In a county growing as fast as ours, historians become increasingly important. It's their job to keep us from forgetting where we've come from as we plunge headlong toward an uncertain future.
Barbara Seaborn, a News-Times columnist, has long been working on a meticulously researched history of Columbia County. Charles Lord has provided tremendous guidance in setting up the Grovetown Museum. Bette Sargent has been a great asset in charting Harlem's history, and Bill and Jean Blackard continue to document the county's cemeteries.
These folks are among a number of intellectual treasures in our community, and a great loss to this body of historians occurred this past weekend with the death of the Rev. Dr. Waldo P. Harris III.
Harris is perhaps best known by colleagues as the "historian of Georgia Baptists." But for Columbia County, the Wilkes County native and Appling resident is the man who wrote the history of Kiokee Baptist Church.
It's a rich topic. Kiokee is the oldest Baptist church in Georgia, and Harris laid out its detailed history in a 600-page volume, along with other texts researching its 1772 founder Daniel Marshall and his home site near the old church in Appling.
Some of us also remember Harris as one of the people who used to run the Baptist church summer camp each year at Alexander H. Stevens State Park in Crawfordville.
It was a summer long ago that I ran afoul of camp rules. When I apologized to Harris, he was gracious and forgiving - far more than I deserved. His own heavenly Father, who exemplifies grace and forgiveness, surely saw that little exchange and is even now rewarding Harris for living his life with such honor, dignity and godliness.
It's hard to see so much of Columbia County's history grow dim. Losing one of our best historians makes it that much more difficult. Thankfully, because of Waldo Harris' God-given writing talent and his 84 years of work, we'll long be blessed by his effort to record that history for us.
A house destroyed
Speaking of historic losses, it is a maddening, crying shame that Paine College destroyed the old Frank Yerby home.
Yerby was a gifted black Augusta writer who left the city during the civil rights era. He moved to France and pumped out a tremendous number of novels, most of them historical romances set in a strangely glorified version of the old South.
Yerby died several years ago, and his childhood home was donated last year to Paine, his alma mater. The school announced its intentions to preserve the home, but instead flattened it with a giant trackhoe and loaded the debris into roll-off garbage bins a couple of weeks ago. Paine officials now say they intend to reconstruct a replica.
One prominent Augusta historian is outraged (but doesn't want his name used). Though Paine is blaming the demolition on asbestos and lead contamination found in the Yerby home, this historian contends the school failed to take steps to protect the leaky-roofed structure from the weather and allowed it to become infested with rot and insects. "Pure neglect," he says in disgust.
Why do I care? I've donated a stack of Yerby books to the Augusta Museum of History, and have more than a passing interest in preserving the memory of a fellow writer. Former Augusta mayor Ed McIntyre had planned to preserve the home, and I'd promised to help him. Then he died, and now the historic home is gone, too.
If anyone's interested, my boyhood home is still standing in Winfield. And Paine can't have it.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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