The problem with having been virtually everywhere, at least within the confines of this state, is that it is next to impossible to find somewhere new to go. But last week I stumbled across a place I had never been -- and it is a place so filled with the types of treasures that are near and dear to my heart that I will have to keep going back -- over and over and over -- and I still won't see it all because the things to see keep changing.
I guess I had better back up and explain. Last week, I met Dorsey Hill and Dr. Charles Burch Jr. (he's a tooth dentist) in Athens. Our mission was to lay our eyes upon the only remaining original copy of the Confederate Constitution -- which is displayed only one day a year. This particular day it was displayed in the relatively new Special Collections Library, which is a classically beautiful building located on South Hull Street, practically within spitting distance of Sanford Stadium on the campus of the University of Georgia.
Actually, the library has been in operation for about a year, but I had never taken the time to explore the facility in order to learn what sorts of special collections are displayed there. That was poor judgment on my part. I am not sure the term "library" does justice to the facility. It is as elaborate and interesting as just about any museum of comparable size that I have ever visited and -- understand -- I have visited a whole heap of museums in my travels.
Because I was in the company of local icons and Georgia legends, I got to tag along on a tour of the facility, led by none other than Chantel Dunham, who happens to be the director of Development for UGA libraries, the UGA press and the Georgia Review. I was in high cotton, understand.
I learned that Ms. Dunham is from the Bayou State of Louisiana, but got to Athens as soon as she could and is practically a naturalized native by now. She is amazingly good at what she does and is also friendly and polite enough to pretend she was interested in my stories about Gene and "Hummon" Talmadge and other Georgia politicians we encountered on our trip through the portion of the Special Collections library devoted to Georgia politics. Of course, with Chantelhailing from the state that gave the nation Huey Long, politics with a red clay motif probably sound pretty tame to her.
But I was telling you about all the great stuff in the library. There is a giant mural on one wall depicting everybody that was anybody in Georgia politics -- the aforementioned Talmadge machine, Lester Maddox, Jimmy Earl Carter, Dick Russell, Martin Luther King, Jr., Tom Murphy -- if they could ride a bicycle backward, make segregation sound saintly or defy seatbelt laws made by his own General Assembly, they are depicted on that wall. I'd love to sit a class of students who are genuinely interested in our state's political history in front of that wall. I could tell stories for hours about the people portrayed upon it. In addition to the mural, the library has a collection of documents in any and all formats that have anything to do with modern Georgia politics and policy-making.
They also had a treasure trove of Baldy cartoons. I'm thinking about donating the one he did about me back in the '80s.
The library also contains a huge collection of memorabilia connected to the George Foster Peabody Awards, which recognize distinguished and meritorious public service by radio and television stations, networks, and individuals. They have been given out by the University of Georgia annually since 1941 and nowadays networks go to great lengths to promote their products for the awards. An amazing collection of the memorabilia of our popular culture is on display.
The Hargrett Library is also contained within the building and is the number one leading repository on Georgia history and culture. There are more than 200,000 volumes in its rare book collection, along with maps, broadsides and UGA archives and records. They also have some really cool stuff about the performing arts and natural history. Some of the holdings go back as far as the 15th century.
One entire hallway is devoted to portraits of distinguished Georgians who have been inducted into the Georgia Writers' Hall of Fame. I didn't find my likeness among them. I did find that of Sidney Lanier, Joel Chandler Harris, Erskine Caldwell and a slew of others. There's lot more, too, but I don't want to tell you everything you'll see. I do want to urge you to visit at your first opportunity, however. It is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Saturday from 1 until 5 p.m. -- unless there's a game going on across the way, of course. Y'all need to take a look. If you run across Chantel Dunham, please tell her that Huck sent you -- and it's OK. You can thank me later.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.