Eye-Gougers and ‘Duellists’: A Sense of Continuity

Art is born of pain; art is currency ∴ pain is money.

We live in a violent world ∴ we live in a beautiful world.

Zora Neale Hurston criticized her own color during the Harlem Renaissance, died poor in Florida beyond sandy beaches, abandoned. Hurston was buried in a pauper’s grave, unmarked. Her grave was so lost until Walker asked Hurston’s ghost to lead her, and Hurston’s spirit did. After Walker stepped in the grave, Hurston was found. Alice Walker brought Zora Neale Hurston’s works like Their Eyes Were Watching God back to life. Alice Walker brought Zora Neale Hurston back to life.

Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize. Walker’s work is immortal. She published a poem in 1973 about Rock Eagle, a Native American animal effigy just north of Milledgeville in Putnam County, Georgia:

Eagle Rock

In the town where I was born

There is a mound

Some eight feet high

That from the ground

Seems piled up stones

In Georgia

Insignificant.

But from above

The lookout tower

Floor

An eagle widespread

In solid gravel 

Stone

Takes shape

Below; 

The Cherokees raised it

Long ago

Before westward journeys

In the snow

Before the 

National Policy slew

Long before Columbus knew.

I used to stop and

Linger there

Within the cleanswept tower stair

Rock Eagle pinesounds

Rush of stillness

Lifting up my hair.

Pinned to the earth

The eagle endures

The Cherokees are gone

The people come on tours. 

And on surrounding National 

Forest lakes the air rings

With cries

The silenced make.

Wearing cameras

They never hear

But relive their victory

Every year

And take it home

With them.

Young Future Farmers

As paleface warriors

Grub

Live off the land

Pretend Indian, therefore

Man,

Can envision a lake

But never a flood

On earth

So cleanly scrubbed

Of blood:

They come before the rock

Jolly conquerors.

They do not know the rock

They love

Lives and is bound

To bide its time

To wrap its stony wings

Around

The innocent 4-H Club.

(“Eagle Rock”, Revolutionary Petunias, pp. 20-3)

It’s a beautiful poem.

“Cherokees” didn’t build Rock Eagle, but the mistake is a perfect example of misinformation approved by The State of Georgia and extended to Walker at a young age, as a student. Creeks didn’t name themselves Creeks no more than the Cherokee named themselves. In all, it’s an ultimate example of how malleable history is and how wrong, and rhetorical, history is. When I was young, Alabama History taught me Creeks were “belligerent”, yet Cherokees were good because they were peaceful. I’ve no doubt Georgia History taught Walker the same.  What is peaceful?

Emma Johnekin was/is from Putnam County. Walker and Emma Johnekin grew up near the same road near Lake Oconee–a lake created by damming the Oconee River, for power. The road is called Old Phoenix.  The lake was dammed after 1949.

Enough pain put into words, music, or other media makes one rich. Enough pain put into words also can make one poor. If not for Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston would remain intentionally forgotten, particularly forgotten by the Harlem Renaissance. Jean Toomer oversaw a school in Sparta, and Toomer often passed as a white man.

Flannery O’Connor lived in Milledgeville. Alice Walker lived here when her bluest eye was shot-out by her brother. Jean Toomer lived in Sparta. Joel Chandler Harris is also from Eatonton, which is where Brer Rabbit is thrown in the briar patch after the run-in with Tar Baby, which put Brer Rabbit at the mercy of Brer Fox who set the unspeaking trap made of pitch, dead, in the rabbit’s path.

