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12-30-04 AJC “Dumps On” Greene County in Special Report

“….. get off your butts and get a GED diploma.  Learn a trade.  Show up every day and learn all you can about your job…..Stop blaming someone else for your poor life choices.  Don’t do drugs.  Do not get someone else pregnant.  Stop whining and work at life.  You, too, may make it after 50 year or so…..”

AVOC

 

December 29, 2004

 

AJC Lives Up to Its Bias as a Left –Wing Propaganda Tool

 

By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC

 

The December 22, 2004, edition of the Herald-Journal carried about a page and a half of letters disputing this “piece” of Yellow Journalism in the AJC on December 19.

 

It is another example of zealots going to an area with a story looking for skimpy facts to buttress their pre-determined thesis.   Greene County is one rural area county that is making great strides with the Lake Oconee influence and its impact on the local economy.  Many of those folks, nor their ancestors, lived in Greene County during slavery or segregation. 

 

Several of the letter writers described their long-time involvement in Greene County and how the School System had several Afro-Americans in positions of power. 

 

Leighton Channel wrote (in the Herald-Journal), “… the amount of money allotted to the Greene County School System through taxpayer dollars and state funding is near the largest amount allotted to any county in Georgia….Greene County Schools rank near the bottom in the state when it comes to educational attainment……..from 1996 to 2002, the make-up of the school board was three Afro-Americans and two whites……”

 

Lake Oconee area resident Len Ebersberger wrote in a Rebuttal in the Herald-Journal, “…..three gated lake communities in Greene County provide more than 60% of all county and school taxes….. I am a second generation American, who started life in an East Baltimore row house…I had two parents dedicated to raising their two sons to have a better life through education….. Yes, I live in a gated community.. Yes, I am a millionaire…  Yes, I have worked since I was 11. My parents made me save 50% of every dollar I earned…..

 

Ebersberger continued, ‘’…….Now to Joshua and Tony of your front page article fame (AJC 12-19-04), get off your butts and get a GED diploma.  Learn a trade.  Show up every day and learn all you can about your job…..Stop blaming someone else for your poor life choices.  Don’t do drugs.  Do not get someone else pregnant.  Stop whining and work at life.  You, too, may make it after 50 year or so…..”

 

It seems that two young reporters set out to do a stereotypical slam of the South.   They thought some of the statistics from Greene would “prove their thesis about discrimination etc”.  However, they have come up against some very educated and highly sophisticated citizens who can react in a strong fashion.

 

The whole thing just demonstrates how irrelevant the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has become in the lives of most Georgians.   After a lifetime of reading it, I discontinued my Journal subscription after the two papers merged.   The liberal babblings of Cynthia Tucker and Jay Bookman are just too much to take for this Georgia born, and Georgia raised “Country Lawyer”.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution            http://www.ajc.com/sunday/content/epaper/editions/sunday/news_145c82f2569c915a1021.html

 

Sunday, December 19, 2004

 

60 YEARS CIVIL RIGHTS IN THE SOUTH: Greene County gloom

Sixty years ago, a groundbreaking book chronicled this county's racism and poverty, its residents are still trying to find a way out.

Ken Foskett and Ernie Suggs - Staff

Siloam --- A recent afternoon found Eugene Alexander chopping firewood outside a tar-paper shack in this hamlet 80 miles east of Atlanta. With no plumbing, insulation or electric heat, the tin-roof shanty looks vacant and deserted, but it isn't. Alexander, 67, pays $0 a month to live here.

Alexander's home is a dusty little museum piece of the segregated South. Rural Greene County has several such artifacts: a doctor's office that still maintains separate waiting rooms for black and white; a big mural in the post office that depicts black field hands picking cotton, their children eating watermelon in the dirt.

Sixty years ago, when Alexander was barely 8 and already helping his mother in the cotton fields, another artifact of the segregation era --- a book --- challenged white America to do better by the nation's 13 million black people, three-quarters of whom lived in the South. "An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy" chronicled the degradation of the human spirit that had resulted from generations of state-sanctioned racism.

Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist who wrote "American Dilemma," visited Greene County in 1939, when Alexander was a toddler. Myrdal and his colleagues found a region where a black man could not look a white man in the eye. They saw a county so racially quarantined that black schoolchildren were not permitted to use an abandoned school near a cemetery --- county officials were afraid barefoot black kids might walk over white graves.

