Dr. Deaton reports from Downtown Savannah, as he visits sites commemorating Georgia’s founder, General James Oglethorpe, on the anniversary of his death. He also looks at the influence of the Oglethorpe Plan through Savannah’s squares in the largest National Historic Landmark District in the United States.
For Independence Day, Stan talks about This Week in History (including Elvis, the CDC, the Beatles, Sherlock Holmes, Thomas Jefferson & John Adams), notes the birthday of a celebrated historian, remembers a segregationist southern governor from the Civil Rights Movement, highlights new additions to the Off the Deaton Path bookshelf, and revisits one of his favorite movies about the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers.
I reported two weeks ago that Atlanta’s NBA Hawks were still playing in June, having made it to the second round of the playoffs. Now, for only the second time in the franchise’s 53-year history, the Hawks have made it to the Eastern Conference finals, 1 of only 4 teams still standing.
I promise that this is not going to turn into a permanent sports blog, but what the Hawks have accomplished thus far is worth a longer look. On March 1, the Hawks were 14-20, 6 games under .500. The underachieving team fired head coach Lloyd Pierce and replaced him with then-assistant coach Nate McMillan. The team caught fire. Since then they’ve won 35 out of 50, tied for the best record in the league over that stretch.
In the first round the #5 seed Hawks beat the #4 seeded Knicks in 6 games, twice on the road in Madison Square Garden before a decidedly hostile Gotham crowd. In Round 2, the Hawks beat the top-seed Philadelphia 76ers three times in Philly to win the series in 7 games. Long-suffering Hawks fans remember the 1988 NBA playoffs, when Atlanta led Larry Bird and the top-seeded Boston Celtics 3 games to 2 in the second round, only to lose Games 6 and 7 to fall just short. Not this year, and not this team.
Next up: the #3 seed Milwaukee Bucks and their All-World center, the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo. True to form, the Hawks won Game 1 on the Bucks home floor—only the 4th team in NBA history to win three Game 1s on the road in the playoffs, matching the ’99 Knicks, the ’89 Bulls, and the ’81 Rockets. Also true to form, Ice Trae scored 48 points, tying Lebron King James for most points in the conference finals by a player 22 or younger. And he’s not called Ice Trae for nothing: He even did a little shimmy before making a 3-pointer.
Pundits are picking the Hawks in 6 games. No predictions here, just enjoying this ride for as long as it lasts. And when we’re not watching the Hawks, let’s flip over to….
The frozen pond? Yes, the National Hockey League.
To the uninitiated, it’s not unusual for the NBA and the NHL to be playing in June. Though both basketball and hockey are considered winter sports, both leagues usually crown their champions in June. The pandemic delayed the start of both seasons last fall, so the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup will be decided this year in July. And if you’re paying attention to the playoffs in both sports, it’s a feast.
The conference championships are already underway in hockey, and traditionalists are celebrating the return of both the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Islanders to prominence. When I was growing up as an Atlanta Flames fan in the 1970s, Montreal won 6 Stanley Cup championships in that decade, while the Islanders won 4 in a row between 1980 and 1983. That’s dominance and consistency on a rare scale. To see them both back in the championship semi-finals is a treat. Watching them play each other in the Stanley Cup Finals would be unbelievable. Talk about flashbacks: cue “My Sharona.”
In those halcyon days in the late 1970s when the Braves and Falcons were dismal, my great friend Randy “The Big Man” Guillebeau and I were Atlanta Flames fanatics. We tuned in to hear Jiggs McDonald and fellow announcer Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion call the games on the Superstation. We bought street hockey sticks and played in the driveway with tennis balls, with The Big Man playing the part of Flames goalie great Dan Bouchard. We even hopped the Marta train down to the Omni to watch games in person.
The Flames came to Atlanta in 1972 and made the playoffs 6 times in 8 years, but apparently The Big Man and I didn’t buy enough tickets to keep the financially struggling franchise in town. I’ve been a Calgary Flames fan ever since. The team finally won a Stanley Cup in 1989 though not, alas, for Atlanta.
Being a NHL fan in the Deep South has always been a lonely avocation, but less so now with many teams in the region. Charlotte, Nashville, Tampa, and Miami all currently have NHL teams.
But not, alas, Atlanta. As we pointed out in the episode on the Atlanta Thrashers for Today in Georgia History, if Atlanta loses one more hockey franchise we’ll score a hat trick.
It’s doubtful that the NHL ever returns to Georgia, but hope springs eternal.
Speaking of: I’ll take the Hawks in 7. If I’m right, see you back here for more in two weeks.
