Gilda Radner had it right. “It’s always something.” Our nation seems always to be in the midst of turmoil of one kind or another. We don’t muddle through one calamity until another is upon us. We move from acts of nature … floods and famine, storms and drought … to the people’s anger and frustration that lead us into battle, here in our homeland as well as across the seas. We don’t always learn from our past, but lately I’ve been reminded of that one period during the late 1960s and early 1970s when patriotism was at a low point throughout our country. Vietnam shared headlines with integration struggles, drugs, flag-burnings, and demonstrations. Negativism reigned in a general atmosphere of distrust.
But in Woodstock, Georgia, there were some teenagers who were tired of all the upheaval, who saw a need for some positive, rather than negative, action. My girls were not old enough to be a part of the “youth program”, but it soon became apparent that all ages would become involved with a patriotic project concocted by some young folks in town. My memories have faded, but one of those teens told the story in an entry in Felicia Whitmore’s “Georgia’s Woodstock,” published in 1997. Jannis Reece Vann describes that era as “extra special … Considering the age of the evolving hippie, the civil rights movement and the drug scene, Woodstock youth seemed to be capsulized in its innocence. We were very involved in our church and all the activities that were not school related were church functions. Don’t get me wrong, we were not particularly evangelistic, we were just a group of good kids with the good fortune to have a couple of preachers (Clay Manley and Dan Parker) who were very youth oriented. And a lot of parents who took their role of involvement with their children seriously.” At the time Jannis recorded her memories, almost 30 years had passed. In adulthood, she looked back on that time as if it were truly charmed. “All the good that comes from growing up in a small community where everyone knows each other and cares, with all the benefit of a large city only 45 minutes away, was ours.”
The project was organized because a group of kids wanted to show the community that they had a lot of patriotism in a time when there was so much turmoil. They organized a rally called “Up, Up With America.” There was a lot of publicity, a unique situation since the media was focused on the negative happenings of the youth of the day. The group somehow finagled air time on all three of the local TV stations to promote their venture. Jannis says they were a brave group, not intimidated by the fact that we were a community of only a few hundred. “There was no one too big to be invited to OUR rally. The governor of Georgia as well as the president of the United States were invited. If they could not come, (which neither one did) they at least acknowledged our efforts by sending us a letter praising us for our actions.” The letters were read at the rally. Several political figures, including Congressman Phil Landrum, spoke, along with testimonies of other citizens and celebrities. The loading platform at the Depot served as the stage for speakers and entertainment. The youthful hosts, those Woodstock organizers, were easily recognizable. They all wore red vests, made from the famous denim of Canton Cotton Mills. Preservation Woodstock owns one of those, along with one of their white patriotic hats so popular with such events. My favorite photograph of the day shows a pickup truck in the process of being decorated, and sporting a poster identifying the occupants as America’s Future Leaders. Some precious Woodstock children, bedecked with their own red denim vests, are “helping”. And on this hot August 24, 1968, in a town of fewer than one thousand residents, folks gathered in peace and optimism. There was a parade with a marching band, testimonies and speeches, and a picnic on the church lawn. It was a rally with no agenda except for a call to love our nation. It was not for any charitable cause or life-threatening disease. And it certainly was not a protest.
Jannis ends her story by stating that those days were in a magical time that is almost impossible to recreate. I might add that we can be thankful for the memories, and hope to keep those images from fading and being replaced with angry voices, grim faces, guns and fear. Optimism isn’t easy to come by lately, but it certainly beats being pessimistic. Throw in a little hope and some smiles (with your eyes!) and a kind word or two, and hold your own little rally. Sing “My country ‘tis of thee” and display your flag. And turn off the TV for one whole day. All of that might not produce big results, but it will keep you out of trouble for a short time. And, who knows, it might be contagious.