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February 13, 2013

Bowen Craig: Paying (homage) it forward

OK, so I was reading this Ben Franklin autobiography (and despite being one of the best journalists, editors and letter-to-the-editor-under-a-pseudonym writers ever, his autobiography is surprisingly dull) and he wrote a bit about the guy for whom our county was named, George Whitefield. I don’t know what happened to the “e” in his name, now forever lost to time. History changes things (it changed Mr. Potato Head from actual tuber with facial accessories to a plastic faketato and the war for Cuban independence into a war between us and Spain, where we won and everyone else lost).

Franklin wrote: “Mr. Whitefield, in leaving us, went preaching all the way thro’ the colonies to Georgia. The settlement of that province had lately begun, but, instead of being made with hardy, industrious husbandmen, accustomed to labor, the only people fit for such an enterprise, it was with families of broken shop-keepers and other insolvent debtors, many of indolent and idle habits, taken out of the jails, who, being set down in the woods, unqualified for clearing land, and unable to endure the hardships of a new settlement, perished in numbers, leaving many helpless children unprovided for. The sight of their miserable situation inspir’d the benevolent heart of Mr. Whitefield with the idea of building an Orphan House there, in which they might be supported and educated.” (page 83)

So, that’s a pretty decent guy to name a county after. It could’ve been muuuuucccchhh worse, even considering the lost “e.” We could be living in Josph Stalin County, David Duk County or Dick Cheny Parish. Instead, we’re living in a county named for a crusading colonial preacher who saw a lot of impoverished kids and built an orphanage. That’s an undeniably decent thing to do.

Rev. Whitefield was one of the premier religious orators of his day. People would line town squares to hear him preach. He was the Billy Graham of his time (an actual man of God) as opposed to the Pat Robertson (some colonial crazy preachers thought that the War of 1812 was brought on us because we tolerated Catholic marriage and coveted our neighbors’ wives’ ankles when those Jezebels dressed in their revealing, Puritasty wrist and ankle bearing frocks — only mild exaggeration — crazy preachers have always been a part of America).

Whitefield settled in Georgia, though he didn’t live here full time. Yes, he did own a plantation which was worked by slaves, which even then was a pretty big contradiction for a preacher, but try finding Southern colonial heroes who didn’t. Not to brush aside the obvious blind spot in his humanitarianism, but the man was otherwise pretty impressive.

Are we living up to our county namesake’s legacy? Are we Whitfieldians building enough orphanages to house all of the raggedy sons and daughters of today’s “insolvent debtors, many of indolent and idle habits”? We definitely still have some folks of indolent (it’s early American for lazy) and idle habits, like multi-player Army sniper games, texting or attending high school football practice (I get going to the games, but the football dads who watch practices really need to take up jogging or collecting tapeworms), to name just a few.

Yes, as the metro area with the perennially highest unemployment rate in the state, we’ve got some challenges that need meeting which, if met, would make it easier for us to build orphanages that don’t look like something out of colonial times. We need to create jobs here, no doubt, but don’t orphanages need employees? They’re not free-range housing ideas or Montessori schools. Orphanages need someone to cook porridge, someone to change bed sheets, someone to sweep floors, someone to serve porridge and someone to clean the bowls after the porridge is eaten (most of my knowledge of orphanages clearly comes from Charles Dickens).

Are we living up to Rev. Whitefield’s legacy in less obviously analogous ways? Who around here is worthy of receiving “The 21st century Whitefield Award of Excellence,” which we in the business call a “Whitey.”

Any man who volunteers to be a troop leader or helper for any of the Boy Scout troops around deserves a Whitey. I know the organization has gotten a bad rap lately, and some of it is admittedly deserved, but any grown man who gives up his weekend to teach boys how to fish, tie a half-hitch or any other skill that will be pretty important once the power grid fails would make Whitefield smile.

I’m sure that Girl Scout leaders deserve praise, too, but never having attended Girl Scout meetings, I can only assume these women mainly teach the requisite skills for the girls to earn their eyelash-batting-to-get-old-men-to-buy-Thin Mints merit badges. For real, those women deserve a few Whiteys, too.  

The same goes for most little league coaches of whatever sport, except of course for the obsessive football dads and cheerleading moms who may deserve their own reality shows, but not any humanitarian awards, even if they are fake.

The janitors at the Downtown Motor Lodge deserve multiple Whiteys. The little German guy in lederhosen hanging off the Downtown Motor Lodge sign deserves a perseverance Whitey.

There are many more folks who deserve Whiteys. If you’d like to nominate another great humanitarian Daltonian for a Whitey, write to Jamie Jones at The Daily Citizen.

Bowen Craig is a former Dalton resident now residing in Athens. He thinks the 1993 Dalton High School swimming and diving team should be considered for a Whitey.

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