It may be true, as the great Gamble Rogers opined, that in a small town, everybody knows what everybody else is doing, but they read the newspaper to find out who got caught.
It is certainly true that without their newspaper, those citizens not only can’t check up on their neighbors, neither can they get reports on their local government or their schools or the many civic, business, religious and social endeavors that make up the world right around them.
Nevertheless, the closure of local newspapers is commonplace all across our country. Thus, it should have come as no surprise lately when Editor and Publisher Ralph Maxwell, Jr. announced that the Oglethorpe Echo, down in Lexington in our neighbor county, would go out of business after 65 years in his family. Ralph and his two brothers grew up working at the newspaper and its printing plant. Scott and William went on to find honest employment. Ralph, Jr. stayed on to help his eponymous father run the paper, and took over after Mr. Maxwell’s death. Ralph Jr. is every bit as knowledgeable and personable as his father and almost as hard working. He probably would have kept the Echo going as a public service except for the fact that he suffered a devastating stroke a couple of years ago, leaving his typing ability reduced to one finger. Typing with only two fingers is kind of a point of pride, but one? Think about it. Also, the Echo’s staff stalwarts had reached retirement age, and Ralph saw no alternative but to close, leaving Oglethorpe County with no newspaper after 148 years of the Echo.
But wait. Oglethorpe County citizen Dink NeSmith understands the importance of community newspapers because his company owns around 25 of them. Dink quickly hatched a plan to keep the Echo functioning as Oglethorpe County’s local paper. He created a nonprofit to which Ralph transferred ownership of the Echo. Then Dink approached Charles Davis, dean of UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and they brainstormed the brilliant idea of morphing the Echo into a lab paper for senior journalism students to gain firsthand, real-time on-the-ground training covering local government, schools, sports, etc. right there in the Oglethorpe Echo. Davis has committed resources to use a faculty member as editor of the Echo to supervise the student journalists, and NeSmith will create advisory boards of local citizens and young people.
As Davis says, it’s a win for everybody, though Maxwell says some Oglethorpe County readers want their old, familiar paper to continue.
Who knows? This new burst of energy generated by NeSmith and the Grady College may raise the Echo to such journalistic heights that it can tell its readers who got caught before they even know who was doing it.
African American History in Greene County
Another nearby county, Greene, has as rich an African American history as any in the state. That is, of course, because Greene was a major cotton-producing county before the Civil War, and you know who produced all that cotton. Particularly fecund land lay along “Prosperity Ridge,” supporting a string of plantations. After the war ended enslavement, the plantation owners fought the freedmen to deny them their newly granted right to the ownership of their own labor. What they could not win by force, the former owners gained through their manipulation of the law, disenfranchising their former slaves and forcing them back into economic servitude, denying them the right to own property or enforce contracts.
Now comes Greene Countian Mamie Hillman, who has created the Greene County African American Museum (gcaam.org) at 1415 Northeast St., Greensboro, and its grand opening is this Saturday, Oct. 16, from 10 a.m.–1 p.m.
“The Greene County African American Museum is dedicated to the empowerment of and truth-telling about African American lives in Greene County, Georgia. The Museum is designed to inspire clarity of heart and mind by sharing with all the important contributions and stories of Greene County’s African American community throughout its history to the present day.”
In accordance with this statement of purpose, from 2–4 p.m. the grand opening will segue to nearby Penfield, GA to honor ancestors at the Penfield African American Cemetery, which represents a major development in Greene County’s African American history through the restoration of a cemetery connected to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s grandfather and to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
This grand opening is a great opportunity to join founding director Mamie Hillman in her quest “to acknowledge, honor and celebrate the lives of our ancestors who came before us—those who were not honored in life, and have yet to be honored in death.”
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