In many important ways, Greene and other counties of the rural South have moved far beyond those times. But in other ways, they seem hardly to have changed at all. On sunny days, the regulars straggle up to Alexander's place --- men in their 50s and 60s who pull up plastic chairs and sit under a large oak tree in his patch-of-dirt front yard. Time doesn't seem to really matter, because each day is more or less the same. The men fill their hours talking, playing checkers, drinking cheap beer; they enter the twilight of their lives without much hope that they will be anything but poor, unemployed and trapped in Siloam, Georgia.

"White folks got all the land that we done worked all our lives on," Alexander says. "I couldn't go to school, because white folks wouldn't let us go. All we could do was farm. What little bit of education I have, I learned how to spell my name. So I just sit under this tree every day asking the Lord to let me get by."

Despair is palpable in a county where 77 percent of the unemployed are black.

"There are no jobs," observes Mamie Hillman, who published a volume of Greene County history this year. "Just a lot of sadness."

An  American perversion

Negroes and whites in the United States live in singular human relations with each other. . . . Practically all the economic, social and political power is held by whites. The Negroes do not have anything approaching a tenth of the things worth having in America.

--- "An American Dilemma," Introduction, xxxvvi

Generations after legal segregation ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Alexander and his friends are living reminders that its legacy --- poverty, poor education, underemployment --- is still a way of life for black Americans in places like Greene County.

Color lines continue to divide jobs, neighborhoods and schoolchildren. Sharp racial divisions appear in statistics on wealth and poverty, homeownership and high school graduation. Since 2002, 40 percent to 60 percent of the black students in each freshman class have left Greene County High School without a diploma, including Alexander's 19-year-old grandson, Joshua, who dropped out in 2003.

Joshua, out of work much of the time he has been out of school, spends many afternoons hanging out in the parking lot of the Siloam liquor store, a quarter-mile from his grandfather's shack. Forty-eight years from now, when Joshua is the same age his grandfather is now, his mother worries he could be in the same place his grandfather is --- undereducated, underemployed, with little hope of better days.

"There isn't nothing for him in Greene County," says his mother, Tammy Jarrells, who has just learned that the Greensboro twine factory where she has worked for 19 years will soon close.

Even as its factories shut down and its underclass grows, Greene has seen an extraordinary phenomenon in the southwestern end of the county. Waterfront mansions and lush golf courses have risen around the muddy waters of Lake Oconee as newcomers pour millions of dollars into new retirement havens there. The growth began with development of the Reynolds Plantation, created in the 1980s by Mercer Reynolds, who this year was President Bush's campaign finance chairman.

Compared with many natives of Greene County, the outsiders moving into the lake properties bring with them a far different sensibility on matters of race and education. Myrdal found in America a "living system of expressed ideals for human cooperation," a country that held sacred its creed of freedom, justice and fairness. He knew that if Americans would simply follow that creed, segregation and its many hardships would begin to disappear. Today a small group of affluent residents in Greene have come to understand that those hardships still exist for thousands of people. And they are trying to do something about it.

These residents, many of them "lake people," are seeking to improve education for children and show them the way out of poverty by emphasizing homework, building confidence, even teaching the importance of eye contact. Since the dawn of slavery, black people in America had learned never to look a white person in the eye; the simple gesture conveyed an expression of equality that white people simply would not tolerate.

White school, black school

No one could tell who was president of the United States or even what the president was. Only one of the older students knew, or thought he knew, of Booker T. Washington. He said that Washington was "a big white man," and intimated that he might be the president.

--- "An American Dilemma," p. 903, on a visit to a black school in Greene County

In rural Greene County, whites simply ignored the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. After 15 years of stonewalling, the school board finally adopted an integration plan in 1969, and then only after threats that the district would lose federal funding.

The day of that vote, the board also deeded a public school building to the city of Siloam, whose mayor promptly signed the building over to a group of white parents starting their own private "academy."

Nathanael Greene Academy, widely known as NGA, is still open and has yet to enroll its first black student. To many blacks in Greene County, NGA has long stood for "Nigger Go Away."

