Kevin Duffy – A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Sun, 09 Dec 2018 12:18:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Kevin Duffy – 32 32 ‘God & Wal-Mart’ Sat, 29 Aug 2009 16:07:35 +0000

walmart1The Ozarks region was fiercely anti-chain store in the 1920s and 30s. Big companies were seen as foreign interlopers and a threat to local businesses.

The goal of Ozark men was not to work in factories like those in the North, but to be their own bosses as farmers or merchants.

So how is it that the Ozarks birthed the world’s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, killer of small businesses?

University of Georgia history professor Bethany Moreton explores Wal-Mart’s unprecedented success in her new book “To Serve God and Wal-Mart: the Making of Christian Free Enterprise.”

Wal-Mart started out, of course, as a local business when the first store opened in Rogers, Ark., in 1962. It has grown to be the 30th largest economy on the planet.

Moreton author photo AMoreton points out that while Wal-Mart’s founders were mainline Presybterians, the workers were more conservative Christians who believed that serving others, even in a store, was serving God. That drove Wal-Mart’s business.

“What we see is a company that brought in local people who were carrying with them these Christian values and saw the company as a way to exercise their values,” Moreton, assistant professor of history and women’s studies, explains in an interview with Like the Dew.

By playing up neighborliness and thriftiness, “Wal-Mart … becomes a kind of regional champion,” she says.

The company took full advantage of its ties to evangelical Christianity, helping fund small Christian colleges that turned out like-minded free-enterprise zealots, and giving scholarships to Central American students who could spread the Wal-Mart creed outside the U.S.

Thanks to companies like Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and CNN, and the election of presidents from southern states, the South soared in prominence on the world stage.

“The South came to speak for the country politically, economically, culturally,” Moreton says.

51SQhiDqCdL._SL500_AA240_Wal-Mart helped turn a once sluggish consumer region into an economic powerhouse.

“It has brought more investment money into the South than the North Carolina banking establishment, for example,” she says. “In that sense, it really has transformed a lot of the South.”

The company boosted employment of women, who make up the majority of the Wal-Mart workforce. Under the traditional Christian view, serving or caring for others is for the most part women’s work. Men are the managers.

Wal-Mart wisely opened stores in towns with large institutions like hospitals, colleges and military bases that enjoy government largesse. It also targeted county seats where people from a wide area interact with the government – and shop.

“If you put a large store in a county-seat town, you’re going to get people not just from that town, but the whole county at least once a week,” Moreton says.

oxford-ms-square-paintingThe Mississippi native hails from Oxford, which changed dramatically after welcoming a Wal-Mart in the 1980s as part of a mall project.

Before Wal-Mart, Oxford’s square was a place of “public culture” where people of all backgrounds met and talked and spent money at the hardware or fabric store.

Today, businesses offering the basics are gone, done in by Wal-Mart, Moreton says.

“Now, the downtown square in Oxford is full of high-end retail,” she says. “It’s not integrated. The integrated place is the Wal-Mart on the edge of town.”

But Wal-Mart is a poor substitute for the old square because it is private; non-business activities, like political activism, are forbidden.

“It’s kind of supplanted the public square, and in doing so I think we’ve lost some of the space in which important public culture happens,” Moreton says. “That’s troubling.”

Current Wal-Mart executives did not talk to Moreton for the book. Instead, she interviewed retirees from all levels of the company.

Moreton’s father planted the idea for the book when she returned home several years ago and they shopped at Wal-Mart.

“Wal-mart presented itself as such an ideal container for so many stories that shaped the last 50 years,” she says. “It gave me a way to look at a lot of interrelated cultural and economic strands while keeping it rooted in real concrete life experiences.”

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Ria: Classic comfort food evoking ‘slowness of the South’ Tue, 14 Jul 2009 21:19:44 +0000

DSC_0153Aurianna Pell, the Atlanta restaurateur known as Ria, made her mark serving breakfast and lunch across from Historic Oakland Cemetery. The success of Ria’s Bluebird over the past eight years has helped shepherd the resurgence of Memorial Drive and the Cabbagetown and Grant Park neighborhoods.

Pell, 41, is now working on launching another restaurant, one that will offer suave Southern meals focused on wine, mixed drinks and conversation, in the more upscale Inman Park neighborhood.

Pell says Sauced, which, as it name implies, will incorporate plenty of sauces in its “low and slow” cuisine, is scheduled to open in the fall.

With the economy extremely weak, she picked a tough time to strike out on a new venture. She’s already felt the sting of failure. Another Pell restaurant, Patio Daddy-O BBQ in East Point, closed because of the winding down of the Fort McPherson Army base.

The tattooed entrepreneur took a break from construction at Sauced’s future home to talk to Like the Dew.

