Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Seminole Chief Osceola


During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta I met James Billie, then chief of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. A Vietnam veteran, the chief played good guitar and could sing country songs in Seminole that sounded like Hank Williams’ classics. We discussed his feelings about Native American nicknames used by college and Major League Baseball teams, specifically, the Florida State University Seminoles and the Atlanta Braves. The Braves had been viciously attacked by Minnesota sports media for their nickname. Billie, who recalled that Jim Thorpe had a superstar season with the Boston version of the Braves, told me that Indians “are honored when whites adopt our names as symbols of competition and courage.”

FSU’s football team plays South Carolina in the Chic-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve in Atlanta. The bowl, until recently known as the Peach Bowl, debuted in 1968 with FSU playing a victorious LSU in sleet and snow. The Seminoles played again in 1983 against North Carolina where it was 16 degrees with artic wind. Florida State won this contest.

No longer will weather matter. Inside the Georgia Dome, just a couple of blocks from the Georgia Aquarium, it’ll be 70 and comfortable. Beyond football, there are interesting facts that connect FSU to Atlanta. To this day the cadets of the Florida State University are one of four Army ROTC programs to wear a battle streamer for combat. In 1865, cadets from the school then known as West Florida Seminary, engaged the veteran Union Army at the Battle of Natural Bridge. Led by Colonel George Washington Scott, their victory saved Tallahassee as the only Confederate capitol not to fall during the Civil War.

The battle flag carried by the cadets is permanently exhibited at the Dekalb History Center, six miles due east from the Georgia Dome. It has a few bullet holes in it and was made in Tallahassee from the petticoats of Colonel Scott’s wife. Scott, a Pennsylvanian, ultimately settled in Atlanta and produced a popular fertiizer at his mill, founding a community, Scottdale, that is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Agnes Scott Collge, a top national college for women.

Prior to donating the flag to the museum, it had been stored and well-preservedby Scott’s descendants. His grandson, a family neighbor, told me when I was a kid that the storied flag rightfully “belongs to Florida State University.”

South Carolina’s Coach Steve Spurrier has a career 6-8-1 record againsnt Florida State, all accumulated while coaching at the University of Florida. After the retirement of FSU’s legedary Bobby Bowden, much of the intensity may have lessened, but it should still be a good game.

The Civil War began in South Carolina  at Fort Sumter. Natural Bridge was one of the last important battles of the tragic conflict. The revered Seminole Chief Osceola, illegally captured during a white flag peace conference, died at Fort Sumter where he is buried.

The Civil War Sesquicentennial officially begins on New Year’s Day. For those Seminole fans visiting Atlanta, don’t miss the Battle of Atlanta depicted in the Atlanta Cyclorama, and visit Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, the carvings at Stone Mountain, the Margaret Mitchell House(Atlanta is Scarlett O’Hara’s hometown), and the toomb of Dr. Mr. Luther King, Jr. Close to eveything is the Carter Presidential Center, standing where General Sherman commanded Union forces during the ferocious combat. The view here of the Atlanta skyline at night is stunning.

The books are closing on this year. 2011 is a big unkown. If we’re here and healthy, that’s a solid start. Chief Billie taught me a Seminole phrase: “sho na bish.” It expresses gratitude. It means thank you. A polite acknowledgement of life and all that life offers.

NOTE: This appears in  Southwind, my column published in the award-winning newspaper, By The Sea Future.

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