"The whole point of NGA is to keep them separated from our children," says Beverly Williams, a black business owner.

Patti Dowdy, an NGA parent, says she likes the school's Christian, family atmosphere and isn't troubled by the school's lack of black students.

"People ask me, 'Don't you think you are sheltering your children?' " she says. "If there are some things I can shelter them from, that's wonderful. I want them to make good decisions about drugs and things in life."

Sixty years ago, Myrdal found that enforced segregation encouraged whites and blacks to develop wild fantasies and erroneous stereotypes about how the other race actually lived.

Today, white parents seem to think that black students come to the public schools with weapons, that they fight every day and sell drugs, says Bruce Lovin, a biology teacher at Greene County High School, where four-fifths of the student body is black and most of the teachers are white.

"Of all the years I have been here, I have never seen anything to support that perception," says Lovin, now in his 17th year with the public school system. "I've seen just as many problems with white kids as black."

Lovin, who is white, has a son at the middle school and another in high school, but he has yet to persuade his white neighbors to follow suit, despite years of trying.

Hundreds of white residents have abandoned Greene County's public schools altogether in favor of majority-white school systems in neighboring counties, which accept tuition students, or private schools like NGA.

NGA teacher Robert Bradley estimates that one-third to one-half of NGA parents choose the school because it is all-white, and he is not happy about it.

"This school needs to find a good identity that's not racial," he says.

After the 1996 Olympics, a group of white parents organized an exhibition football game between the all-white junior varsity team at Nathanael Greene Academy and the mostly black team sponsored by the county recreation league --- the first time a team from Nathanael Greene had ever played a black squad.

"Everyone sat on the same side of the field," recalled Susan Spearman, whose son played for NGA. "After the game, the boys came together and shook hands. Everyone walked away and thought it was a great thing. But it never happened again."

Whites and blacks today

When talking about the Negro problem, everybody --- not only the intellectual liberals --- is thus anxious to locate race prejudice outside himself. The whites practically never discuss the issue in terms of "I" or "we" but always in terms of "they," "people in the south" . . . or "folks down here will not stand for" this or that.

--- "An American Dilemma," p. 37

The civil rights movement was gathering force when Dr. William H. Rhodes Jr., the son of a local druggist, returned home in 1962 to open a family medical practice. The new brick office downtown included a design feature common in the South: a "colored" waiting room accessible by a separate, backdoor entrance.

Today the segregated waiting rooms remain a fixture of Rhodes' practice --- even though, he quickly points out, black patients are free to come in the front door if they choose.

Some do. But a few older patients continue to use the "colored" entrance, as they still call it, just as they did when they were young and had no choice.

"Some of them prefer to come to the back," Rhodes says.

At the Greensboro post office, black customers daily confront a large mural from 1938 featuring black sharecroppers picking cotton and two fat-lipped children eating watermelon, stereotypes that should have disappeared a long time ago, says William J. Breeding Sr., president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter.

"I get a certain feeling every time I go in there," says Breeding with disgust. "I wish they would take it down." Several years ago, Breeding complained to the postmaster, who forwarded his objection all the way to Washington. "They told me it was an historical picture," he says.

Black and white residents are polite to one another and stop to visit on street corners or in stores. Yet, says the Rev. Richard Chewning, one of the county's most respected white clergymen, unspoken tension pervades most interaction.

"There is so much distrust between black and white here," says Chewning, who moved to Greene County from Tucker eight years ago. "If you took the white people who have moved in out of the white population that has always lived here, you would be left with attitudes from the 1940s and '50s."

Earlier this year, Chewning's First United Methodist Church of Greensboro and Hill Chapel Baptist Church, a black congregation across town, teamed up to build a home sponsored by Habitat for Humanity. Habitat's former president, Jim Hunt, believes it was the first time local white and black residents ever joined together in such an effort.

"It was a major leap forward for rural Greene County," says Hunt, a former chairman of the county commission, who is white.

Out at the county's new recreation center, a sprawling complex of baseball diamonds, soccer pitches and football fields, black and white children practice together without much thought of skin color. But the adults playing softball segregate themselves into white teams and black teams.

"Integration?" asks Kimble Bouyer Sr., a black professional who moved to Greene County three years ago. He pauses to think about the question. "There is really none."