Q. You were getting tired of the breakfast and lunch routine?

A. I was absolutely tired of cooking breakfast. You can only cook so many eggs. I’d say in five of those [eight] years it was me who cooked every single egg. It’s great to keep growing… doing different stuff that’s not necessarily what’s going on in Atlanta bars. Bars have a really formulaic system of chicken wings, burgers — garbage that is fried, comes pre-made. I don’t want to go that route, at all.

Q. What’s the concept?

A. It’s going to be a tier below fine dining. The good food, the good service, the well-crafted cocktails but not the stuffiness. The building has such a 50s, 60s feel to it, we’re going  to try to do some classic comfort food that doesn’t necessarily mean mac and cheese. We’re going to have some smoked meats, for sure. It’s more the slowness of the South that I’m trying to evoke. We want to try to bring back a lot of the cocktail culture of the 40s, 50s. It’s the Manhattans, it’s the Old Fashioneds.

Q. How did the neighborhood respond?

A. Mixed bag of nuts there. They’re worried I’m going to have some crazy hipster punk rock bar. The previous tenant had bands. It drove the neighbors nuts.

DSC_0156Q. Tell me a little about your background.

A. I went to high school out in Smyrna (Campbell High School). Played volleyball out at West Georgia College. I left West Georgia to move downtown and be in the mix of things. I think I came down here in ’89.

Q. How did you get in the restaurant business?

A. My parents worked in different food service establishments. It was an easy job for me to get. You could be as crazy looking and outspoken and still have a job.

Q. What were you doing when you decided to open Ria’s?

A. I was unemployed. I bought in Cabbagetown when it was ridiculously cheap. I got my house for like 19,5. So I didn’t really have to scramble too hard like I do now. I had been talking about it for seven years. My friends were so sick of hearing, “Oh, I’m going to own my own place one day.” But it took me getting a real job in a nice restaurant, Floataway Café. I learned more in a year there than I had in 10 years in the industry. It was a great place to be around a bunch of professional people who were really seriously focused on food. It wasn’t until then that I was like, “Alright, I’m getting my own place.”

Q. Did it take off right from the start?

A. I opened on a Friday. By Saturday there was a 30-minute wait. That Sunday we did so much business, we had to close that Monday to restock and get it together.

Q. Restaurants frequently shut down pretty quickly. What’s the secret to making a restaurant successful?

A. Consistency. Consistent, quality ingredients and a good bit of love. When you’re working with the good intention, then it transfers to the food, it transfers to the service. And I think our clients get it. I’m super nervous. We got dug in pretty deep financially right before the bottom dropped out, so we couldn’t really back out. Thank goodness our landlord has been really cool with us. We’re just trying to get it open as quickly as possible.

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Got milk? Enough for a festival, anyway Tue, 09 Jun 2009 23:48:18 +0000

dsc_0156Georgia is squarely in the middle of the pack when it comes to milk production, but that’s good enough for a festival.

The first Saturday in June marked the 50th year of the Putnam County Dairy Festival, held in Eatonton, the birthplace of Joel Chandler Harris and Alice Walker, 78 miles east of Atlanta.

What struck this first-time visitor was farming’s low profile at the event. Corn dogs and $7 turkey legs were easy to spot, but good luck trying to find a milking demonstration.

Maybe that’s as it should be. Georgia’s milk output — 1.36 billion pounds a year — seems like a lot until you realize 24 states produce even more.

Since 1945, the number of Georgia dairy farms has fallen from more than 6,000 to 270. On the upside, the 21st century cow is more productive.

And even though Georgia lags the national average in per-capita milk production, most of its milk is sold out of state through cooperatives. Florida alone buys about 40 percent of what’s produced.

The state’s dairy farmers pay to import milk for consumption, so more often than not Georgians are drinking non-Georgia milk.

Putnam County ranks third in number of dairy farms and second in pounds of milk produced. Macon County, two hours south, is the leader in both categories.

Dairy farming in Putnam began in the 1880s when Benjamin Hunt, a dairy scientist and New York native, married an Eatonton woman and moved to Georgia, bringing with him a herd of Jersey cows, according to a history compiled by the Eaton Messenger and Lake Oconee News.

The first festival took place in 1952. Reaching the half-century mark took 57 years because several times the festival was suspended.

Although the Census says Putnam is 74 percent white and 12.4 percent black, it seemed half the festival visitors were non-white, strolling past booths whose flags and T-shirts celebrate the Confederacy. That was an odd juxtaposition in the time of Obama, and showed how rural Georgia thumbs its nose at national trends and political correctness.

dsc_0176At the same time, the festival did acknowledge Putnam’s cultural diversity. Music performances in front of the courthouse, just yards from Bre’r Rabbit, Harris’ Uncle Remus character, featured country, bluegrass and acappella gospel.