‘Skin me, Brer Fox,’ sey Brer Rabbit, sezee, ‘snatch out my eyeballs, t’ar out my years by de roots, en cut off my legs,’ seize, ‘but please, Brer Fox, don’t fling me in dat brier-patch,’ seize. (Harris 18) 

Brer Fox is smart, but Brer Rabbit is smarter. The briar patch is the rabbit’s home. The fox and the rabbit, the crow, the turtle, and others, are tricksters borrowed, or taken, from Native American lore known as Trickster Tales retold through oral tradition from indian to slave to indian to slave to indian-slave until the stories reached Harris’s ears, and eventually Walt Disney makes a movie called Song of the South that offends. Actual bombs that kill thousands are expected, but words are painful. Savage is now a cool, hip word. If anyone at all, the word offends few. It’s a rad word. It’s applied many times in The Declaration of Independence to describe a people The United States of America reduced to 1% of the current North American population. The original document is behind bullet-proof glass. Officials in Washington DC are also bulletproof. If you’re important enough, it’s another person’s honest job to take a bullet for you. Read past the two famous paragraphs of the eternal document if you want to see the savage words.

Toomer’s Cane, O’Connor’s works, Walker’s juke joint, The Color Purple and Walker’s mothers’ gardens might be, or might range a twenty mile radius from Milledgeville. Dee (Wangero) moved to the big city, but Mama and Maggie lived in the country. Maggie was scarred by a fire.

Carson McCullers wrote over in Columbus. Sidney Lanier was born in Macon and went to college at Oglethorpe University when the university was in Milledgeville before it and the capital moved to Atlanta. There’s a lake near Atlanta called Lake Lanier named for Sidney. The lake produces electrical power for Atlanta just as Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair do.

Flannery O’Connor went to college at Georgia State College for Women (GSCW) in Milledgeville before Iowa. O’Connor walked to college just across the street from the storied mansion on Greene Street her grandfather Peter James Cline purchased in the late nineteenth century after becoming a successful merchant in Milledgeville. Cline was an early mayor of Millegeville. Cline’s store was just a few storefronts from where Marion Wesley Stembridge, and family, will also be successful merchants.

Staff
The Corinthian Editorial Staff, 1943 GSCW Spectrum (p. 26). Courtesy of Special Collections at Georgia College.

As an undergraduate, Flannery O’Connor worked on The Corinthian, which remains a student publication at Georgia College. The Corinthian was going strong in 1943 early in Flannery O’Connor’s undergraduate years when Georgia College was Georgia State College for Women. In the above photo, Flannery O’Connor is by the hall tree. At that time, GSCW was often called Georgia State College for Wallflowers (GSCW), nicknamed.

Flannery O’Connor attended college on Penitentiary Square after the Georgia Normal College became GSCW. O’Connor wasn’t an English major; she wasn’t. O’Connor majored in Social Sciences. She wanted to be a cartoonist, a visual rhetorician, but Mary Flannery O’Connor became the immortal Flannery O’Connor–the writer of southern grotesque as Georgia College’s Dr. Bruce Gentry dubbed it years ago.

Gentry is not wrong.

Flannery O’Connor’s fiction demonstrates some of the most violent characters in American fiction who are often given Grace despite themselves. She also preceded Alice Walker, having the gumption to be critical of her own color and religion. Famously, in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, the “Misfit” murders an entire family, including a baby. In another story, a grandfather beats his granddaughter’s head upon a rock three times, then he stands up and dies of a heart attack.

In the pause she loosened her grip and he got hold of her throat. With a sudden surge of strength, he managed to roll over and reverse their position so that he was looking down into the face that was his own but had dared to call itself Pitts. With his hands still tight around her neck, he lifted her head and brought it down once hard against the rock that happened to be under it. Then he brought it down twice more. Then looking into the face in which the eyes, slowly rolling back, appeared to pay him not the slightest attention, he said, ‘There’s not an ounce of Pitts in me.’ (CW 545)

The other story is called “A View of the Woods”, which is concerned with encroaching modernity,  the damming of the Oconee River into a lake, and the perpetual ignorance of generations.

One of O’Connor’s two novels is The Violent Bear it Away. As a young woman not yet forty, O’Connor was slowly dying of the painful blood disease Lupus, in Milledgeville, GA on a farm called Andalusia. At Special Collections at Georgia College, a third novel Why Do the Heathen Rage? is filed in a fireproof file on the second floor of the library, unfinished, because O’Connor died of Lupus at thirty-nine years old. For some reason, others dare to finish a novel that only one person should ever finish.

