For several months now, Action in Dahlonega has been quietly trying to bring attention to troubling accounts of history in Lumpkin County and North Georgia, especially pertaining to the downplay of the Trail of Tears and human slavery. We have worked with local people of Cherokee descent to bring attention to some of the troubling signs around Dahlonega, we have approached the Lumpkin County Historical Society for help modifying of removing these signs (which they effectively have refused to do), and done some of our own research on these matters. Here’s a brief statement on why we find this problematic. We will have a much more in-depth look at the handling of local history and corresponding public actions soon.
Dahlonega is filled with warm, generous, friendly people, but we’re not without our problems. Like anyplace else, Dahlonega has its own version of local history that often discounts the worst points of what actually happened.
A prominent sign on the square reads: “The Gold Rush Days Festival each October recalls the Georgia Gold Rush of 1829 with the bittersweet echo of the forced removal of the Cherokee in 1838 along the Trail of Tears.“ This sign was placed by the Lumpkin County Historical Society and is one of few local mentions of the Trail of Tears. It represents a disturbing trend of attempts by local officials and the LCHS to reframe our history.
Local historical accounts, including the sign in question and the Maibaum History Tree in Hancock Park, frame the Gold Rush as the precipitating event leading to the Cherokee removal and seek to absolve local governments of responsibility; but the actual history reveals a much different story. The Cherokee and Creek people’s fate was sealed from the moment the first white settler colonialists landed in Georgia. From the colony’s founding, James Edward Oglethorpe had his eyes set on the area, relenting only after natives put up fierce resistance.
There was nothing “bittersweet” about the Trail of Tears. It was nothing less than an act of genocide in a long and concerted effort to exterminate this country’s native people. The Cherokee were illegally removed from their homeland, a sovereign nation, and forced to relocate to a foreign land. Approximately 17,000 died on the journey. Some remained in the area, either as second-class citizens married to white settlers or by fleeing deeper into the mountains.
That the brutal struggles the Cherokee and Creek people endured is framed as anything other than what it was is something we all must confront. Replacing signs like those mentioned above, while absolutely necessary, is only a first step. We need to face the awful truth about what happened to the original residents of our area and work with them toward making it right. A good start might be working to create a monument acknowledging the loss experienced by victims of the Trail of Tears. At the very least, we should ensure local historical accounts boasting about the area’s connection to gold accurately reflect the darker side of that legacy.
As descendants of people who colonized this nation and brutally forced its original inhabitants out, we bear a responsibility to correct those acts — not just to ease our collective conscience, but because the descendants of those original inhabitants are our neighbors and deserve our acceptance and to have their pain recognized.
Dahlonega is a beautiful community and we should preserve our distinct culture and the sense of connectedness we share with our neighbors, but we also bear a heavy burden to those who paid the ultimate price so we can be here and have an obligation to accept people from all backgrounds into our community.
To get involved or to learn more about Action in Dahlonega’s efforts to remove the sign email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or check us out on Facebook
For more on local responses to the sign and the Trail of Tears: