The New South

10 January 2016: Marietta Street, Atlanta, Georgia.

“The New South is enamored of her new work. Her soul is stirred with the breath of a new life. The light of a grander day is falling fair on her face. She is thrilling with the consciousness of growing power and prosperity.”

Henry W. Grady, “The New South”

Henry Woodfin Grady editor of The Atlanta Constitution (1880-1889), was a popular orator, and a leading proponent for The New South, which turned out to be same as the Old South. His legacy has diminished considerably over the past century and his name has been removed from Grady High School in Atlanta and other places. Vandals have repeatedly defaced his tomb in Oakland Cemetery.

My first name is Grady. While I was not named directly after Henry Grady, I was named for a grandfather who does appear to have been named for him. There’s also a Grady County in South Georgia that I haven’t visited, though I was working near there most of last year. The county seat is Cairo, which is the name of a major character in my writing, but, while I did name the character for the town, I did not know it was associated with Grady County at the time.

Growing up in and around Atlanta, I’m certainly no stranger to change. The neighborhood where I spent my childhood and early teens, West End, was transformed by “white flight” in the seventies and is now undergoing revitalization and gentrification which began in the early aughts. Street names I knew from my youth have changed as the Civil War figures Ashby and Gordon have been replaced by Civil Rights icons Abernathy and Lowry. The neighborhood is transforming into a culturally and educationally diverse area, with many races, creeds, and socio-economic circumstances.

In the Atlanta Stories series, I envision a “New South” Grady never could have imagined. The volumes Fables of the New South and Reconstruction reveal a diverse and dynamic group of individuals living in the city and facing the many challenges life throws at them. Just as the city has transformed over the past fifty years, those who’ve made Atlanta their home have been transformed by the experience. Most of my writing over the past five years has been focused on telling these stories.

For my part, I’ll say I have a dysfunctional relationship with my hometown. I have lots of good memories from childhood and certain periods after I grew up, but much of the city I knew then is gone now. Every few generations, a new group of citizens undertake to redefine Atlanta and what it means to live there. While the town will always be part of my psychic makeup, I’m glad I relocated to where I am now. There’s a certain intensity that comes from living in town and I started to find it tiring. Plus, the traffic was getting worse and everyone was moving there, increasing an already crowded population.

I’ve written before about change and transformation and there’s certainly no shortage of it in Atlanta. That seems assured to continue for the foreseeable future. While I no longer live in the confines of town, I’m close, should I need to visit and now, I’m about halfway between where my brothers and cousins live, so that’s convenient, too. I can’t say things are perfect, but what is? For now, I’m waiting to see what changes await.

Leave a Reply