Discovering the treasures of Newnan
(Editor’s note: Newnan’s Richard Chambers has provided an account of his travels discovering Newnan. It is a two-part article. This is Part 1. Part 2 will run next week in this space.)
I am not a native of Newnan.
I arrived at the start of 2008 with my wife, hoping to start our family here.
And so, on a Wednesday in early September 2013, I dropped our daughter off at preschool and set off to find for myself what makes Newnan the town it is.
I decided to begin at the Court Square. While I have spent many hours in the downtown area, I realize now there are several places I have yet to visit, even after five-and-a-half years living here.
On the east side of the building, I watch the sun’s rays shining onto the copper, dome-shaped belfry. As the sun rises, the warmth seems to melt the early morning shadows and they retreat from one row of red bricks to the next. Soon, light shines upon the face of the lonely Confederate carved of stone — a memorial to those who fought fiercely.
Though each day the soldier beholds the sun’s rising, on his face it is written that his world has ended, and was itself a shadow, even as he took up his musket to defend it.
Though victory may have made tyrants of many men, in defeat, some became legends, like this confederate soldier. For a moment each morning, the sun rises on a fitting memorial to those men.
It seems it is in the long shadow which falls before and behind this stone soldier, the town awakens and comes to life each morning.
Today, the soldier and I stand on the Court Square, watching our neighbors drive past and reflecting on our long and sometimes painful past, while the sun carries us swiftly into an uncertain future.
So, I am joined by a companion on the morning I set out to discover Newnan, and I learn that ours is a town inextricably tied to history.
The heat of the mid-morning sun is tempered by the approach of autumn as I walk from the Court Square to the corner of East Broad and Perry where a single-story building has been home to Stan Seldon’s Barber Shop since 1989. Mr. Seldon, a black man in his 50s who grew up in Newnan, looks up as I enter. The steady motion of the clippers, however, continue uninterrupted. We have met before, but this is the first time I’ve been in his shop. I tell him I’m looking for stories about the people and places of Newnan.
“Oh? I’ve got some stories,” Seldon says — and he did. He told me of the Newnan he grew up in, occasionally asking his customer, seated before him, if he remembers a particular store, or the piercing sound of the train’s whistle when it came rolling through town.
On the wall opposite the barber chairs are images of African American men, photos which represent progress in the brief portion of the long arc of history Mr. Seldon’s generation witnessed. But, as the mostly forgotten television in the corner plays a rerun of “Bonanza,” the conversation reveals that Mr. Seldon and the town of Newnan were more than mere witnesses of history.
Dr. King’s brother, A.D., was the preacher at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church on Pinson St., and the King family would leave their children in the care of the Seldon family when they left to march and protest.
I learn that in the shadow of the Confederate monument, Newnan played the unlikely role of safe-haven in an era of violence and turmoil and I am proud to know that the City of Homes is remembered for hospitality, not hate.
I put away my notebook as Mr. Seldon hangs up the clippers and hands his customer a mirror. “I didn’t know that about the Kings,” the man tells Mr. Seldon.
As I walk out of Mr. Seldon’s Barber Shop and into the brightness of the noonday sun, I know a little more about the place I now call home. And with the sun now higher, the shadow of my Confederate companion does not stretch out so far as it had when I first walked in.