In the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness: Clark Ashton’s Druid Hill

“Art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” – Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park

Clark Ashton remembers the first time he saw him. There was a man who wore the three-piece white suit; he would hang out on the street corner, swinging a gold chain. To a young Ashton, this man was fascinating. The man who fearlessly stood out in the small town of Augusta, Georgia. He was unique, inimitable.

For a new generation, Ashton has become a similar figure, “that strange man over on Druid Hills road.” Each year, for the past twenty-four years, he has sat on a throne in his front yard, waving at local school children who are trapped in morning traffic. He is trying to show kids that it is okay to be different, that people can prosper in alternative lifestyles. In his view, independent thought and action are increasingly important in a highly regimented society. Most people react favourably, but a few laugh or yell. It doesn’t bother him. Ashton believes in what he is doing. Continue reading “In the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness: Clark Ashton’s Druid Hill


Social Exclusion: Saturday School in Decatur

“Individuals are prey to institutions in modern mass societies… Individuals can struggle mightily against institutionalized conditions, but without changing the institutions themselves, those efforts will be largely for nought, since people tire, lose focus, forget, and, eventually, give up their ghosts, while institutions share no such limitations.”
― Brian Awehali

Nowadays, students think of weekends as a welcome respite from studying, but, historically, this has not always been the case. Between 1902 to 1932 in Decatur, the school week ran from Tuesday through Saturday. Author Tom Keating proposes that the strange schedule was a method to “discourage Jews from settling in town.” Though no formal statement from the school board has been found, Keating bases his argument on oral interviews. Exploring this perspective highlights the insidious ways that systemic exclusion occurs.

Public school is, in essence, a democratic institution, a pivotal cultural experience that binds disparate populations together. George Washington in his farewell address, recommended that American leaders should “promote… institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.” An informed and educated populace is necessary to maintain a functioning, republican government. Most Americans have experienced public education. School is, in theory, available to all: rich and poor, athletes and scholars, faithful and areligious, and, more recently, regardless of racial or ethnic background.

In truth, this promise has often failed. School policy is often intertwined with the social problems of the period, often in uncomplimentary ways. Exclusion of minorities is not uncommon. School policy, set by the district board, is a sword and shield: policy can absolve administrators and teachers of responsibility or be used to shut down potential challenges.

Continue reading “Social Exclusion: Saturday School in Decatur”

Concoctions and Cures: Early ‘Heroic’ Medicine in Decatur

Chapman Powell's Still
Pictured is Chapman Powell’s medicinal still which he created his ‘miracle cures’ from herbs and shrubs growing in Cherokee territory.

“Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do ‘practice’?” – George Carlin

We have romanticized images of the past. We perceive settlers on the frontier as bravely weathering obstacles, standing resolutely against all odds. Yet, such a life had high costs. Nothing was ever constant but, rather, always in flux; even the smallest things could be dangerous. Life was a treasure, not something to be taken for granted. In early Decatur, the average lifespan was around twenty-eight years. Infant mortality rates were high. Only the hardiest, those people composed of copious grit and some luck, lived longer. Disease and sickness abounded: malaria, bilious fever, pleurisy, pellagra, hookworm and yellow fever were all ready to take your life at any quick turn.

The city and county were healthy during the early years. Sure, some risks were present then, but the actions of settlers worsened living conditions. They changed the topography and environment, reshaping the earth to fit their social and economic needs. When clearing the land, trees, once majestic and stately, were felled into rivers. Ponds were not cleared, and the water became stagnant, pooling, attracting mosquitoes. Sickness spread faster, and, in increasing frequency, citizens fell ill. Even doctors were not immune. Ormand L. Morgan was the second physician to settle in Decatur, and, though young, he impressed townspeople with his acumen in medicinal practices. Yet, he died quickly and his was the second grave dug in the new cemetery. Levi Willard, an early chronicler, provides insight into what early medicinal practices were like:

“There was… [a] doctor whose success in making money in his profession was perhaps greater than any of the others. I refer to Dr. Chapman Powell. Many preferred his medicine because the first requisite was a gallon of whiskey in which to mix the pulverized herbs.”

Continue reading “Concoctions and Cures: Early ‘Heroic’ Medicine in Decatur”

“You Say You Want A Revolution:” Agnes Scott and the Vietnam War

Vietnam War Collage
A two-page spread from the Agnes Scott 1969 Yearbook which discusses and mocks draft avoidance. The safest way not to be drafted, the page claims, is to be a woman (Image courtesy of Agnes Scott College, McCain Library Archives)

Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America – not on the battlefields of Vietnam – Marshall McLuhan 

The Vietnam War incited a variety of responses in the U.S and around the world. Counterculture movements were emerging in the West, and the youth, in particular, were hungry for change. Perceiving that politics were out of step with popular opinion, many students became alienated from institutional power structures. The Vietnam War indelibly shaped Agnes Scott College, starting a wave of student activism: students sought out provocative speakers, flirted with radical ideas and advocated for institutional change. Agnes Scott administrators and alumnae were caught between patriotic loyalty and the daily challenges faced on the home front. The ideological divide between the two groups was a generational rift that could not be breached. Continue reading ““You Say You Want A Revolution:” Agnes Scott and the Vietnam War”