What a difference a couple of centuries make. The corner of 12th and Reynolds, once the center of a thriving slave and free black enclave in Augusta, has been transformed into a soaring monument to the spirit of that community, known as Springfield Village and the Springfield Baptist Church.
The oldest independent, continuously meeting black church in the nation, Springfield Baptist survives, but not much else remains of the village, which covered five city blocks.
It was a place where a devout group of Christian African-Americans lived and worked - some were slaves who were given the freedom to leave their plantations for "day jobs," some were free blacks, others were freedmen.
Springfield Baptist, founded by a former slave who bought his freedom at age 20, was also the birthplace of the Georgia Republican Party, which was the earliest abolitionist group in the South. Both Morehouse College and Paine College were founded at the church, and many political leaders and movements got their start at that corner. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Benjamin May were two notables who graduated from Morehouse, which was relocated to Atlanta.
The sculpture that now graces the park is magnificent and a tribute to the human spirit. Augusta especially owes a debt of gratitude to Augusta Tomorrow and Springfield Village Foundation President Robert P. Kirby, for without his tireless efforts we wonder if the dream could ever have become a reality.
The Riverwalk project was barely completed when Augusta Tomorrow decided that the history of Springfield Village was too-little recognized, even by people living in Augusta.
The effort started in 1994, and took a series of land swaps to finally get the right piece of property across the street from Springfield Baptist. Phase II and III will be the creation of a living history museum that will document Springfield Village and the church.
Kirby moved to Augusta just a few years ago, but he has become "one of its most concerned and contributing citizens," according to those who know him. His dedication is what good citizenship is all about.