Famous Authors Driving Tour
Eatonton, Georgia, around 6500 people, is the Putnam County Seat. The historic district features over 100 Antebellum and Victorian era buildings. Eatonton is also the home town of two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Vincent Hancock, original Tuskegee Airman Hiram A. Little, Truett Cathy founder of Chick-fil-A, and three very famous authors.
Motoring the Famous Authors Driving Tour, I discovered the Eatonton background of Flannery O’Connor, Joel Chandler Harris, and Alice Walker. While the tour markers name all three authors, the driving tour really follows Alice Walker. Flannery O’Connor’s home Andalusia is a destination, which I’ll see another time. Harris’s young life is here; I’ll tell you about the Uncle Remus Museum in a future blog. The lovely Philadelphia United Methodist Church where Harris attended in the 1860s is on the driving tour.
Alice Walker, born in 1944, most famous for The Color Purple, was the youngest of the eight children of sharecroppers. Her parents were descendants of local slaves, and are buried in the Walker Cemetery on the driving tour. The church where Alice was baptized and grew up attending is on the tour and is being restored. The home she lived in for most of the 1950s is currently a farm store and market.
But, where the authors’ lives intersect is what I find the most interesting. Flannery O’Conner, born in 1925, was the daughter of Irish immigrants. She was raised Catholic in the Southern Bible Belt. Catholicism and Southernism were two constant themes in her work. The Walkers lived only two miles away. When Walker was eight years old she had occasion to be in Andalusia, O’Conner’s home. In 1974, she wrote Beyond the Peacock, a recollection of that occasion.
Joel Chandler Harris, 1848 -1908, illegitimate son of an Irish immigrant seamstress, was printers apprentice to plantation owner Joseph Turner at Turnwold Plantation in Eatonton. It was here he listened and wrote down the stories of the 126 slaves, their names, ages and occupations. Later as a journalist for The Atlanta Constitution, he wrote several of the stories which then took on a life of their own.
Alice Walker, born 96 years after Harris, has little regard for Harris’s work, saying he stole the dialect of the slaves and their stories from her heritage. But Georgia Smith, a storyteller at the Uncle Remus Museum sees it differently. Her own grandmother was born a slave about the time Harris began to write and died in 1957. Smith grew up and went to school with Alice Walker. But she is thankful Harris wrote the speech patterns and tales. She says she thanks God because otherwise part of her heritage would have gone missing.
Only a curve in the road and about a hundred years separate and intersect the lives and works of these three great writers.