"We have a rich history here in Bartow County," said Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham, a graduate of Summer Hill and the guest speaker for the event. "I'm interested in history and it is a pleasure to be here."
The symposium is designed to be a conversation among participants, organizers and guest speakers, with the spotlight not necessarily directed on one person, but shared by many. As Justice Benham pointed out the variety of the "kaleidoscope of people all over the county," several people in the group shared their memories of the names mentioned.
Reflecting back on days prior to the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation, discrimination existed in the form of differences between county and city students in the same school. Laughter echoed throughout the room as nearly every person present agreed that the "country" kids, who came from the county and worked with their families as sharecroppers, were sometimes more intelligent than the "privileged" city children. However, as Justice Benham noted, before the Civil War, the "city" was considered to be Adairsville and Cassville, and Cartersville was in the "county."
Justice Benham spoke of African-American businesses within Bartow as well as relating stories from community elders who remembered the days of slavery. "There were 4,400 slaves in Bartow County in 1857," he said, to give a perspective on the issue. However, the African-American community rose to create organizations that remain intact, such as the Shriners. In commemorating the recognition of skilled former slaves, Justice Benham shared the story of the construction of the Euharlee Covered Bridge by a former slave, Horace King. King was called in to build the bridge after four previous bridges collapsed and in one fall the mayor was killed. The bridge is still standing and to express the detail of the construction, no nails were used but wooden pegs are in place.
As the program came to a conclusion, former Summer Hill teacher Nancy Beasley described some of the current problems in modern culture. "There is still the mentality of 'keep them down if you can,'" she said. "We need to take real time with our children and encourage them to go to school ... [and] dress well, speak well, look people in the eye and speak up."
Program coordinators closed the event by stating that they were pleased with the turnout and plan to make this an annual event, so what was not able to be discussed this year can be a focus for the next.