Georgia House Resolution 899 was unanimously approved: “Now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Representatives that the members of this body recognize September 6 of each year as Marquis de Lafayette Day in the State of Georgia.” Put in the hopper January 18, 2018; first reading January 19, second January 22, and on to stardom. Randy Nix and co-sponsors Trammell and Pezold have done more then they know.
Routine, as this measure seems to those marbled capitol columns where resolutions are constant cataract, did not here apply. Far from merely running the flag up the pole, this was bold declarative statement. Recognizing Lafayette’s birthday is not simply blowing out candles. It calls on us to live up to what Lafayette thought America could become. David McCullough, America’s foremost populist historian, says some words lift you off the ground. Lafayette proved his point when he wrote this: “The welfare of America is intimately connected with the happiness of all mankind; she will become the respectable and safe asylum of virtue, integrity, tolerance, equality, and a peaceful liberty.”
Lafayette was born September 6, 1757. His father died when he was two, his mother when he was not yet thirteen. His grandmother Marie-Catherine raised him on stories of chivalry and courage, and this accounts for his wanting to be somebody and to do something worthy. He first heard of the American fight for independence on August 8, 1775: he knew his purpose at that moment. On April 20, 1777, he sailed, improbably, to America, all of nineteen years old. Within months he won George Washington’s confidence, so much so that, after being wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, Washington instructed his personal surgeon to treat Lafayette as though he, Lafayette, was his, Washington’s, own son. Lafayette fought at the Battle of Monmouth; he commanded the right wing that stormed Redoubt #10 at Yorktown. He advocated emancipation and it was his testimony that freed James Armistead, a slave who infiltrated British ranks at enormous risk to himself to supply Lafayette information on the whereabouts of General Cornwallis. Later, having served five years as a political prisoner, his property confiscated, and living on borrowed money, he declined on principle an invitation that would have extricated him: in 1804, Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, invited him to come to America and serve as the first Governor of the Louisiana Territory. Lafayette’s life was one continuous adventure, story piled upon story.
LaGrange planted a stake eleven years ago with its very own edict: “Now, therefore, I, Jeff Lukken, Mayor of the City of LaGrange, do hereby proclaim September 6 as an annual day of celebration and remembrance in the City of LaGrange.” It is a directive as yet unrealized.
Audiences are attached to text messages and snapchat. Lectures, while sufficient for continuing education, are unsuitable for engaging minds easily distracted (which means most of America). Telling Lafayette’s story will require variety in the telling: drama, music, and crafts. For example, young people are drawn to drama and music; children to graphic, colorful comic books and coloring books. Out of towners want keepsake mugs and baseball caps. These are all platforms for presentation. This is not so much Normandy, which was a topdown affair, as it is Dunkirk, which was common purposed but bottom-up.
Claiming Lafayette’s legacy carries yet another benefit, apart from the Cottage Industry attendant to telling the tale.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and starred in the musical “Hamilton.” He revitalized Broadway. It is difficult to get tickets; they are prohibitively expensive, the play is so popular. Miranda said the work of producing “Hamilton” was a civic enterprise. All manner of people with all persuasions of opinion and all variety of hyphenations came together to stage the story: musicians, actors, set designers. There was among them a common collective sentiment that had unifying power. It created a fabric of kinship; academics call it social capital. These bridging relationships build trust, a give-and-take that is more forgiving and less faultfinding. The notion of benefit- of-doubt is common currency. The audience, hailing from all over the world, leave as part of this neighborhood. They are changed by the story, the mind broadened and the spirit strengthened.
Telling Lafayette’s story is civic enterprise. It is compelling. It has the power to engage all quarters of community.
House Resolution 899 is a launch point. It makes telling the story legitimate. It will take imagination, creativity, and innovation to make it relevant.
Richard L. Ingram Lafayette Alliance