The Macon Terminal Station, built in 1916, was known at one time for processing up to a 100 trains a day, both passenger and freight, through our city on its eight tracks. This Macon landmark was sold to the Georgia Power Company in 1982 after having been inoperable since 1975.
The Georgia Power Company wanted to cover the etched in stone sign over the left portico at the station that read, “Colored Waiting Room.” I guess they thought it was an ugly part of our history that needed to be forgotten.
However, a young city councilman protested the covering of the sign as being a way to deny the history of our city and where we once were as a group of citizens seeking to make real the promises of our democracy. However, in spite of this young man’s protest, the sign was covered.
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The incident did not go unnoticed and one of the nation’s premiere weekly news magazines took note (Time, U.S. News & World Report or Newsweek), interviewed the young councilman and made mention of the covering in its national publication for all the world to observe the happening.
The young man opined that history is history and should never be covered up, but made known so that we can learn its lessons. I think it was George Santayana who said, “If we don’t learn the lesson of history, we are doomed to repeat it.”
Fast forward to 1999 and the election of C. Jack Ellis as mayor of Macon. This new mayor obviously being of like mind as the councilman, who was still in office, personally uncovered the sign to reclaim the true history of our city and its citizens. The sign has remained unconcealed to the present.
Fast forward to 2017 and the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Virginia national shame and the city council there voting to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the grounds of a park in that city.
The story of what happened there has been widely told, so I won’t engage in a retelling. However, I must encounter the spin-off with hopes of touching in Macon a stand-down effect on the quickly engrossing desire to move or tear down statues here. Macon does not have enough statues that will herald for future generations the progress we’ve made as a society to overcome much of our distant past (but still very much a part of who we all are now).
It was when Joshua, Moses’ captain, became the leader of his people, that the River Jordan was crossed and a very memorable statue or monument was erected in form of twelve large stones from the belly of the river. The instruction given was “that this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?” The opportunity to present the history of the people was made possible by the stones. Likewise, today’s statues are the stones that ought to teach the history of our society. They are for a memorial unto the children forever according to the scripture in Joshua 4:6-7.
There is a danger in taking down the history of one aspect of our society as opposed to leaving in place another. The real question is who can really determine what is important to another person as a part of their history. I appreciate Rosa Parks, but I realize not everyone does. However, I expect for them to respect me and what I deem important, and I likewise should do the same for them and only then can we move forward in progress as a people seeking to make real the creeds of our nation.
Statues are landmarks of our collective consciousness at a given time in history regarding race, society, politics and economics, and they show how we have evolved over the years as a people and should not be hidden or moved. If we move a statue, we put in place a precedent or statute for future reference and actions. It may be Confederates today, but in time it could be Rodney Davis’ statue if someone decides the war in Vietnam was an anathema. Where do we stop?
Both Hay House and the Cannon Ball House are relics of the Confederate days. We should have learned our lesson about covering up and moving history from the recent movie “Hidden Figures.” Let’s leave the monuments alone and let them continue to tell their stories to open up some blinded eyes and build some bridges of progress for the human experience right here in Macon.
Perhaps our energy would be best spent championing avenues of learning in our schools about all of our local history? And by the way, that young councilman was yours truly who still thinks history is history and should keep its space.
Henry C. Ficklin, Ph.D., is a resident of Macon.