Madison County Opinion...

JULY 7, 2004


Column
By Frank Gillispie
The Madison County Journal
July 7, 2004

Frankly Speaking

Looking at some famous Georgians
Georgia’s population has grown rapidly in the past several decades. Many new Georgians who come from other states and other nations know little about the state. They often have no idea of the famous people Georgia has produced. That is also true of many native Georgians. I was surprised to learn how many native Georgian’s did not know that the great Ray Charles was from Albany, Georgia.
His full name is Ray Charles Robinson. He dropped his last name because he did not want to detract from another famous Georgian, Jackie Robinson of Cairo, who broke the color barrier in major league baseball.
Another Georgian’s is considered by many to be the greatest baseball player of all time, Ty Cobb of Royston. A new great in the making is Madison County’s Jake Westbrook, who is currently making a name for himself as a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.
Many other well known athletes from Georgia include wrestler Hulk Hogan, boxer Larry Holmes, golfer Bobby Jones and race car driver Bill Elliot.
Georgia has produced singers and musicians in all categories. Augusta gave us soul singer James Brown, gospel singer Amy Grant and opera diva Jessye Norman. From the Macon area we gained Little Richard, Otis Redding and Greg Almond. Among those from the Atlanta area are Gladys Night and Brenda Lee.
Madison County contributed two of the long list of Country singers from Georgia. “T” Graham Brown who had ties with the vast Fortson family is a native. John Berry made Madison County his home while he launched his international music career. Other noted Georgia country singers include Travis Tritt. Allan Jackson, Tricia Yearwood and many others.
Famous musicians in other fields include Harry James trumpeter, Albany, Blind Willie McTell blues pioneer, Thomson, Roland Hayes singer, Curyville, Fletcher Henderson musician/songwriter, Cuthbert, and Johnny Mercer of Savannah.
The roster of famous actors from Georgia is equally impressive. Among them are the great Joanne Woodward, Thomasville Stacy Keach, Savannah, DeForest Kelley, Atlanta, and Oliver Hardy. comedian, Harlem, Ossie Davis actor, writer, Cogdell and Charles Coburn, movie and TV actor, Macon.
Then there are the writers. Erskin Caldwell, one of the great storytellers, Joel Chandler Harris, writer of the Uncle Remus tales, Margaret Mitchell of “Gone with the Wind” fame, James Dickey poet, novelist Phillip Lee Williams and Janelle Taylor romance novelist, both from nearby Athens.
Add to this list President James E. Carter, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, journalist Henry W. Grady, and James Bowie, hero of the Alamo and inventor of the Bowie Knife.
This is just a small sample of great Georgians. There are many more. You could be the next one!
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is frankgillispie@charter.net. His website can be accessed at http://frankgillispie.tripod.com

Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
July 7, 2004

In the Meantime

A remembrance for Lemuel Penn
To speak of race, to speak of the South, to speak of loss — these things infringe on our deepest feelings. So it’s quite natural to avoid such topics, to put them out of our minds, to say they are irrelevant to the here and now.
“Focus on today, not the past.” That’s a common answer when troublesome history is brought up, and there is some merit in that. We know our actions are confined to the present — we can’t change the past.
Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we know we’re connected to all that has come before us. And to bury all ugliness because it troubles us is a decision that truth is not important, that our comfort matters more.
There will be those who wonder why we’re spending so much time and ink this week on a 40-year-old murder.
Well, the simple answer is this: because the murder of Lemuel Penn is one of those troubling episodes of the past that should never be forgotten.
The murder and trial mark not only a significant period in Madison County’s history. What happened here in the summer of 1964 is also significant in our nation’s history.
In that decade, our nation finally confronted an institutional hypocrisy — the fact that “All men are created equal” applied only to those of a certain color.
In practice, all men were not considered equal — far from it. And the laws of segregation reinforced the ugly fact.
This had to change.
And the law did change.
But altering men’s hearts can’t happen through a federal act. And when the government changed the law, there were many who resented far-off legislators telling them what they should have in their hearts.
When Lemuel Penn was murdered by the Klan nine days after the Civil Rights Act was passed in the summer of ‘64, the violence was clearly a bloody rejection of that legislation. The federal government then responded with a major show of force, with the message being that this nation will accept justice for Lemuel Penn, just as it will accept the new Civil Rights Act.
Madison County responded with an acquittal. And many have their opinions on why. They may claim the evidence was weak, but to make such a claim is to blindly ignore the driver’s confession, which illustrates how and why the murder happened.
What seems more readily apparent is that Madison County, along with much of the nation, was not ready to accept a federal decision that the nation had entered a new era. Because of the murder, which happened in the wake of that legislation, this county was uniquely in the spotlight. Notably, had the bullets been fired just seconds later, the crime would have occurred in Elbert County, and that county would have been the center of the storm.
Fortunately, this county and this nation have responded pretty well over time. Though there was much rejection of that legislation at the time of its passing, the idea that all men are created equal — no matter their race — took root in the hearts of people across the country, including Madison County.
Of course, there are always exceptions; the ugliness will persist with some. Likewise, racial issues are complex and, to a degree, endless.
But there has been such improvement. And it came with an acceptance that the individual matters — whatever his or her color.
So let’s not forget the individual who was lost in this county during a time of great change. Because, even though we didn’t know him, he mattered.
By all accounts, Lemuel Penn was a good man — an educator, a World War II veteran, a Boy Scout leader, a father of three, a husband.
He took a fateful drive through this county, wanting nothing other than to return to his family as quickly as possible after a two-week stint serving his country at Army Reserve training.
He was loved.
He was tragically lost.
But he should not be forgotten.
To remember Lemuel Penn by renaming the Madison County portion of Hwy. 172, or perhaps the Broad River Bridge after him — or both — does not have to come with a cloak of guilt for this community.
Instead, it can be a humble gesture of remembrance from strangers, a way to say that we recognize that this world can be very, very cruel. We have seen it, and we know you have felt it.
But there is love in this world, too.
Let us never forget it.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

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