The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia on January 1, 1978 · 149
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The Atlanta Constitution from Atlanta, Georgia · 149

Atlanta, Georgia
Issue Date:
Sunday, January 1, 1978
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: ii I Jl Gulf of! M k x i cjo It; - .:t , ( )!, ; ff rLr or Gene Talmadge, Tom Watson and James Oglethorpe all left their mark on Georgia, shown on a 1748 map when if extended to the Pacific. A facelift for Georgia history President Carter inspires a new look at the past By Margaret Shannon AST students of Georgia history may want to go back and do it all over again. The history of Georgia has changed. Item: Founder James Oglethorpe was not larger than life. Among other things, he pouted when he didn't get his own way, and he was a lousy military strategist. Item: Antebellum Georgia was no never-never land peopled principally by planters with pantalooned daughters and by darkies strumming 'on the old banjo. It was very much in the American mainstream. Item: Reconstruction wasn't such a dark period in Georgia, Carpetbaggers and scalawags weren't all villains, and people didn't spend all their time refighting the Civil War. Item: The state had an astounding number of weakling governors, and state government was easily manipulated by greedy andor corrupt special interests and politicians who stirred up racial fears to distract people's attention from their foul deeds. This isn't the whole story as told in the newly published "A History of Georgia," the first scholarly general history of the state to come out since E. M. Coulter's definitive work of 45 years ago and James C. Bonner's 1958 book. But these items are a sampling of what can happen to history as time goes by. The credit for inspiring the new history goes to Jimmy Carter. One day in 1973, while he was still governor, Carter telephoned Kenneth Coleman of the University of Georgia history department and asked him, "How do we get a new history of Georgia written?" The result was a team effort by six .members of the history department faculty-Numan V. Bartley, William F. Holmes, F.N. Boney, Phinizy Spalding, Charles E. Wynes and Coleman, now professor emeritus, who acted as editor. Spalding covers approximately 250 years in the colonial period, and each of the others roughly 40 to 50 of the subsequent years. President Carter supplied a brief foreword. The historians didn't set out to do a hatchet job on the past, and editor Coleman actively advocated the upbeat approach to controversial issues all the way. But times have changed and whatever restraints previous writers of Georgia history might have felt real or imagined, conscious or subconscious are gone. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the political scandals of the Watergate era of the 1970s were liberating influences. "We agreed we would pay adequate attention to blacks and women, and not just to heroes," said "Bud" Bartley, who wrote about the period from 1940 to date. Thus primed, the authors went about their task with essentially no limitations except length. Coleman, a jolly fellow whose own reputation as one of Georgia's leading historians is well established, was a benign editor for the most part He says he made only one arbitrary decision and that was to use pictures of Tom Watson and Eugene Talmadge. They are the only 20th-century politicians pictured -except Jimmy Carter. The book is revisionist, but not audaciously or outrageously so. The authors rather sensed, however, that they had an extraordinarily good opportunity to put their own stamp on state history. Phinizy Spalding, associate professor of history and editor of the Georgia Historical Quarterly, is author of the recently published "Oglethorpe in America," but in writing of the colonial period in Georgia, he emphasizes that the Spanish got here first "I wanted to give the Spanish period a fair shake," Spalding says. "Some people thought it should not have received as much attention as it ultimately did; I thought it should have received more. It's a period that has never been written about in a general history before." Spalding wrote an entire chapter the first in the book about the century and a half of the Spanish presence in Guale, as coastal Georgia was then known a period when Spanish soldiers and their Indian allies imposed order, and Catholic missionaries went about trying to convert and educate the natives. G UALE was nearly destroyed by the Indian uprising in 1597 led by Juanillo, but as Spalding relates, the golden era of Spanish Georgia lay ahead. He dates it from a visit by the bishop of Cuba, Juan de la Cabe-zas de Altamirano, in 1606. "They were quiet years when the soldier and missionary held sway," Spalding writes. "The Spaniards actively probed the backcountry during the 1620s, and the first missions were put in the western Apalache region in 1633. The area became the center of a prosperous agricultural section that produced grains and skins and acted as a forward base for Spanish advances inland to the falls of the Chattahoochee."

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