Love ‘em or hate ‘em, real or fictional, Georgia was the home of some of our most memorable, iconic characters.
Seeing their birthplaces is not merely about roaming from town to town. Rather, it’s learning about the folks who live there and how they think, the topography of the land, the culture in which they grew up and the history of the state that made the characters what they were.
Between his records, live shows and movies – Blues Brothers, Rocky IV – can there be anybody who doesn’t know who the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” the Godfather of Soul, James Brown was?
In Augusta, you can visit the church where he swept floors in exchange for the opportunity to practice on their the piano, the radio station where he used to busk for soldiers’ change, the restaurants where he loved to eat. The Augusta Museum of History has a whole James Brown exhibit filled with personal items donated by Brown’s complicated web of descendants.
Carey Williams, Jr.
Carey Williams, Jr. is the publisher and editor of Greensboro’s Herald-Journal. He runs a one-room newspaper office, where people can just walk in off the street to report news or buy a paper. A real-life Walter Burns from The Front Page meets Ed Asner, he’s reputed to have hosted three different Presidents in his home. Clearly, this small-town newspaperman, the fourth generation in his family to run the Herald-Journal, is a real power player. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, though; he wrote a risqué roman à clef that has thinly disguised local citizens as characters. One elderly Southern belle read the book and called out Williams: “Carey, Jr., you’re a pervert!”
After chewing the fat with a newsman, you’re probably ready for real food. A couple doors down is The Yesterday Café, whose award-winning buttermilk pie is rich, not overly sweet, but positively addictive.
Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit
Both characters are products of author Joel Chandler Harris’ life and imagination, but they still feel like “people” from the Old South. Disney’s movie Song of the South fixed their images in our minds. It feels right that the Uncle Remus Museum has been built in an over 200-year-old set of slave cabins in Eatonton. Try to go when one of the museum’s docents and storytellers, Georgia Smith, will be there. She makes Brer Rabbit seem to come alive!
Oliver Hardy along with his sidekick Stan Laurel are beloved the world over. Hardy was born in Harlem, Georgia, which now has a sweet little museum devoted to the early film stars. Even if you can’t make it to the annual festival, the museum plays films in back. There are lots of memorabilia sent in by fans, as well as a cool gift shop.
Her characters rank amongst the ugliest, cruelest and dislikeable fictional people in all of American literature. Walk around her last home and farm, Andalusia, and you’ll learn that she had her moments, too. There have been revelations of recently unearthed letters that are racially insensitive. Though the on-site’s museum director disavows that she was a hermit, O’Connor could most fairly be considered a homebody. An unattractive woman suffering from lupus, she never married.
Blind Willie McTell
He was born William Samuel McTier in Thomson. His style differed from Delta bluesmen, in that he had a smoother, less gruff/rough delivery. McTell penned "Statesboro Blues," a huge hit for the Allman Bros. Bob Dylan played tribute to him in his song "Blind Willie McTell."
Today, you can pay tribute to him yourself at a fantastic annual music fest. Unlike other fests that rope off VIP, press and security sections, anybody can walk right up to the stage and just absorb the blues. Not only do regional BBQ restaurants sell their wares on site, but also local home cooks set up shop – you can get a taste of Thomson like only a long-lost friend would.