Monday, August 11, 2014

Preserving History One Building at a Time

Posted by Debby Yoder, ATHENS, GA – The City of Athens embraced historic preservation in the 1980s when R.E.M., the B-52’s, and the Indigo Girls where making Athens a music epicenter and much of the country was tearing down old building. The well-preserved buildings provide a peaceful balance for the energy and exuberance of college students on their own for the first time. There is both a sense of history and a look toward the future. Many of the buildings have signs for more than one business- the original and the current. Some date from the mid-1800s while others have recently filled what little space remains.

There is the Morton Building, constructed in 1907 by Pink Morton, born a slave but rising to prominence. He owned more than 25 buildings in the area, this one in “Hot Corner” the center of black economic activity during segregated times.  Across the street is one of the only downtown buildings still owned by African-Americans, formerly home to The Athens Republique, an independent black newspaper but now operating as a soul food restaurant. Around the corner is the Creature Comforts Brewery that opened this year in an old tire store. R.E.M. fans will remember Weaver D’s Fine Foods distinctive square brick building, closed now, but still sporting a bright green exterior. 

Spacious buildings near the railroad tracks are being converted in lofts as student and local populations continue to grow. Just behind the iconic UGA arch sits the Holmes-Hamilton Building, named for the students who integrated the school. It is typically not acknowledged that their bravery saved all public schools in the state. Governor Vandiver was planning to close all public schools rather than abide by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision when the 1961 federal order to de-segregate the University of Georgia was handed down. Vandiver knew that it would be political suicide for him to close the university and deny football fans their “Dawgs” so he changed course and reluctantly allowed limited enrollment for blacks.

Most of the downtown area has been converted to restaurants and bars and on weekends it is packed, especially during football games. The city hosts a large cycling event, the Athens Twilight Criterion, every April. In June, they offer AthFest, a large music and art festival that takes place over several days on outside stages and in the clubs in the downtown area. The winter holidays show a different side with the trees covered in lights illuminating the wide downtown streets. Things are much quieter during the semester break. Whenever you visit, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the lives of the people who have lived here over the years, they all seem to have been interesting characters.

Debby Yoder is a regular contributor to Social Shutter as well as a Sociology major at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Stop the Hate

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, BARCELONA, SPAIN --Last week on Face the Nation former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright bluntly summed up the current state of our national and international crises as such: "To put it mildly: the world is a mass". She went on to discuss globalization as one component of the problem by causing growing nationalism and hatred across country borders. You could see some of this in Barcelona, a city which continues to feel the effects of the 2008 housing bubble crisis with persistent foreclosures and a youth unemployment rate of about 40 percent.  Protests erupted in May as Senegalese immigrants were kicked out of a warehouse long established as a social center for those without housing. This was done by city hall to make room for another park. You could also see not-so-artistic graffiti in Gaudi's Park G├╝ell demanding that tourists go home. And of course, the Catalan Separatist movement is alive and well albeit peaceful and with legitimacy.

However, broadly speaking none of these issues are new or directly caused by globalization -- nor are the current upheavals in Gaza, Ukraine, or the detention of Central American children at the U.S.-Mexico border. And we most certainly cannot blame the Ebola outbreak in West Africa on globalization, even though many ignorant Atlantans aren't happy with two patients being transferred to Emory Hospital (note: the virus is not air-born like Tuberculosis). Ebola aside, what we can blame these stubborn conflicts on is blind hate and greed-- something that seems to have expanded exponentially in the 21st century. This isn't because of globalization as much as because of greedy people profiting off of angry media outlets absent of facts, as well as by increasingly polarizing conservative movements -- movements that put hate first and ignorance second. 

But life  on the ground endures and people continue to be gracious to one and other. I saw this side of Barcelona first hand. I was even pick-pocketed -- my tourist status apparently obvious -- but treated kindly by strangers (one native Barcelonian lady even hugged me) as well as by the Barcelona police who managed to get my iphone back.  I wish American police were that helpful. Perhaps if world leaders, other politicians, and corporate mega chiefs could take their lead from ordinary everyday people, the world would be a better place. Perhaps even the polarization and the hate going on around the world now would stop, or, at the very least, subside some.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She traveled to Barcelona in May as a participant in the Georgia State University Law School's Study Space Program. She can be contacted at