The new South is enamored of her new work. Her soul is stirred with the breath of a new life. The light of a grander day is falling fair on her face. She is thrilling, sir, with the consciousness of growing power, and prosperity. ~Henry Grady
With 159 scattered here and yon, it can be hard to keep them all straight, much less remember the origins of such odd names as Tattnall and Treutlan. But one has a name which resonates through time. A name which seems to know no boundaries, even as the corporeal bearer moved on a century prior.
Most travelers miss it, travelling the larger routes in Thomas County to the east. A few pass through a small sliver near the unincorporated crossroads of Beachton; a flicker on the way to Tallahassee. Only those travelling US-84 to such exotic places as Dothan, Alabama actually pass through the county seat of Cairo. One of two incorporated areas in the rural county named Grady.
A border county, as far south as possible from his beloved Atlanta, an agrarian backwater more beholden to the vision of his opponent Thomas Watson, Grady County seems a world away from its namesake, legendary Atlanta Constitution editor and "New South" advocate Henry W. Grady.
However, odd connections pepper the life of one of Georgia's proudest sons. Although, he is best remembered for his passionate speeches of advocacy for his home, in locations only a generation removed from being considered enemy territory, a deeper look into Georgia history reveals a man of complexity and vision.
Grady will be forever joined with the so-called Atlanta Ring. A coalition of journalists, politicians and businessmen formed with the singular goal of growing Atlanta beyond a tainted history as a nexus of the Confederate States of America. Included in the group were Governor Jospeh E. Brown, the firebrand leader of Georgia who so ardently believed in the right of secession he once threatened to lead his state out of the C.S.A., and future Governor John B. Gordon, a former Confederate General who though beloved was also alledgedly the head of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan. Strange bedfellows for a newspaper man who once spoke regarding the fate of recently freed slaves was to be held by "conscience and common sense".
Cynics would note most of these men stood to garner tremendous personal gain from the ideas being promoted. Brown and Gordon certainly prospered from the massive growth of railroads and industry which swirled into the Atlanta area. Yet, the soul of the group, Grady remained. His continued advocacy for his home, some would say naive in its ignorance of continuing racial fractures, resulted in the establishment of Georgia Tech and the hosting of the Cotton States Exposition. And in 1892, two years following his death, the hospital which would bear his name opened.
For over 100 years, Grady Memorial Hospital served the needs of Atlanta. From the "Grady babies" to numerous trauma cases to the ongoing care of the poor, the doors of the hospital never closed. Now, in its most troubled time, a new coalition of business leaders, politicians and journalists strive to keep it alive. Hampered by accusations of corruption, political maneuvering and of course, racial motivations, the question remains will the center hold? Will the Atlanta of today discover its own Henry W. Grady, a leader capable of binding with the force of a soul seemingly not of this earth those with more prurient interests in order to grant a better future to all?
In much smaller news, last April, Grady County announced an expansion of its industrial park including groundbreaking of a new plant which would employ 50 of its residents. It was a small victory but one with great meaning to a county where poverty weighs on a 1/5 of its citizens. Instead of millions of dollars for a major hospital, the Cairo City Council recently dealt with the ability to purchase a new firetruck.
Vastly different in location with vastly different priorities, the two namesakes of Henry Grady seem to travel paths far apart. Yet, both struggle for survival and both hold the vision of the man who melded the past and the present to help create a future where all are served by the brightness of a new day.
The New Georgia Encylopedia contibuted to this piece.