Charles E. Richardson

Not the first time we’ve talked about monuments and statues

wmarshall@macon.com

<drop_initial>With all this talk about moving monuments and statues, some folks think this is the first time the issue has surfaced, so I dug in our archives. Here’s what I wrote on February 24, 1998.

Our city is filled with monuments to people and to days gone by. Our history is our legacy and it shows on various street corners and parks. Statues and plaques commemorating legislators, soldiers and other long dead comrades and times dot our area. Some monuments are hidden now, and others have never been built.

One of the most notable exclusions from our monument index is that of the Healy family. It would be easy to say with certainty why such a family was ignored by city leaders in the 1800s. But in the present day one has to wonder why the Healys continue to go unnoticed.

It would seem any community that could claim to have been the birthplace of a clan that produced a Catholic bishop, the second president of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and two other priests, three nuns, one a mother superior, and one of the main characters in James A. Michener’s novel “Alaska” would want to brag about it.

We don’t.

Few residents know the Healy saga. Fewer know the Healy family was black. This remarkable family was born of an Irish Catholic settler and a slave who he took as his recognized (though not legal in the 1800s) wife. There is one lone stone and bronze plaque in the River North subdivision (now Healy Point) placed there by the archdiocese of Savannah, marking the birthplace of James Augustine Healy, the bishop.

Why has the Healy family been ignored? Your guess is as good as mine. They were officially from Jones County, but there has been no rush to recognize them in Gray either.

Another monument sits alone now, hidden from view, commemorating Sen. Augustus Bacon, where Baconsfield Park once stood. The land now houses a shopping center, apartments, business office complexes and a fast-food restaurant.

Baconsfield Park was a treasure, with its zoo, walking paths, lush greenery and tennis courts. Sen. Bacon had one itty-bitty flaw: He was a segregationist, and he left his beautiful park to provide pleasure only for the city’s white residents. When that couldn’t be accomplished the land reverted back to his heirs and they sold it.

Now the park is gone, its beauty a thing of the past and of memories. Sen. Bacon’s wishes are no closer to being fulfilled. More African Americans shop, do business or live on the property now than ever would have had it stayed a park. The granite monument that formerly sat at the front of the park now sits banished on private property (It now sits at the back entrance of the Tubman African American Museum). Sen. Bacon, rest in piece.

Another marker in time was first pointed out to me soon after I arrived in Macon from California. It startled me. When I gazed up at it I thought I had come face to face with segregation. This simple sign made it feel authentic. I had seen pictures of separate water fountains and sitting arrangements in buses, stores and lunch counters, but when I looked up at the words “Colored Waiting Room” etched in stone at the Terminal Station, it all became real.

That sign is now covered (uncovered by the C. Jack Ellis administration). No one wants to be reminded of that not-too-distant past. You can cover signs and hide monuments, but, like attitudes, they continue to exist.

The Baconsfield stone and the “Colored Waiting Room” sign are no longer politically correct, and the Healy monument is still absent. We think if we cover it up, move it or ignore it, the shame of the time will disappear. It won’t. The shame just lives on in our hearts. The very act of hiding and ignoring our history does us a disservice. Facing it, putting it out in the open, would publicly proclaim that it as our history, some good, some bad.”

That’s what I had to say in 1998. Not much has changed, has it? Will it ever?

Charles E. Richardson: 478-744-4342, crichardson@macon.com, @crichard1020

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