When I revisit Georgia there are certain signs that tell me I’m indeed back in my beloved Southern home, like the two-plus hour Christmas program at my Baptist church and meeting a new church member who is a three-time South Carolina hog-calling champ who retired just to “give other folks a chance.”
Then there are signs, literal ones, like road signs, that tell me we’re still in the same ol’ South.
In my Columbia County upbringing I’ve seen signs on side streets, cuts and lanes along Cobbham Road reflect names of either the largest family, prominent landowners or first families to settle those routes. Thus, you see, as you drive the stretch of road between the Phinizy four-way intersection and Mistletoe Road, signs with names like Gales Road, Bartles Road, Story Drive and Dozier Road.
The signs are not only a source of pride for these families but more importantly a source of history for Columbia County.
But the naming of two roads along that same stretch twists history in an inconsistent and disturbing way. One side road is home to three generations of Paschals, yet the road is named Terrace Drive. And a mile down Mistletoe Road on the left is a still-unpaved road where, as local folks say, “nothing but Willinghams” have lived more than 80 years.
And the name on the sign where these landowners have lived nearly a century? Beehive Drive.
I don’t know if the misnaming amounts to environmental racism, if it is an attempt to hide a certain history, or even if it’s on purpose. But what I do know is this: of the families I’ve mentioned, the Bartleses, Galeses, Doziers and Storys, are white. The Paschals and the Willinghams are African-American.
Let’s correct our history, Columbia County, and make our road signs reflect modern times.