Campus
Penitentiary Square, Aerial, Georgia State College for Women (GSCW) c: 1935

Milledgeville is a center of learning, prisons, and asylums. Oglethorpe University’s old Milledgeville campus became Allen’s Invalid Home, which was a private asylum near Central State Hospital, Fort Wilkinson, Blood Town, and Oconee Heights where Marion Wesley Stembridge went to collect the debt on the Cooper car, and Emma Johnekin was shot, at least, three times.

If one had enough money, one might could go to Allen’s rather than Central State Hospital, then called, again, Georgia Lunatic Asylum. I’m pretty sure that Marion Wesley Stembridge spent his teenage years at Allen’s.

First included in her Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, Walker includes the poem “Remember?” in the collection of poems Her Blue Body Everything We Know (Walker’s compiled poems from 1965-1990), she dedicates to Howard Zinn who wrote history few read.

Remember?

Remember me?

I am the girl

with the dark skin

whose shoes are thin

I am the girl

with rotted teeth

I am the dark

rotted-toothed girl

with the wounded eye

and the melted ear.

(from “Remember?”, Her Blue Body Everything We Know, p. 317)

Stembridge (1)
Downtown Milledgeville: Marion Wesley Stembridge’s former house on the corner of N. Columbia and W. Montgomery Street(s).

Flannery O’Connor grew up in Milledgeville. She moved away to Iowa and the North, but she returned home suffering Lupus. Flannery O’Connor and her mother stayed on the dairy farm, Andalusia, where O’Connor wrote fiction and wrote a lot of letters. One letter O’Connor wrote to Betty Hester, O’Connor’s arguably closest friend, reads:

25 October 58

To “A” 

I have been reading of all things a history of Georgia written by the history professor at the college. It is a very fine thing and very good for getting your sense of continuity established. I did not know that we live on the borders of what was once the Creek Nation. I am highly impressed with the Georgia past. I am trying to persuade my mother to read it and when she finishes it I will send it to you, if you care to see it. It is full of eye-gougers and duellists. (HB 300)

BonnerMFOC (1)
Inscription The Georgia Story: Courtesy of Special Collections, Georgia College, from Flannery O’Connor’s personal library donated by Regina Cline O’Connor.

 

 

Two days prior the letter written to Betty Hester, it seems O’Connor attended a reading and signing by James C. Bonner, the history professor at the college.

 

TheGeorgiaStory
Book Cover: Courtesy of Special Collections, Georgia College, from Flannery O’Connor’s personal library donated by Regina Cline O’Connor.

I don’t think Betty Hester ever asked to the see Bonner’s book, and I don’t know if Regina Cline O’Connor ever read the book. The book is called The Georgia Story by James C. Bonner, but O’Connor was searching through history. Special Collections at Georgia College houses in its archives Bonner’s notes. Also, Special Collections houses original O’Connor archives along with Walker’s books given to her sister, which were donated by Walker’s sister, Mamie. This is Georgia College.

iNDIANpLAY
GSCW 1954: Glass Slipper

Seekaboo proclaimed himself a kind of Indian prophet, with the power to commune with the Great Spirit concerning the welfare of his children of the forest. He and his followers swept up the Alabama river, burning and murdering those of their tribesmen who did not profess belief in his prophetic powers. Those who suffered his wrath were the more civilized both in their habits and customs and in their religious devotions. This holy war was eventually directed against Fort Mims, where a number of Creek half-breeds and their families had taken refuge. With the massacre of the inhabitants of this fort, together with the small garrison of American soldiers stationed there, the civil war by a group of Upper Creek fanatics became a war against the United States. (Bonner 196)     

References:

Bonner, James C. The Georgia Story. Chattanooga: Harlow Publishing Corporation, 1958.

Harris, Joel Chandler. Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1921.

O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. ED. Sally Fitzgerald. New York: The Library of  America, 1988.

—. The Habit of Being: Letters. ED. Sally Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, 1979.

Walker, Alice. Revolutionary Petunias & Other Poems. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc, 1973.

—. Earthling Poems 1965-1990: Her Blue Body Everything We Know. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991.

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