Claim Lafayette’s legacy and run with it

Published 7:54 pm Thursday, February 8, 2018

By Richard L. Ingram
Lafayette Alliance

LaGrange now has more reason than ever to claim Lafayette’s legacy and run with it.

The State of Georgia took a stand for liberty, equality and justice when it unanimously voted to designate every Sept. 6 Marquis de Lafayette Day.

Representatives Randy Nix of the 69th, Bob Trammell of the 132nd, and John Pezold of the 133rd co-sponsored the campaign for House Resolution 899.

Nix and company deserve thanks.

This was about more than putting Sept. 6, Lafayette’s birthday, in bold relief.

Lafayette stands for civic enterprise:  shared purpose that creates unifying power that results in community cohesion and solidarity.  There you have it.  LaGrange has no need to cast about for some theme to which all its citizens can rally.  For New Orleans, the theme is carefree life and jazz is the portal; for New York, conspicuous consumption is the theme and the charging bull the portal.  For LaGrange, the theme is courage and adventure and Lafayette the portal.  His motto, “Cur non?” or “Why not?” enlarges the mind and strengthens the spirit.

LaGrange has been ahead of the curve on this account.  Mayor Jeff Lukken, under the steady watch of Troup County Historian Clark Johnson, signed off on a list of whereas on Sept. 6, 2007, concluding with, “Now, therefore, I, Jeff Lukken, Mayor of the City of LaGrange, do hereby proclaim Sept. 6 as an annual day of celebration and remembrance in the City of LaGrange.”

LaGrange has a legitimate claim to Lafayette’s legacy, what with his statue guarding town square and his home’s namesake greeting every visitor; but legitimacy and relevance are not the same thing.   For the claim to be relevant LaGrange must create all manner of means to discover and learn about Lafayette. Plays, music and keepsake crafts are means to this end, a cottage industry that can make LaGrange even more of a destination than it is and for reasons noble.

Lafayette’s story is rich with adventure, sacrifice, and purpose. His grandmother instilled in Lafayette the power of story:  about his family’s role at the side of Joan of Arc at the siege of Orleans in 1429; about his own father stepping into the breach as commander of his company at the Battle of Minden, only to be sliced in half by an English cannon ball on Aug. 1, 1759, when Lafayette was two years old.  Having never cast an eye on her, Lafayette was at the age of 14 betrothed to Adrienne de Noailles, age 12.  It became one of the great partnerships of all-time. To say nothing of Sunday, April 20, 1777, when he accomplished the improbable and sailed to America, at the age of 19, aboard the La Victoire.

The objections to this idea of making LaGrange a destination for all things Lafayette are three.  First, how can we claim Lafayette when he forded the Chattahoochee below Columbus at Fort Mitchell and never set foot in Troup County? The argument misapprehends the claim. Lafayette is the embodiment of ideas, and those noble ideas are what we are about. Footprints and locks of hair are unnecessary.  Thomas Jefferson never took a stroll through Troup County, but the Declaration of Independence is an idea we correctly claim and celebrate. Martin Luther King did not write “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” from Troup County, but it is the idea we rightly claim and celebrate.

Second, will the attention visitors give Lafayette-related events not reduce traffic to established tourist destinations? On the contrary, to the extent a Discover Lafayette cottage industry attracts greater civic engagement and visitorship, the more all things to do and see in LaGrange will be showcased.

Third, is the idea of a Lafayette cottage industry not overly hopeful and forgone in utopian speculation? Lafayette himself replies: “I have been reproached all my life for giving in too much to my hopeful disposition. I will respond that it is the only way to do something out of the ordinary.”

Lafayette is about story, a wonderful story. It is about a way of thinking, a way of looking at the world, and we benefit by studying his story.

His personal creed was bolted to his sense of optimism; his relationships, how he treated people, bolted to his sense of character; and his view of community bolted to his sense of civic obligation.

The claim to Lafayette’s story is legitimate. Making it relevant is yet another story.