John Ferling, Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781 (Bloomsbury, 2021, 701 pp., $40)
John Ferling, professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia, is one of the most prolific historians writing today—and one of the best. This is John’s 15th book on the colonial and Revolutionary period, and his 10th in the last 21 years. This volume, covering the last three years of the American Revolutionary War, weighs in at 561 pages of text and nearly 150 pages of notes and bibliography.
By my count, this is John’s third book that focuses on the military phase of the Revolution, following Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence (Oxford, 2007), and Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It (Bloomsbury, 2015). Of course his biographies of George Washington and John Adams cover the war years as well, as does his political history of the war, A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic (Oxford, 2003), and his prosopography, Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution (Oxford, 2000). Yet he never repeats himself, always offering fresh insights and interpretations.
How does he manage to do this? Here’s what I wrote in a review of his dual biography, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation (Bloomsbury, 2013): “How, one might ask, does Ferling keep plowing the same ground and still have something new to say? Part of it is simply attributable to his maturity as a scholar. Unlike others who leap from one time period to another with each book, Ferling has spent his entire professional life laboring in the vineyard of the Founding era. Ferling isn’t just dabbling in this period; he knows it as well as anyone can who is now two centuries removed from the time about which he’s writing. He is well versed in what the Founders wrote, what they read, what they believed, and what they hoped to achieve. But he’s not awe-struck by them. Simultaneously, his reflections on people and events have deepened with the years, as he himself has aged. As should happen as we grow older, his own insights about human nature reflect his growth as a human being; he’s more empathetic, more forgiving of human foibles and less harsh on their failures, though he isn’t afraid to point them out and to hold men and women accountable for not only what they achieve, but what they fail to achieve. He knows what it’s like to live life, make mistakes, and have regrets. It’s the primary reason why people in their 20s shouldn’t write biographies.”
Rick Atkinson, the author of The British Are Coming: The War for America, 1775-1777 (Henry Holt, 2019), the first volume of his Revolutionary Trilogy, recently told me that he believes some subjects are bottomless. No matter how much is written about some historical periods and people, historians hundreds of years from now will still be producing books on Abraham Lincoln, the Second World War, and the American Revolution.
John Ferling’s masterful prose, in this and all his books, bears this out. As prolific as John is, I have no doubt that other volumes will follow, all exquisitely written, exhaustively researched, and deeply analytical.
Americans are endlessly fascinated by those who fought and won the Revolution, and that first greatest generation has no finer historian than the indefatigable Dr. John Ferling.
It’s the second week of June, and let’s pause our perusal of history for a moment to praise Atlanta’s National Basketball Association team. Wait, we’re paying attention to the Hawks in June? In the immortal words of Bud Robertson, Oh my yes.
Long-suffering readers of this blog recall that a little over 6 years ago I wrote about the historic season the Atlanta Hawks were having in the 2014-15 season. Those Hawks had a remarkable 19-game mid-season winning streak and finished with a mark of 60-22, a franchise record for wins. As the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Hawks made it to the conference finals before being swept by the Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the NBA Finals in 6 games to the Golden State Warriors.
As good as that team was, Hawks brass broke it up completely within a couple of years. Coach Mike Budenholzer is now coaching the Milwaukee Bucks (who are getting destroyed in this year’s playoffs by the Brooklyn Nets), and not one player remains from that amazing team.
To repeat, I’m telling you all this because it’s now the season in which Atlanta sports fans are traditionally focused squarely on the Braves and anticipating the start of college football in a mere 3 months. But this year the faithful are again watching the Hawks do something special.
Last year’s squad lost 47 games and didn’t make the playoff bubble. This year’s team improved by 21 games over last year and finished as the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs—much higher than anyone expected during what was supposed to be another rebuilding year.
Far from rebuilding, these Hawks are actually just built. They have literally grown up before our eyes. Led by rising superstar “Ice” Trae Young (just 22 years old) and a great supporting cast, the underdog Hawks knocked off the hated New York Knicks in the first round, driving Spike Lee and Knicks fans crazy in the process. They’re currently in the conference semi-finals, one of 8 teams total still standing, having beaten top-seeded Philadelphia in the first game of the series. How bad was it for Philly? 76’ers fans were reduced to chanting, “Trae is bald-ing” during the Game 1 beatdown. This series is far from over, but already the Hawks have vastly over-achieved.
What next? Even if the Hawks should knock off the Sixers to make it to the conference finals, they would in all likelihood face the stacked-from-top-to-bottom Brooklyn Nets, whom they’re not likely to beat four times—are they?
NBA basketball in Atlanta in July?
To quote Goethe: Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.