What is Georgia?

Neely Young

Memo to G-8 members: What is Georgia? Georgia is you. Georgia is Bill Jones, Delores Gallego, David Chesnut, Charles Krautler, Jack Meifert, Maurice Sponcler, Angela Hsu and Sam Zamarripa. Georgia is an amalgamation of all of the countries that came to our shore more than 300 years ago, plus many more. We are English, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Irish, African, Asian, Indian, Arabic, South American and Canadian.

This is the state of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. It is also the state still fighting a civil war – witness our recent fight over the Confederate battle flag. Yet Georgia is not the land of sheet-covered KKK members ready to burn crosses.

Georgia is the most tolerant state in the nation as evidenced by the large migrations of middle- and upper-class African-Americans, recently chronicled by CBS’s “60 Minutes,” who are moving from New York and New England and settling in South Atlanta. In politics, seven African-Americans have been elected to major statewide office in a state that is 70 percent white.

Georgia is “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” It is Gone With The Wind, a book looked on as dated by some and racist by others. Yet Gone With The Wind tells the true story of Georgia and is a must read for anyone who would visit our state. For all of those who dislike the book, it did win the Pulitzer Prize, and has sold more copies than any book in history, save the Bible. It also made a great movie.

Georgia has the 17th-largest economy in the world, larger than that of Singapore, Saudi Arabia or Hong Kong. Atlanta has more than three times more fiber-optic lines than New York City. Atlanta is not only the fastest growing city in the nation; it is the fastest growing city in history. The coast of Georgia will soon come in a close second in potential growth.

Nearly a third of the Fortune 500 companies have headquarters located in the Southeast, and Georgia has a large share, including Delta, Home Depot, CNN, UPS, Georgia-Pacific, Porsche and the pride of the state, Coca-Cola.

Georgia is the land of opportunity. It is a young man from South Korea who came to Atlanta seven years ago and had to borrow $7 to pay for his cab ride from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Today he owns 70 cabs.

Georgia is a land of contrasts. It claims Sea Island, one of the top two or three wealthiest communities in the United States, and, close by, some of the poorest areas in the country. Yes, we have more than our share of poverty in a land of prosperity.

We have Emory University, the University of Georgia, and the Georgia Institute of Technology ranked among the top 25 private and public universities in the country. We have some of the best high schools and technical colleges in the nation. Yet Georgia ranks 40th in the country in the combined SAT and ACT scores.

Georgia is the song “Georgia on My Mind,” the words of which have not gone bad with time. We have some of the best newspapers in the country, including on the coast, the Brunswick News and the Savannah Morning News and The Valdosta Daily Times.

The vitality of democracy is everywhere. It can be felt in the voting booths, in the libraries, in letters to the editor and in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Vent” section.

Georgia is the Atlanta Braves winning in the ninth and the Georgia Bulldogs’ victory in overtime. It’s Camden County’s winning the state high school football championship, and it’s the thrill of seeing the hated New York Yankees losing the World Series.

Georgia is the four seasons. It’s the blue haze of the north Georgia mountains near Ellijay, Callaway Gardens in middle Georgia, the Blue Springs of the Flint River near Albany, and sunset at the coast.

We have our problems, just like you. Yet we have a spirit and will to overcome. Once you visit Georgia you will experience all of this.

After you’ve tasted a Vidalia onion sandwich, the brisket and redeye gravy at Mrs. Wilkes Restaurant on Jones Street in Savannah and a small Coke, filled to the brim with Planters Peanuts that were raised on a farm near Blakely, in Southwest Georgia, the only response you could possibly have if asked your impressions of Georgia is: “I love it.”

Neely Young is the editor and publisher of Georgia Trend.

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