Google+ Georgia On My Mind: Looking at the Past Through Present Eyes

Monday, February 11, 2013

Looking at the Past Through Present Eyes

Recently I read something that said Douglasville, Georgia is “known for nothing.”

Considering I’ve spent the last few years of my life learning the fascinating history of my little area of the state saying that Douglasville is known for “nothing” riles me up a bit.

Case in point……the summer of ’68.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in April…..followed by hundreds of riots across the United States.  Dr. King’s contemporaries with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference decided that they would go ahead with Dr. King’s planned Poor People’s Campaign….an effort to bring attention to the nation’s poor. 

This was not a movement focused just on black Americans.  Dr. King intended…..the SCLC’s leadership intended for the movement to focus on all ethnic groups.
Different caravans representing the nation’s poor would converge on Washington D.C.  A camp “city” was set up along the Mall called Resurrection City.

The main caravan headed to Washington D.C. would be the Mule Train out of Marks, Mississippi.  The caravan of wagons crossed Mississippi, Alabama and finally entered Georgia mid-June.
They were met at the Georgia state line by Georgia State Patrol officers who had been ordered by Governor Lester Maddox to serve as the Mule Train’s escort until they crossed the state.

Was there some effort on the Governor’s part to intimidate or harass the folks participating in the Mule Train?
I don’t doubt it.

Was there some effort on the Governor’s part to attempt to keep everyone safe…..those participating with the Mule Train and those citizens who came in contact with the trek across Georgia?
Given the tense times that summer….I don’t doubt it.

The Mule Train had left Marks, Mississippi on May 13th. While folks were still reeling from Dr. King's death and the subsequent riots, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5th, a few days before the Mule Train reached Douglasville.

I’ve written about the standoff between Mule Train leaders, the Governor, the State Patrol and the Sheriff of Douglas County here along with a news story and a few pictures that appeared in the Douglas Sentinel.
A week later after things had calmed down and the mules had gone on their clip-cloppy way the editor of the Douglas Sentinel published an editorial. 

I’m reproducing the editorial here in italics with my thoughts interspersed in regular type. 
The incident in Douglasville last week involving the so called “poor people’s” mule train to Washington D.C., and area law enforcement authorities is the latest example of how publicity-hungry the leaders of the flagging civil rights movement are becoming.

Even the normally liberal Atlanta Constitution condemned the incident, saying the marchers “have an ‘incident’ which is earning them publicity, and they are milking it for all its worth.”
After researching the Poor People’s Campaign as I did I believe Dr. King had a valid point in attempting to call attention to the nation’s poor. President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” had all but stalled by 1968 due to the Vietnam War. The history teacher reason for this is that you can’t fight two wars at the same time.

The Sentinel editorial continues….
The whole thing began when the marchers refused to take another, safer route into Atlanta, and demanded to travel Interstate 20, a high-speed expressway. The Georgia State Patrol offered to escort the 13-wagon train via any other route but apparently the so-called “poor people” were determined to violate the law and draw what they hoped would be unfavorable publicity to Douglasville and Georgia. Evidently, they also hoped to revive the now ineffective campaign in Washington D.C.

What would happen if I decided to take a mule driven wagon to Atlanta today….down Interstate 20? 
I’d be stopped and charged with a misdemeanor for sure.
It’s against the law now….it was against the law then.  

While Governor Maddox did have his issues with Civil Rights during the 1960s and 70s, I don’t think he was being nitpicky about detaining the Mule Train. He had a legitimate problem since it WAS against the law. The Mule Train could have continued down Highway 78 to Atlanta, but were adamant about taking the Interstate.
Was it just about needing a shorter route?   Or……did Willie Bolden and other SCLC leaders realize this episode could result in further media attention to shed light on the Poor People’s Campaign?

By the time the Mule Train reached Douglasville the efforts at Resurrection City along the Mall in Washington D.C. were falling apart. It had rained for days….the “city” had become a muddy mess literally and figuratively. Things weren't going well.
The editorial continues….

Willie Bolden, an official of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was the main ramrod in last Friday’s defiance. But, he skipped out of town so as not to be arrested and became the “official spokesman” for the group. Bolden appeared back in town late Friday afternoon and mumbled a few ridiculous sentences about Douglas County being a “very, very poor county.”
His assistant, Andrew Marrisett attempted to dish out the usual propaganda about a moral right to disobey “unjust laws”, but found himself searching for the right answers when asked by a reporter if someone could strike him (Marisett) if the person believed the law against assault was “morally wrong.”

Marisett also attempted to say it was alright to disobey a law “if you are willing to pay the cost”. However, as it turned out, Marisette and the marchers really weren’t paying anything. They received several hours of rest in Douglasville’s armory, along with a free meal.
However, some 50 Georgia State Patrolmen, Douglasville Policemen, and Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies spent from 16-48 hours without sleep because of the marchers’ foolish antics. Many also went without food for long periods of time, in addition, the state of Georgia had to bear the cost of the patrol protection.

A cost was paid, but not by the so-called “poor people.”
I find it interesting that the author of the editorial…..I’m not sure but I believe it to be Tommy Toles, who was the editor of the Douglas Sentinel at the time……continually put quotation marks around the words poor people throughout his statements. I have no idea if he understood or appreciated the underlying mission behind the Poor People’s Campaign, but it’s obviously he felt the whole episode could have been handled without the taxpayers in Georgia and in Douglas County in particular “paying the cost.”

The editorial continued…..
Sheriff Claude Abercrombie and his entire department, along with Douglasville Police Chief Grady Traylor, his officers, and all state patrolmen are to be commended for the excellent job they did under very trying circumstances. Even the marchers and out-of-town newsmen complimented all three law enforcement branches very highly for their actions.

The thinly veiled effort to draw good publicity to the mule train and to put Douglasville and Georgia in a bad light fell flat on its face. It is apparent that  more and more people are beginning to see the civil rights movement and the so-called “poor people’s” campaign for what it is – an effort to further socialize the United States.
However, we are thankful no violence erupted in Douglasville and no one was injured as the mule train made its way to Atlanta in the early morning hours last Saturday.

This whole matter occurred in Douglasville not because the folks with Mule Train had an ax to grind with Sheriff Abercrombie or anyone else in Douglasville….it happened because it’s the spot where Interstate 20 began back in 1968. 
However, looking back on the entire event it’s easy to see the event for what it was.  An opportunity to get media attention for the Mule Train, and an effort for the Governor to be able to say he tried to enforce the law.

You really can’t blame either side….
Given the climate of the times I can’t help be proud of the people of Douglasville. The situation could have erupted into any of the other numerous situations across the nation where violence ruled during those times.

I'm wondering why there isn't a historical marker at the armory where the Mule Train participants were detained or at least on the school grounds where the marchers camped.

Seriously!  I think this is something that should be remembered.....

And the Poor People’s Campaign?  
This site sums it up well……

“For many of America's poor, there hasn't been much progress in the 40 years since the Poor People's Campaign. In 1968, 25 million people — nearly 13 percent of the population — were living below the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau. In 2006, 36 million people or more than 12 percent of the population, were living below the poverty level.”
The American society has so many issues to work on….and yet we continually allow ourselves to become distracted with the noise and static.

Why are we complacent with numbers like those above?

It’s not about bullying your way down the interstate when there ARE other routes…’s about what you do to help someone.
Start with one...

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