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FDR’s visit to Barnesville to be remembered at Gordon

By Walter Geiger Gordon State College, in conjunction with Southern Rivers Energy, will debut the ‘˜Power to the People’ exhibit Saturday to commemorate the 80th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s visit to Barnesville on Aug. 11, 1938. FDR visited Summers Field where he spoke before a crowd estimated at up to 30,000 people. He was here to flip the switch for a Rural Electrification Administration project that bestowed the miracle of electricity upon rural residents of Lamar County. A dedication ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. at the Fine Arts auditorium, featuring a welcome from Haven Luke, Roosevelt’s great-grandson. FDR’s speech at the football field will be reenacted by Jim Fowler. The keynote address will be given by Dr. Wayne Clough, former secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and president-emeritus of Georgia Tech. The exhibit will be housed at historic Guillebeau Hall, just up the hill from where FDR spoke. It will be open from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. on the day of the celebration. The Power to the People exhibit celebrates the electrification of the countryside. It was originally created and displayed at the Richard Russell Library at UGA in 2005-2006. It was given to Georgia EMC and had been in storage for 10 years prior to finding a permanent home at Gordon. Fowler worked as a guide at FDR’s Little White House before spending 27 years teaching history at East Coweta High School. During that time, he kept in touch with the staff at Warm Springs. Upon retiring, he checked on possible work and was told they needed an FDR actor occasionally. ‘I thought I could do that. I had been an extra in some movies. I learned to mimic the president’s voice by watching videos online. I did his D-Day radio address and they liked it so much I have been performing for the Little White House ever since,’ Fowler said. He will reenact the speech as given in that Roosevelt deviated from his prepared remarks to endorse Lawrence Camp for U.S. Senator from Georgia over incumbent Walter F. George. Both Camp and George were on the podium with the president for the speech. The endorsement created such an uproar that FDR forgot to flip the ceremonial switch to turn on the electricity. ’Roosevelt and George were Democrats. Camp was a Republican. George had been voting against some of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs so that is what prompted the split. The endorsement meant a lot. FDR was very popular in Georgia. Back then, only about 10% of Georgia farms had electricity. That came to his attention while he was getting treatment at Warm Springs and he did something about it,’ Fowler said. If you recognize Fowler from his photo, he is Jim the ticket man at Regal Cinemas in Griffin and is available to speak to civic clubs and other organizations. A large steering committee oversaw the reestablishment of the exhibit here. Locals serving on it are Barnesville mayor Peter Banks, Erin Cook of Southern Rivers, Dan White of the GSC Foundation and Gordon faculty/staff members J. Franklin Williamson, Tamara Boatwright, Peter Boltz, Skipper Burns, Candice Babcock and Rhonda Toon. This event is open to the public. Parking will be available at the FAC and behind the Alumni House near Summers Field. Lunch will be available at the student center and shuttles from the FAC to Guillebeau Hall will be operating. For more information, call 678-359-5739.

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