Coastal Georgia: Once you’ve been there, it’s a place that lodges itself inextricably in the brain.
And yet, it’s also an astonishingly overlooked region in American consciousness. Time and again while we were traveling there to work on this issue, people wondered aloud: “Georgia…like the country?” For some, it’s apparently easier to think of the republic in Eurasia instead of the U.S. state.
When James Oglethorpe came along in 1733 and named the colony in homage to the British king, Georgia occupied a precarious position in the New World. Thumping war drums defined Georgia’s early years. First, duels between English and Spanish over the territory, then America’s hallowed Revolution. Then came the removal of the remaining Native Americans, and the Civil War not long after, which left scars that remain visible today—along with the occasional murmuring of old voices that whisper, “The South will rise again.”
When you peel back the layers of this complex (and often misunderstood) place, you discover a geographically rich region, where humanity and nature collide. As Melissa Fay Greene describes inPraying for Sheetrock (p. 46): “The primeval home of every shy and ticklish, tentacle-waving form of sea life and mud life, the coastal Georgia salt marsh is one of Earth’s rare moist and sunny places where life loves to experiment. … The wetland has been claimed in various epochs by prehistoric Indians, Spanish missionaries, Blackbeard the pirate, French and English explorers, Sir Francis Drake, slaveholders and slaves, Confederates and Yankees, the victorious General Sherman, freed slaves, and unreconstructed Rebels.”
We decided to focus our lens on the stretch of coast between the South Carolina and Florida borders, including the Golden Isles off the mainland. In this issue, you’ll find stories of a major waterway in peril (p. 18), a Savannah man dealing with the tension of making a living after prison (p. 126), and an island—once the private haunt of some of America’s wealthiest families—embroiled in a complicated struggle over its preservation (p. 68).
Maybe it’s something to do confluence: the place where fresh water from the New World’s interior merges with the Old World ocean’s saltwater, mirroring the way cultures have clashed on this patch of ground for centuries.
Whatever ancient themes may be at play, this land captivates a person. Wraps you up in the gothic eccentricities of its people and ecology. Leaves an indelible mark. Any preconceived notions you may carry with you about the low country fly out the window the moment the wheels of your vehicle pick up heat from the sun-scorched asphalt of Highway 17.
It’s one thing to hear about a place from afar, but being there is a different prospect entirely. Our advice to you—once you’ve finished immersing yourself in our stories—is to set aside this magazine (or better yet, toss it in your bag) and get yourself to southeastern Georgia.