I knew it was just a matter of time.
This week, in a letter to the editor, my friend Grady Cornish broached the subject of our county being named after Jefferson Davis, the former President of the Confederate States of America.
But first, a little history.
Most people in Hazlehurst are familiar with the story of Senator John A. Cromartie of Hazlehurst who, in 1902, was elected State Senator representing Appling County. At that time, Jeff Davis County had not been established and Hazlehurst was part of Appling County.
In 1905, Sen. Cromartie (for whom Cromartie Street in Hazlehurst is named) introduced a bill to permit the creation of eight new counties, among them was Jeff Davis County.
Originally, many in Hazlehurst wanted to name the new county Cromartie County in honor of the Senator who also served six years as Mayor of Hazlehurst. But there was a policy in the state that no county could be named after a living person (Sen. Cromartie did not die until 1935).
So the decision was made to name the county to honor Jefferson Davis.
Keep in mind, it was 1905 and, starting shortly after 1865 when the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery was ratified, Jim Crow laws throughout former slave states had become the norm.
Today, of course, we know that Jim Crow laws, which stuck around for some 100 years, were profoundly wrong. But consider that for almost 250 years before 1865, the evil of slavery had been the law of the land. Two and a half centuries of life with slavery as the norm could hardly be forgotten a mere 40 years later — from 1865 to 1905.
World War II ended over 75 years ago, the Vietnam War almost 50 years ago. Yet both wars are very much fresh on the minds of people across the country and we still honor those who fought in those wars.
That’s not to equate the cause for preserving our country with the cause to preserve slavery, but rather to acknowledge the fervent sense of reverence people feel for those who took up arms — many of whom paid the ultimate price — on behalf of their friends, their families and their way of life. Right or wrong.
I feel no ill will toward John Cromartie nor the people of Hazlehurst who, in 1905, supported the naming of our county after Jefferson Davis.
The issue isn’t as easily addressed as one might think.
There are nine counties in Georgia named in honor of prominent Confederate figures. According to one report, there are 192 symbols of the Confederacy in the state. Atlanta and Savannah have the most while little Fitzgerald, with less than 9,000 people, is third with 10.
Fitzgerald was founded as a town for Civil War veterans — from the north and south — and its original streets were named for generals from both the Union and the Confederacy. Its four perimeter roads were named for two Confederate ships and two Union ships.
Hazlehurst has Jeff Davis Street, Lee Street, Davis Street, and more. And, of course, we have the monument to Jefferson Davis. Our four schools are named for Jeff Davis — the county, not the man, but the effect is the same.
I jokingly told my wife this week that it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if the decision was made to rename the county as was originally proposed — Cromartie County. The schools’ sports names could be changed from the Yellow Jackets to the Cromartie Crows, I added with a laugh.
But, of course, naming the county to honor John Cromartie, the man who introduced the legislation creating a county named in honor of Jefferson Davis, would be problematic as well.
Where would it all end?
Every time I’m doing chores around the house and run into snafus, I frustratingly say the same thing to the good wife in an exasperated tone of voice: “Nothing’s easy.”