By Renée S. Gordon
“The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”
The earliest use of the word hero in the English language is often cited as being in documents from the 1300s. At that time the word meant, “to save” or “protect,” from the Greek “heros” meaning defender. Throughout the ages the term has taken on new meanings, from the main character in a story to a sandwich, but the generally accepted definition has remained relatively constant. A true hero is an individual who protects and serves selflessly to enrich the lives of others. Every region has heroic individuals but Georgia has more than its share of “accessible” heroes and opportunities to meet them and be endlessly inspired by their actions.
Truett Cathy purchased one small diner in Atlanta and from that humble beginning forged a Chick-fil-A empire consisting of more than 1,500 restaurants. Truett, a believer in philanthropy and family values, consistently used his personal fortune and time to establish and fund causes to better the lives of disadvantaged children. Two of his greatest achievements are the’ 1984 creation of the WinShape Foundation and his personal fostering of several hundred children. WinShape, a foundation designed to shape winners, granted $18-milion in 2010 to fund foster homes and camps.
One of Truett’s more recent endeavors has been The Rock Ranch. In the 1990s he wanted to provide children and their families with a wholesome educational and agricultural experience, a concept now known as “agritainment.” On his 1,250-acre cattle ranch visitors can engage in an ever-growing list of activities such as train rides, hayrides, paddle boats, cane pole fishing, petting zoo, festivals, concerts and seasonal activities. Tiny Town Village is a real favorite; 14 small-scale buildings fully outfitted for small children and include stores, a jail and a firehouse. There is also a 24,000-sq. ft barn museum filled with vehicles. If guests opt to stay the night they can choose between tents and Conestoga wagons. The Rock Ranch is incredibly affordable and a very special adventure. www.therockranch.com
The Plains of Dura, later shortened to Plains, was founded in 1827 on land formerly held by the Creek Indians. In 1885 when the railroad came to the region the entire town relocated south one-mile to be directly on the railroad route. The farmers eked out an existence based on an economy with cotton as the main cash crop until the boll weevil infestation of 1915. The crop shifted to peanuts, mainly because of Booker T. Washington’s research on its uses, and it remains a viable crop today. www.plainsgeorgia.com
The 39th President of the United States James Earl Carter, Jr., was born in Plains on October 1, 1924. The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site consists of 14 locations connected with the life of President Carter. One of the sites, the 2.4-acre Carter Compound is closed to the public. www.nps.gov/jica
Plains High School offers an orientation film and exhibits displays on the lives of both Rosalyn and Jimmy. A replica of his 2002 Nobel Prize is on display as well as a section of the Oval Office. The school opened in 1921 and was integrated 45-yeas later. The Depot functioned as Carter’s campaign headquarters in 1976 and in January of 1977 the 18-car “peanut Special” departed for the depot laded with locals headed to Washington for the Inauguration. The building was constructed in 1919.
The Carter Boyhood Farm, more than any other place, shaped the character of the man that Carter would become. The rural community of Archery was comprised of two white families and about 25 black ones. While his mother, a registered nurse, worked, Jimmy was cared for by his “second mother, the African American Rachel Clark. Carter lived on the farm for 12-years until departing for college in 1941. Seventeen of the original 360-acres have been restored to their pre-1938 appearance.
Jimmy Carter worked for a time in Hugh Carter’s store and the building has been converted into a tiny mall filed with 24 antique booths and the boutique Plains Historic Inn. The floors and ceilings are all original and the architecture is noteworthy. The inn has seven painstakingly decorated rooms each reflecting the décor of a decade from the 20s to the 70s and Carter himself completed the restoration along with prison laborers. In 1924 the building was a funeral home and of particular interest is a remaining elevator used to transport caskets.
The rooms are charming, breakfast is included and the prices are unbelievable. The suite used by the Carters, the Presidential Suite, can be booked for $89.00 per night. www.plainsgeorgia.com
Maranatha Baptist Church was founded in the 1970s while Carter was a sitting president. He is a church deacon and an active church member. He has constructed furniture, carved the collection plates and both he and Mrs. Carter attend on a regular basis. President Carter teaches Sunday school on a regular basis and the schedule is posted online. Visitors are welcome and there is an opportunity to have your picture taken with the Carters after the service. www.mbcplains.org
Nearby Americus is the home of Habitat for Humanity International Headquarters. The organization has constructed more than 350,000 homes housing more than 1.75-million individuals in 90 countries. In 2003 the Global Village and Discovery Museum opened. Visitors can tour the facility and see examples of model Habitat homes and exhibits on international crafts and merchandise. www.habitat.org
You’ll receive a hero’s welcome if you opt to board the SAM Shortline Excursion Train in Cordele and hop off in Americus. Americus prosperity during the ante-bellum era was directly due to the railroad that began service to the city in 1854. In 1999 the train was purchased by the state and began operating Lake Blackshear service on October 22, 2002. The train stops in four historic communities. The 1949 vintage rail cars hold 80 people and the scenic ride meanders past pecan groves and picturesque farms. www.samshortline.com
“Take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music.”
Dr. Martin Luther Jr. Berlin Jazz Festival 1964
Ironically, Ray Charles Robinson was born the same year “Georgia on My Mind” was composed and he and the song would go on to find enduring fame together. Albany-born Charles, blind by the age of 7, learned to play the organ, saxophone, trumpet and piano as well as read and write music in Braille while attending St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind. By the age of 15 he turned professional. During his lengthy career he received 12 Grammy Awards, was the first artist inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and in 1986 became a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He died on June 10, 2004.
Ray Charles Plaza honors his musical contributions with a life-sized statue of the performer seated at a baby grand piano on a revolving pedestal. Andy Davis designed the sculpture to be viewed, in a concert like setting, from benches shaped like raised sharps and flats. A small replica of the larger work, inscribed in Braille, is nearby for the visually impaired. The sculpture was unveiled in 2007 and since that time has become a premier photo op. The plaza is lit with changing colors at night and Ray’s music plays constantly. www.visitalbanyga.com
The Albany Civil Rights Movement was the first movement in the Deep South to protest everything, racial discrimination, disenfranchisement, etc., and to bring to bear the combined force of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Shiloh Baptist Church was the site of the initial mass meeting on November 17, 1961.
The Gothic Revival style church was constructed in 1906. Rev. King spoke at the church in December of that year to a crowd so large that, directly across the street, was used to seat the overflow. Bronze footprints outside Shiloh delineate the path protestors took on route to the Albany Bus Station. King was arrested for failure to obtain a parade permit on December 16, 1961.
The 1961-62 Albany Movement is commemorated in the Albany Civil Rights Institute, a complex that includes the restored Old Mt. Zion Church and an outstanding museum. Zion’s origins date from the 1860s and it always served as a gathering place and hub of community activity. www.albanycivilrightsinstitute.org
After entering through colored or white only doors visitors can tour a series of chronological thematic galleries that trace the movement through a series of interactive exhibits, interpretive areas and videos. Museum highlights include a 60s diner booth complete with mini-jukebox filled with music and ads of the era and a jail cell with handprints that relate first person testimony when you place your hand in theirs.
The Albany Civil Rights Museum provides an outstandingly unique experience that allows you to interact with some of the music, the people and the movement’s protest songs. The Freedom Singers, under the direction of an original member of the SNCC Freedom Singers, Rutha Harris, present regularly scheduled programs created to keep that history and music alive. This is an extremely moving event and one that everyone should attend to meet the heroes and hear their music. The songs, like the legacy of heroes, never die. www.exploregeorgia.org
I wish you smooth and heroic travels!