On common ground

Ben Nelms's picture

The vote by Fairburn City Council Monday night to approve the renewal of the lease of the old courthouse to the Old Campbell County Historical Society came on the heels of controversy in November and again this month. The issue centered primarily on the presence of various Confederate materials on display in the building and the appropriateness of those materials in today’s local culture.

People at both meetings spoke their mind generally in an orderly fashion, something that was refreshing to see, given that we live on a planet that continues to be driven by subjective raw emotion with little or no regard for objectivity. Mob rule, you know.

But at stake at the meeting was something much larger than the historical society or the courthouse lease. Whether the history of Campbell County or Constantinople, of the Middle Crossing or the Middle Ages, we can little afford to dispense with history, any history, without running the risk of becoming that which we disdain. This doesn’t mean we have to agree with any particular portion of history, whatever it might be. Far from it. As the philosopher George Santayana once said, a people who cannot remember their past are condemned to repeat it.

Accounting for human nature, race has, and may well remain, a divide. Sometimes this is for the most innocent of reasons. But other times it is because it is perpetuated by those on one or both sides of the equation and for the unspoken benefit of those that would use the division for their own gain. Still today in America, some claim to be clearing the air at the same time they are stoking the flames of division. That’s subterfuge. And here, in our supposedly more enlightened 21st century America, the axiom that the content of a man’s character matters more than the color of his skin makes good rhetoric but amounts to little if we will not put subjectivity aside and learn from history. This brings me back to Fairburn and the courthouse.

History is being created every day. As several people on both sides of the lease debate have rightly said, Fairburn, and all of south Fulton for that matter, is evolving at a rapid pace. I hope someone will record this exponential growth for those who will live in the Diamond of metro Atlanta in future generations. This, too, is as much history as amassing genealogical records and other documentation on families, whether black or white or brown or whatever the color or ethnicity or creed or nationality may be!

There is something else. Some of you may aware that it has long been a reality in smaller cities across America that historical societies are often staffed only by older citizens, and usually by only a handful of volunteers, who are able and willing to dedicate a portion of their retirement time to obtain and preserve artifacts and genealogical documentation. So Councilman Scott Vaughan and others at the council table were exactly correct in suggesting that additional Fairburn residents, and for that matter residents from other parts of south Fulton, become involved in the organization. The contribution and participation by a large group can generate much more than a small one.

Something else. The statements made by Scott Vaughan at the meeting were eloquent, and more. They were exactly on target. They were the words of a statesman, not a politician. Vaughan ran the risk of telling the truth and, simultaneously, alienating everybody. I hope the residents of Fairburn appreciate the real significance of his words. He was attempting to build a bridge between diverging points of view. He succeeded.

In life, it may take months or years to build a bridge, but only seconds to tear one down.

Perhaps what might have been an explosion Monday night will become a lesson from which future residents can learn, one where history was forged on common ground.

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