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Memories of growing up in LaGrange

Every now and then my thoughts take me back to growing up in LaGrange. As I have said in previous columns, I grew up in a community called “fertilize.” I did not know it as a child but the real name of the community I called home was Live Oak. My family lived there until the Milliken carpet mill (also called Live Oak) caught fire many years ago. It was so serious that smoke plume from the fire was seen miles away from LaGrange.

The Roger Milliken companies played a major role in the community at the time, but because of new federal regulations — not in place when the plant was initially built — the company could not rebuild without relocating some homeowners in the Live Oak community. The city believed that to not do so, would result in the textile giant rebuilding in another country or state. This was a potential crisis — several hundred employees would potentially lose their jobs, not to mention the impact it would have had on the city’s economy.

In initial conversations and meetings with homeowners, it was clear that the relocation idea would be a major problem.

These were homes that families had lived in for many generations. The homes might not have been fancy, but they held fond and important memories.

The governor’s office was asked to provide assistance in ensuring residents that their concerns would be addressed and not ignored. Pursuant to this request, I was hired as a consultant with the Governor’s Human Relations Commission, headed by Dr. Joy Berry, to allay the fears of residents that their property would be unfairly taken. Working with city residents, representatives from the governor’s office, and Live Oak residents — the relocation was a success. The Live Oak facility was rebuilt.

Some of my fondest memories in LaGrange are those I have related to attending school and receiving the best education a child could receive during this country’s period of segregation. I remember an occasion in the seventh grade, when a close friend had not taken the teacher’s assignment seriously, to know the signers of our country’s Declaration of Independence. When he was called upon in class and did not know the answer, he was immediately sent home. This infuriated his father, who only had a first-grade education.

His father took him to school the next day. Before meeting the teacher, he took my friend into the boys’ restroom near our class. We could hear the father beating my friend, and with every lick demanding that when the teacher asked him again, about who signed the darn Declaration of Independence, he had better tell her that he signed it!

On a serious note, my classmates and friends, in spite of segregation, went on to become successful lawyers, judges and educators.

One relative, an entertainer and originally from LaGrange, recently won a prestigious Grammy Award.

Dr. Glenn Dowell is an author and columnist who currently lives in Jonesboro, Georgia. He has been a guest speaker on major college campuses , including having appeared on TV programs such as the Oprah Winfrey Show. He may be reached at gdowell@live.com.