The Dorsey brothers sang the spirituals. Ed Dorsey, 81, the oldest, said he began harmonizing at four and coaxed his siblings to join him.

Decades later, their sounds of “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well” and “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around” sweetened the air.

Top photo: Confederate flags are an odd juxtaposition at the festival.

Bottom photo: Moses and Ed Dorsey, acappella singers.

Facts About Milk: According to industry experts, projections for Georgia through 2020 show a continued decline in milk production. Georgia, along with most other Southeastern states, is a milk-deficit state, meaning it does not produce enough milk to supply its own population. As of 2006 the state produces less than 300 pounds per capita, while the nation’s average is 581 pounds per capita. Ironically, about 40 percent of Georgia’s milk is shipped to Florida, with Georgia’s needs being met by milk shipped from other states.
In 1945 every county in Georgia had at least one dairy farm, for a total of 6,040 farms with 360,000 cows producing approximately 1 billion pounds of milk (3,150 pounds of milk per cow) annually. The greatest number and concentration of dairies were in the counties surrounding Atlanta and in northwest Georgia.

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Turning life’s debris into art Tue, 12 May 2009 08:05:43 +0000

dsc_0118Neither advancing age nor the death of his first wife has curbed the Rev. George Kornegay’s desire to turn life’s debris into art.

At 95, Kornegay continues to build a sculpture garden outside his trailer home, using hubcaps, televisions, dolls, rusty scrap metal and whatever else comes his way.

Even more impressive is the fact that Kornegay’s current garden, located in a remote area outside Selma, Ala., was begun just a few years ago after he remarried and moved away from his first art-filled home in Brent, some 50 miles to the north.

Heartbreak, pleas to God and new love opened his eyes again to the creative possibilities of discarded objects.

Like Howard Finster in Summerville, Ga., and W.C. Rice in Prattville, Ala., both now dead, Kornegay says his creative spark is his faith. “Whatever I do is revealed to me,” he says.

Kornegay was ordained an African Methodist Episcopal minister in 1948, but not everything he makes is Biblically inspired. Some figures he calls African. Others are Native-American – Kornegay’s grandmother was Choctaw. And some are fantasy animals, like dinosaurs. Whatever it is, “I cannot make it angry,” he says.

dsc_0089Kornegay’s first environment in Brent, a thinned-out, faded version of its former self, dates back 28 years. He was clearing land in 1981 when he saw faces in two big rocks. He relocated them 4 feet apart, stood in the middle and heard what Jesus told the apostle Peter:  “Upon this rock I will build my church.”

Soon, Kornegay’s rural property along Bear Creek Road sprouted sculptures made of seemingly mismatched items. It was the kind of environment Bill Arnett, the infamous champion of Southern, African-American self-taught art, revealed to the world in a show during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and in his two “Souls Grown Deep” books.

Indeed, Kornegay says he rejected the Arnett family’s offer to put him on a monthly retainer of $1,000 in exchange for exclusive access to his art. He enjoys too much sharing with visitors what he’s made.

Nine years ago, Kornegay found no joy in making art, or in life in general, after Minnie Sue, his wife of 66 years, died.

dsc_0110“At night, that’s when it was really rough on me,” he says. He told his children: “You ain’t never lost a wife. You don’t understand.”

He paced on his porch, seeking divine guidance. Finally, he drove to his church, walked around the building, then headed to the home of a woman he had seen at church, Annie.

She was living alone in her trailer after separating from her husband. “Who are you?” she asked when Kornegay rapped on the door.

He took a chair and “she sat on the floor, barefooted as a river duck,” and they talked.

They met again at a church meeting. When she was about to leave, “that’s when I asked her some serious questions” about spending their lives together. They married in 2002.

Kornegay’s children were mystified. Why, just shy of 89, would he would take another wife 38 years his junior?

dsc_0138“If you want to find out why I married a young woman, you go upstairs and ask the higher power,” he told them.

Kornegay is not lonely anymore. He and Annie live in a trailer that once was the home of her deceased son, and together they tend the sculpture garden. A gate of castoff objects at the dirt driveway announces to passersby that an artist is at work.

Kornegay says he wants to sell enough art to start a museum, as if he were in mid-career and famous. His optimism has been a lifelong shield against the woes of deprivation.

As the second oldest of 10 children growing up in post-World War I Alabama, Kornegay sometimes had to boost his mother’s spirits when life looked bleak.

“I always told mama, ‘value the bright side,’ ” he says. “I was never quick to give up.”

Top photo: Dolls like this black-painted one are scattered throughout the garden.

Second photo: The Rev. George Kornegay with his second wife, Annie, at their home outside Selma, Ala.

Third photo: A retired African Methodist Episcopal preacher, Kornegay often depicts crosses in his artwork.

Bottom photo: Resting in an armchair in his trailer home, Kornegay says “whatever I do is revealed to me” by God.

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