Most kids groan at the prospect of having to study it, precious few teachers can make it interesting, (and thank God for those that do,) and yet history is one of the most important things that can be retained in the corporate thought life of a city, culture or nation. Why is that?
This is part 5 of a series based on a wonderful book by Gary McCaleb entitled The Gift Of Community, and has been the topic of our Monday conversations for several months now. Mayor Ronnie’s copy is marked, underlined highlighted, and dog eared; mine is only marked and underlined. Though small, this book is one I would recommend anyone who has a passion to see Athens be its best, and deserves to be read and re-read.
History, according to McCaleb, is one of the 5 elements that act as the glue of the city. The others are: geography, demographics, culture and heritage. Obviously history is the umbrella under which all the others live, because all the elements have a story, and “story” is fully half of the word, “history.”
McCaleb quotes Cicero, who was a Roman philosopher and statesman born around 100 years before Christ: “History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity.” So, in the mind of Mayor Ronnie, how does this apply to Athens in 2013?
“It reminds us, in spite of fast food and a fast paced life, that we have a wonderful city,” he told me. We have a history of education in the form of Athens State University, a true pioneer in the education of first women, and then both genders. We have the amazing history of recovery and rebuilding after the ravages of war, and Trinity School being born in the middle of that aftermath. We have the fresh history of how our community came together after the 2011 tornadoes, and now virtually the only trace of their devastation is some vacant lots and some stripped trees, and even the trees are making a comeback!
“We owe a lot to the private citizens of Athens who have purchased historical homes and renovated them,” said the Mayor. McCaleb speaks of the fact that Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot, stayed empty from the day after Lincoln was shot until it was restored in 1968, and once again it is a functioning theatre. He also talks about Ann Frank’s house in Amsterdam, and some of the Mayan ruins. McCaleb asks the question in his chapter on history, “…What if the Frank’s house had been destroyed, what if Ford’s Theatre had been razed long ago, and what if the stones of Chechen Itza had been scattered?”
We might ask, “What if you couldn’t see the remnants of our own city history in the presence of two former “separate but equal” drinking fountains on the east wall of Kreme Delite?
History shows us where we have been, and points us in the way we should go. We ended our time together with prayer for our town, and the Mayor rightfully having the last word: “How are you going to be a part of the history of Athens, and how will you leave it?” Good question, and one that makes Ronnie roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner