Friday, July 22, 2011


The Day Dixie Died

By Doc Lawrence.

Susan Coletti paints alongside the children

STONE MOUNTAIN, GA— July 22, 1864, according to Gary Echelberger’s book, “The Day Dixie Died,” was a Southern scorcher, the embodiment of Dog Days and still remembered here as the day of the battle of Atlanta that would take the lives of 10,000 men and lead to the destruction of my hometown. Later on, Atlanta, like the Phoenix, would rise from the ashes. In this Atlanta area city of Stone Mountain, I joined a group of wonderful people to paint a mural memorializing the village’s rich heritage. Designed by Georgia’s award-winning artist Olivia Thomason, the mural is on a wall of a building that squarely faces imposing Stone Mountain where the largest memorial to the Confederacy is carved on one side. The grounds surrounding the wall and mural are owned by the First Baptist Church of Stone Mountain, a place of worship founded before the Civil War that had integrated Sunday services prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.

General Sherman’s March to the Sea actually began here in 1864. Just a few blocks away is Shermantown, a city within a city where African-Americans live in the community named for their liberator. Soon, Stone Mountain will dedicate a monument, “Sherman’s Neckties,” the twisted steel rails ordered by Sherman to prevent the railroads from supplying Georgia during the infamous march.

The artists were diverse. Laughter was omnipresent. Grandmothers worked alongside pre-schoolers. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an Atlanta native, prophesized during his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington: ”Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain in Georgia.” Joy thrives when freedom reigns.

Children came together to do what children do in the summertime down south: Have fun on a Georgia evening. Many were attracted by invitations sent through Twitter and Facebook. One teenager’s ancestor actually led a raid in 1864 from Montreal into St. Albans, Vermont in retaliation for the burning of Atlanta.

The gifted journalist Marshall Frady, another Georgia giant, once described the South as “America’s Ireland.” Peel away the tragedy and listen for the lyrics, the melodies, the rhythms and the rhymes. This land gave birth to so much that makes up the American fabric. Here is the birthplace of wonderful music: gospel, bluegrass, jazz, country and rock and roll. The hymn, “Take my Hand Precious Lord,” was sung at the funerals of Hank Williams, Dr. King and Elvis Presley. It was composed by Thomas Dorsey, an African-American minister who grew up in Atlanta.

Here on the evening before the anniversary of one of the Civil War’s significant battles, Americans, mostly with a Southern accent, created something lovely that will be here for a long time. A symbolic affirmation that we share common ground.

By example, children teach us how easy it is to live, work and play together. Why, more of this and we’ll learn to really love each other.

We left and I thought I heard a bell ringing. Or was it a choir singing?

Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

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