Opinion Columns & Blogs

WALKER: Hancock County perspectives and presumptions

It’s your perspective, isn’t it? It’s where you come from, how you were raised and what your life experiences are and have been. For many years, my perspective of the Hancock County Courthouse, gutted in a fire Aug. 11, 2014, was a west to east perspective. It was from Milledgeville along Ga. 22 into Sparta passing in front of the courthouse and on to Ga. 15, over into Washington County, and almost immediately to the left where there is now a St. James CME Church sign. Daddy then drove about two miles to Grandma and Papa’s house at the confluence of the Sparta-Davisboro and Centralia Rachel roads.

Of course, when we went back home it was the opposite, an east to west route, but the perspective was the same.

Then, things began to change for me. I got elected to the state Legislature. Janice and I owned the “old Walker Home Place” in Washington County, and sometimes I would come from Atlanta out Interstate 20 to State Route 15 through Siloam and White Plains and then into Sparta, looking directly at the Hancock County Courthouse, the beautiful courthouse on the town square; the courthouse with double-tiered clock tower, an enlarged second story and a squat front porch at the entrance.

Wow. Was there a prettier, more impressive courthouse than Hancock County’s? I later learned that it was built in 1883, and that the architectural style was Second Empire. Indeed, was there a grander courthouse in any of Georgia’s 159 counties? I doubt it. So, on my trips from Atlanta to Washington County, I always looked forward to that magnificent view of that wonderful edifice when I drove directly toward the courthouse as I entered Sparta. My point of view had changed since taking my Daddy’s route.

And, then it was gone -- or largely gone. And, much like many of its citizens who have persevered through much hardship and many trials, the old lady refused to give up or give in. On the inside, little was left, but the outer walls, as if to say, “I’m not through,” stood and stood proudly. And, to my mind, somewhat miraculously and due to the wisdom and farsightedness of its elected officials, there was insurance -- enough insurance to restore and enhance this magnificent building.

This event has not only reminded me of previous perceptions, but has changed some of my presumptions about Hancock County. Let me explain.

The best law student in our 1965 University of Georgia law class, in my opinion, was Franklin Hitchcock. He has practiced law in Sparta since 1965, first with Louis Rozier, age 92 and retired, and now with his two sons, John and Paul. As good a lawyer as Franklin is, he is an even better man and human being. There are none finer. I’d bet that Franklin had enough records in his own office to replicate almost any and all that were burned in the courthouse.

Then, there is the county commission chairwoman, Sistie Hudson. I served in the state House for many years (1997-2012) with Sistie (she was one of my favorites) and before that, 1987 through 1991, with her dad, Dr. George Green. Sistie’s great-grandfather, Dr. Claude Riden, also served (1927-1928).

But, it’s not about the Legislature that I write today. What I want to say about Sistie is how fortunate Hancock County is to have her in the office she presently occupies. First, Sistie, congratulations on finding enough money in the county’s coffers to have the courthouse insured. And, best of luck in bringing it back to its previous glory. I know that you, with the help of others, will get it done.

Lastly, as to people, let me mention a product of Hancock County. Hervia Ingram, to Hancock’s loss, left the county and lived most of his adult life in Perry. Sistie had this to say about Hervia and his family: “Hervia Ingram’s family has a long history here and are a very well-respected family.”

Hervia was the first African-American to serve on Perry’s City Council. He served from 1985 to 1997. After his school principal days and city council days were over, Hervia was the director of Human Resources at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter. Thanks, Hancock County for letting us have Hervia. He has been an outstanding and effective citizen in our community.

Often, out of hardship, come blessings. People’s perspective and presumptions change. Hearts soften. People do deeper and more reflective thinking. Let’s hope this is what happens here. Let’s hope that the folks of Hancock County will join hands and rally around its new-old courthouse. The grand lady is worthy of and entitled to such respect. And, a county that has given us this courthouse, Franklin, Sistie and Hervia has to be pretty special.

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email his at lwalker@whgmlaw.com.