If the county remains socially segregated, it has nonetheless achieved some integration in politics and in the schools. In Greensboro, the county seat, black and white professionals share offices at the county courthouse, police station and sheriff's office. Mamie Hillman, the voter registrar, is black, as is the Superior Court clerk. Greensboro's mayor is black; so is the chairman of the school board.

Business is another matter. Nearly all the county's businesses are owned and operated by whites. The chamber of commerce directory lists more than 500 businesses and professional firms. Fewer than 10 are owned and operated by blacks; a handful of other black businesses choose not to belong. Although local shops have long since boarded up separate entryways for blacks and taken down the "colored only" signs, change was slow and deliberate.

At Hunter's Drug Store in downtown Greensboro, management ripped out the soda fountain stools, which black residents perceived as an attempt to avoid integration. "We thought we were going to sit on those stools and have us a cherry Coke," says Joan Antone, the principal of Greensboro Elementary School. "But before we knew it, those stools were gone."

Owner Fred Hunter says he finally removed the fountain in 1975 because it wasn't turning a profit, not because he didn't want black customers to sit there.

"We never told or implied to anyone that they could not use our soda fountain," says Hunter, who inherited the business from his father.

But the druggist also can't recall any black customers ever sitting at the fountain. "It may have been an unspoken custom," he says.

Rich and poor

The labor market in these small cities is practically closed to the Negro. . . . The vicious circle of job restrictions, poverty and all that follows with it tends to fix the tradition that Negroes should be kept out of good jobs and held down in unskilled, dirty, hot or otherwise undesirable jobs.

--- "An American Dilemma," p. 391

More than a third of Greene County's black residents live under the federal poverty line. But in one of the South's more spectacular contrasts of wealth and penury, the county also is home to a Ritz-Carlton hotel --- the only one in Georgia outside Atlanta.

The Ritz is part of the sprawling Reynolds Plantation, a resort and retirement community on Lake Oconee with 81 golf holes. Mercer Reynolds built the resort on family land in Greene County --- at once changing the character of the county and setting off an explosion of building around the lake.

The fortunes being made and spent at the lake are helping Greene County; the tax base is broader, school facilities are better, new residents are pouring in, hundreds of jobs are opening up.

Employers at the lake, however, find that job applicants often aren't prepared for work that demands daily, professional contact with customers paying hundreds of dollars a day to play golf and dine at the Ritz.

"If you schedule an appointment, they may be late," Brenda Lazarus, vice president for human resources at Reynolds, says of some local applicants. "They come in slouching. There is no eye contact. They won't look at you when you are talking. That has got to change."

Reynolds Plantation is now the No. 1 employer in the county --- typically advertising 10 to 20 jobs a week --- with hundreds working in food service, golf course maintenance and housekeeping. And more jobs are coming. Reynolds is developing a 600-acre tract with another golf course, plus dozens of shops and office buildings for lawyers, accountants and investment advisers. A thousand homes are under construction --- brisk business for home builders and the businesses that feed off the construction industry.

But proportionally fewer of the new jobs at the lake have trickled down to the county's unemployed blacks, according to both black and white business leaders.

"I filled out applications at Reynolds three times," says Iesha Mapp. "They told me three times they could not hire me with the experience I had."

Mapp, 42, is both witness and victim of the near destruction of Greene County's black middle class. When local textile mills integrated in the 1960s, the sons and daughters of sharecroppers left the fields and found good-paying jobs in the factories. Well into the 1990s, a new middle class of black residents flourished. Mapp, for example, was earning $3 an hour at the Chipman-Union sock plant, bagging and labeling socks.

But the sock plant is gone, and that kind of money just isn't out there anymore for a high school dropout. The textile and manufacturing jobs that gave black workers a shot at middle-class life moved overseas or simply disappeared, threatening to erase three decades of economic progress.

Some midcareer black workers who lost jobs in the mills can't bring themselves to seek menial jobs at the lake.

"People don't want to go out there and get jobs like they were working in the 1940s down on the plantation," says Ruby Thomas, who worked as a maid for lake homeowners until it proved too taxing. "They got jobs out there --- cleaning toilets or sweeping floors or cutting grass. People will work if they have to, but they want to have dignity in their life, too." …….


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