Sunday, March 23, 2014

ATLANTA, GEORGIA: STATE CAPITOL BUILDING

My husband had plans to attend a seminar in Orlando a few months ago, so we tacked on a pre-seminar trip to Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. We figured it was a good time to travel in the South--warm but not too warm.

Wrong.

The day we arrived in Atlanta had a high of 25°, and we froze. However, we were very lucky because just a few weeks later, Mother Nature gifted Atlanta and other parts of the South with highly unusual snowstorms. But I digress.

The only places we had ever been in Atlanta were the airport and Olympic Park. We went to the latter when we had a four-hour layover on a trip to London in 1999. We had just enough time to catch the lightrail into town, take a quick look at the park, and return to the airport. We knew we needed to go back some day.

This time we started our visit at the Immaculate Conception Church. Originally a simple wood frame structure built in 1848, it was the first Catholic Church in Atlanta. Because of the pleadings of Father Thomas O'Reilly, the church, four other churches, and the City Hall-Court House were saved from destruction when Atlanta was burned during the Civil War. (Ironically, the church was almost burned down in a fire in 1982.) The Northern Army did, however, occupy the building and use it as a military hospital. After the war was over, the parish built this bigger and better church on the same site, and in 1954 it was declared a shrine.

Because of its location in tight city streets, it was hard to get a good photo:

. . . but when we turned around, there it was, perfectly reflected in the windows across the street:

We were looking forward to going inside and getting out of the cold, but unfortunately for us, we tried every door of the church and found them all locked. Luckily we were only a block from the Georgia Capitol Building, so we made our way up the street to seek refuge there instead:


Like West Virginia's capitol building, it is reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., and has a huge dome--75 feet in diameter--covered in gold leaf.  On top of the dome stands "Miss Freedom," also known as "The Goddess of Liberty." She is 26 feet tall and holds a mercury vapor lamp in her right hand and a sword in her left.
Miss Freedom has a little sister down on the ground, a reproduction of the Statue of Liberty donated by the Boy Scouts:
 

A token equestrian statue honors John Brown Gordon, one of Robert E. Lee's most trusted generals during the Civil War. I was shocked to learn that after returning home at the end of the war, Gordon was a strong anti-Reconstructionist and is thought by some to have led the Ku Klux Klan during the late 1860s. So what is his statue doing on the capitol grounds? Well, it might be there because he served as Georgia's Senator from 1873 to 1880, then as governor from 1886 to 1890, then returned to the Senate during 1891 to 1897. Crazy. No wonder it took so long for the South to make progress in civil rights.
Somewhat ironically, just around the corner from Gordon's statue is this unique six-foot-tall bronze sculpture entitled Expelled Because of Their Color. It honors the thirty-three African-American legislators who were illegally removed from office in 1868.
We saw all of these artworks because we were walking around the Capitol trying to find an unlocked door. There are lots of doors, but none of them were open to us:
When we finally found a way inside, one of the first things we saw was this painting of Martin Luther King, Jr. King was born in Atlanta in 1929, and during his lifetime this Capitol was segregated. It's unlikely he ever went inside, although his funeral procession passed in front of the building. The governor at the time, Lester Maddox, forbade the lowering of the flag and ordered state troopers to protect the Capitol. Secretary of State Ben Fortson defied the Governor's orders and had all the flags lowered.
In 1974, Governor Jimmy Carter worked with Fortson, who was still Secretary of State, to have a portrait of Reverend King placed in the Capitol. The unveiling was attended by King's widow, and the ceremony ended with an emotional rendition of "We Shall Overcome" sung by the crowd in attendance. When Coretta Scott King died in 2006, her body lay in state in the Capitol rotunda, the first African-American and the first woman accorded this honor.

It was especially meaningful to us to see a gathering of primarily African-Americans on the main floor for what we think was the swearing in of some state official. There was lots of posing for pictures, and we tried to sneak a few ourselves without being too obvious:


There is just something so Southern about this style of architecture, isn't there?


The rotunda walls are decorated with portraits of Important Georgians and busts of additional Important Georgians flank the doorways.  Some of my favorites include this one of James Oglethorpe, the British founder of the colony of Georgia:
He has a face only a mother could love:
Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, was born in Savannah, Georgia:
General Robert E. Lee was born in Virginia, not Georgia, but he is pretty important all over the South:

I love that they have a bust of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. She was born in Atlanta and lived there all of her life.

Had I known Crawford W Long, M.D., had a bust at the Georgia Capitol, I would have brought him a dozen long-stemmed roses. He pioneered the use of ether as an anesthetic.

"Stephens" is Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, member of the House of Representatives, and Georgia Governor from 1882 until his untimely death in 1883. I find it amazing that the Vice President of a break-away faction of the United States can later serve in Congress and as a governor. If that's not forgiveness, I don't know what it.  I wonder why his full name isn't given?
Finally, there is a fine portrait of one of Georgia's most favored sons, James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr., Governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975, President of the United States from 1977 to 1981, and winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
We enjoyed our tour of the Georgia Capitol. While not quite as beautiful as the West Virginia Capitol, it's history, particularly as part of the Civil Rights Movement, is hard to beat.

This huge mural painted on a sixteen-story-tall Comfort Suites building can be seen from the Capitol grounds. It was painted in 2011 by a Spanish street artist with the strange name of Sam3.
The bottom half of the figure, covered up in my photo by the buildings in the foreground, is filled in with black paint:
Photo from here
I don't know what the artist intended this mural to mean, but I like the sense that the supplicant is rising up out of darkness. It seems to be an appropriate symbol for a city so long divided by prejudice.

2 comments:

  1. The tight-rope walk that the southern states have to do in honoring their history is interesting. Honor the past and you celebrate some tough issues.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Southern problems with racial issues is difficult to understand. Hard to believe that parts of those struggles took place in our lifetime.

    Some really interesting art here-I like your interpretation of the last one.

    ReplyDelete

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