If you’ve spent any quality time with a coffee table in someone else’s house, you’ve probably flipped through an “Images of America” book. The popular series consists of photographic histories of cities across the country.
This week, Arcadia Publishing released a book in the series about Macon, assembled and annotated by two Middle Georgia State College history professors. I spoke with Stephen Wallace Taylor and Matthew Jennings about their take on Macon history.
AR: Stephen, you write: “We focused on the theme of adaptation. To casual observers Macon may appear to be a somewhat static - or at least slow-paced - community, but our work reveals a tremendous capacity for adapting to new challenges.” What do you mean by that?
SWT: If you look at the chapter that we did entitled ‘City of Churches, City of Change,’ it’s pretty clear that even the churches that we have depicted here are not static institutions. There’s a picture in there of the former Primitive Vineville Baptist Church building which now serves as the home of the Islamic Center of Macon. Someone driving through looks at these buildings and says ‘oh wow, they’re old, nothing has changed here in forever.’ Well, look at the signs folks!
MJ: We don’t intend to present a sort of amber encased version of Macon, Georgia. We want people to feel the dynamism of the town.
AR: There’s a particularly dynamic photo in your book, a civil rights march that took place on Cherry Street in 1968. What are we looking at here?
MJ: It was one of the frontrunners for the cover image. This is in the weeks after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. We just fell in love with this image because of the sheer range of emotions on the faces of the participants in this march. You see this sort of steady, determined look, but also the great exuberance, the joy of the protesters as they march hand-in-hand down Cherry Street. It’s just one of those iconic late 1960’s Macon images and it had to be in the book.
SWT: I think what we were trying to capture with this and with a lot of other images is the life of the city. Macon has this tremendous energy that is bubbling just beneath the surface and once in a while you really get to see it and I think this picture really, really tells us that.
AR: As much as Cherry Street has revitalized in recent years, you’re just not use to seeing this many people on the street, it’s just packed! If I asked you both what you’re favorite photograph from the book is would you have an answer?
SWT: My personal favorite is another image that was in the running for the cover, it’s actually now on the inside cover. It shows a woman in 1943 boarding a bus whose destination is Macon. And the way the image is composed suggests that this is an epic journey for her, that she’s going someplace, and the someplace is Macon. And I think that a lot of folks in Macon undervalue the city as a destination. Macon is a place to go to.
MJ: I would also say it’s a place to be from. I go around the class on the first day and I ask students what they want to do. And a handful of in every single class say ‘I’ve got to get out of Macon.’ Which is fine, you should go an experience other places, but this is a place to be from. You asked about a favorite image, on page 94 there’s an image of a Muscogee Creek delegation that’s returning to Macon, to Ocmulgee National Monument, for the opening of the visitors center, which took place in 1951. It’s a striking image because you have multiple generations of native people, and they’re there demonstrating their connection to this place. I think some people misunderstand the depth of history of Macon, Georgia, and I hope this book works to explain that a little more clearly.
Stephen Wallace Taylor and Matthew Jennings are history professors at Middle Georgia State College. Their new book “Macon,” part of the “Images of America” series, is available now from Arcadia Publishing. This conversation was edited and condensed.