Thanks to Ben Roethlisberger’s alleged sexual assault on a Georgia College and State University coed two Thursday nights ago, Milledgeville has been in the national news. The Pittsburg Steelers quarterback has a home in Reynolds Plantation on Lake Oconee, about 45 minutes north.
Ben must have been bored at Reynolds, so he and friends drove to this small college town to bar-hop on a cool March night.
Milledgeville is my hometown. I actually claim two growing-up places. We lived in southwest Atlanta near Greenbriar Mall until August, 1966. Employed by the state, my dad worked in the laboratory downtown, and Atlanta was all I knew.
One Sunday, at the dinner table after church, my mom popped the question: “Boys, how would you like to move?”
“Move? To where?”
“Milledgeville? What’s Milledgeville?”
“You know I always say you boys are going to drive me to the crazy house? Well, Milledgeville is where the crazy house is.” Then she explained that Dad had accepted a job in the hospital. We took lots of ribbing about that move, but Daddy always explained that his job came with a key.
In 1966, the name was Milledgeville State Hospital. I never understood that, because the huge, sprawling campus is located in Hardwick, just outside of Milledgeville. Yet, people put Milledgeville and crazy in the same thought.
For instance, when I was in tenth grade, our high school Beta Club attended the state Beta Club convention at the Georgian Terrace in Atlanta. Several of us got on the elevator with other students who asked where we were from.
We said, “Milledgeville. Baldwin High School.” I kid you not. They started backing away from us like we were crazy or something.
For years, Milledgeville depended heavily on state jobs. People worked at the college, the hospital, a youth development center, or various state prisons. The late state senator Culver Kidd brought many state-government jobs to the area, and there was a strong economic base.
When Gov. Jimmy Carter reorganized the health department and transferred services and patients to other locations, a gradual downsizing began. Today the hospital is a shell of what it used to be. With prisons and industry closing, unemployment in Baldwin County exceeds 14 percent.
Contrary to popular perception, there’s more to Milledgeville than Central State Hospital. Georgia College and State University, the state’s designated liberal arts university, thrives with 6,633 students enrolled last semester, including 257 from Fayette County. GC&SU is listed in the annual report of “America’s 100 Best College Buys.” SAT scores rank third highest in public institutions in Georgia. Georgia Military College is also in town.
Area history is rich. Milledgeville was the state capital during the War Between the States, and the old Governor’s Mansion and State Capital building still stand, along with many antebellum homes that Sherman spared on his march to the sea. Sherman’s troops did house horses in the Episcopal church and poured molasses down the organ pipes, but that’s another story.
Beautiful Lake Sinclair provides great recreational options. Andalusia Farm is the home and place of inspiration of writer Flannery O’Conner. Most importantly, a host of good, hard working people call Milledgeville home. A place is just a place. It’s the people who make it good.
Now Ben’s visit and accusation have put the spotlight on Milledgeville, and on an active Thursday night party scene, though GC&SU is known more for its strong academics than its partying. But the bigger spotlight is on Ben’s stupid decision to put himself in a position to be accused. Again.
I’m glad Ben likes my hometown, but he obviously has some lessons to learn, like the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, or, how to “flee from the appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:22).
David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church , located at 352 McDonough Road in Fayetteville. Visit them this Sunday for Bible study at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:55 a.m.