TURES COLUMN: LaGrange bids goodbye to another great bridge builder

Published 9:27 am Monday, February 19, 2024

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Back in the 1800s, LaGrange, Georgia was able to play host to the great bridge builder Horace King.  In the 2000s, our city experienced the leadership of another bridge builder, Willie Edmondson.  Though we mourn the loss of LaGrange’s mayor, his bridge-building skills have made it possible, even likely, that we’ll see these efforts to connect the people of our city and community long into the future.

It didn’t take long for me to learn about the great Horace King after moving here from the Washington, D.C. area. In fact, in October of every year, I take my students to the cemetery where he’s buried. They marvel at the career of this amazing African-American craftsman, the quality and beauty of the replica bridge, the testimony to his economic and political success. It shows them what’s possible for a former slave against all odds, overcoming bad traditions.

It also didn’t take long for me to meet Willie Edmondson all those years ago, not long after he entered politics. While King built his amazing, covered bridges with good wood and smart design, Edmondson’s bridges were not always visible at first. Yet while King’s bridges connected different banks of the river, and sometimes different states, Edmondson’s bridges linked people, groups and communities. When you saw people in this town coming together, you could see Willie’s work at play as commerce and citizens came to LaGrange and Troup. And like King’s bridges, it took a lot of people coming together to make it happen.

City Councilman Edmondson, and later LaGrange mayor, was hardly alone. He was part of a trend of local politicians who could disagree and sometimes argue, yet come together so many times for the common good. That’s not something every community is fortunate enough to experience. We have a number of politicians (I also count the two mayors before him in Jeff Lukken and Jim Thornton here) we can be proud of here, even when we disagree on a few details. And Mayor Edmondson was certainly one of those helping foster that climate. That’s one good reason why businesses and people have been moving to this area during this time.

In our country, we have a lot of good people, but also a political environment where a few have recognized that they’ll get greater attention with their belligerence and bellicosity. It becomes a contest of social media likes and online “adoring fans” who are egged on to attack anyone who disagrees with them. There you’ll get more attention in the news for blowing up a bridge rather than building one today. And it’s much easier to do the former.

We’ll have an election for mayor, in the not-so-distant future. There will also be a contest for the open Congressional seat once represented by another respected mayor, Drew Ferguson. I recommend every resident of LaGrange, Georgia and Troup County cast their ballots for the candidate who can demonstrate the ability to be a bridge builder, instead of being like some of the national politicians who seem to prefer breaking up bridges rather than construct them to help bring us together.

It’s understandable to witness the passing of a legend like Willie and worry about our future. But that’s also what makes a bridge builder great.  Rather than carrying you across a river once, a bridge builder makes it possible for places and people to be connected many times, thanks to a solid foundation. Thanks to political leaders like Willie Edmondson, I think we’ll be in good hands in the coming years.