken taste mildly of salt with a hint of black pepper.