Any resident of Coweta County, native or transplant, should be curious about how our local past set the stage for the attitudes, tensions and challenges of today. One new way to address that curiosity is through Jeff Bishop’s recently published book, “Coweta County: A Brief History.”
At just 138 pages and with lots of photos, the book is indeed brief, making it a quick read even for folks who aren’t especially interested in history. Think of it as a conversation with some neighbors rather than a history book.
That is indeed how it is approached by Bishop, a former reporter for this newspaper and others before he became a playwright and executive director of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society. No dusty academic, he aims to write in an approachable, conversational manner.
Without dwelling heavily on dates, proclamations and statistics, the book focuses mostly on people. Some you may have heard of, like the two governors from here, and some are merely names on street signs or parks. Most, though, were not famous or rich and powerful but ordinary citizens sharing their perspectives.
It is the ordinariness that makes the book important for those of us living here now because it provides us with insight into why today’s generation harbors certain views about local institutions and groups. Unlike dry history texts, this book quotes extensively from oral-history interviews, letters and diaries about such familiar local topics as going to school here, working at local textile mills and attending movies in town.
Of particular interest to Bishop are the experiences of local African-American residents. He notes that at the time of the Civil War, roughly half the people living in Coweta County were slaves. He presents accounts of whippings, post-war Ku Klux Klan activity and one especially ghastly lynching near a latter-day landmark.
He could have limited his efforts to hailing the many laudable achievements of the county’s past and current citizens, but his goal was an unvarnished look.
“If we want to have any hope of maintaining the gains we’ve made (or on an even more basic level, if we really want to know ourselves), it is imperative that we get these stories right,” Bishop writes.