Opinion Columns & Blogs

In 1969, an early example was set on how Macon could battle blight

I’ve read in the Telegraph about the widespread blight in Macon, and I’m saddened to learn the extent of it. At the same time, I’m reminded that 50 years ago in Macon I enjoyed one of the most meaningful days of my life fighting this problem.

I can’t recall the name of the project or where it took place, but I vividly remember the activities and results. A local bank developed a clean-up plan for some neighborhoods before they became beleaguered by blight. The planners paired outside volunteers with residents of the community as block captains to lead the efforts of all involved. After an organizational meeting, work began early Saturday, May 10, 1969.

Many volunteers labored until evening tearing down rotted chicken coops and other old structures; repairing steps, porches and ramps; weeding and cutting back tree branches and shrubbery; gathering and hauling away all kinds of trash, including auto tires, chicken wire and scrap metal; and numerous other back-breaking tasks. After we finished, block captains gave each homeowner several yard and garden tools and an American flag, all donated by the bank.

The teamwork of the volunteers and residents, who worked not only to improve their own property but also to help their neighbors with theirs, produced striking results. When I surveyed what had been done in one day, I took pride in our labors and felt confidence in the occupants’ motivation and ability to complete what we all had begun. Just as importantly, I knew the cooperation and camaraderie from just one day would result in goodwill lasting long afterward.

I left, thinking the remaining piled-up garbage and trash to be hauled away, the ground now bare of weeds and vines and waiting to be plowed and planted with vegetables and the new boards standing out starkly from the weathered ones was one of the most promising sights I’d ever seen. When I drove through the area on July 4, I saw an even more impressive scene. All the debris had been removed, and the homeowners had made noticeable property improvements. But more poignantly, American flags hung from nearly every porch or front yard. I’m sure for many their recent experience with the American spirit of community building and the “we can do” attitude made that flag significant for the first time in their lives.

In 1970, the bank followed with a similar one-day blitz in another area with even more participation and impressive results. However, two days were not enough then and certainly aren’t now to overcome this predicament. Yet, if there’s the will, Macon can fight this problem. Business, government, civic and church leaders by working with volunteers and residents of affected areas can make Macon become a beacon for other cities in their struggle against blight.

Jerry Rogers is a resident of Watkinsville.