GEORGIA, where PLANTATION HOMES AND COTTON FIELDS string together, is FULL black and white STORIES. BRIGITTE WOMAN author Beatrix Gerstberger dug the stories up.
In the Deep South
We met three women on this trip in Georgia, who are so different and similar to each other at the same time. One sang with such full voice of oppression of her brothers and sisters, that it seemed to blow her blouse. That was in Albany. The second had the aura of a crazy saint, she was tall and slim and dressed like a Rastafarian, and she was inspired by the history of her city, Savannah. The third lived with her mother alone on a 24 square kilometer large plantation that their ancestors at the Georgia's coast had founded over 250 years ago and called itself the last of its kind. The three were of different skin color, but they were all like the land in which they live: full of stories about the past, about the sacrifices, the successes of their ancestors.

We enter via Atlanta, this city cut up by highways, which only hesitantly shows her southern history - at the Fox Theater, a movie palace from the 20ies which looks like a giant oriental Courtyard, in the small two-story birthplace of Martin Luther King or in the Center for Civil and Human Rights, in which one of the exhibitions shows what we are up to see and hear again and again on our journey: like slavery, violent racism and racial segregation, how finally the blacks took their dignity and how from Georgia a great movement under Martin Luther King formed and fought for equality.

This is what on every second Saturday of the month Rutha Mae Harris in the church of the Civil Rights Institute in Albany sings about. No matter if the benches are full or only one person wants to listen to her. Rutha Mae Harris is a charismatic woman, a hurricane in a red coat. Her voice, wrapped in a powerful body, lays on the voices of her three fellow singers, flies through the room and leaves room for nothing else. Rutha Mae Harris was one of four members of the Freedom Singers, which as part of the Black Movement played a big role and toured the country. She was 21 at that time, was arrested three times and spent 14 days in prison, once the car of the band was shot at. Her voice is a gift from God for her. She still lives in the house, her Baptist father built in Albany for his eight children. Albany is like many places that we cross on our journey through the south. The country here in the West Georgia is flat, the cities breathe out poverty in many places. It is not the lovely southern image with the big plantation homes and the trees where the Spanish moss hangs to the ground, the land you connect with "From Gone with the Wind ".
Only slowly the washed-out colors change and become an orange-yellow just before the ocean. We are in the salt marshes of the coast, in the land of Golden Isles and the largest contiguous marshland of the world. From Darien every day a small ferry leaves to Sapelo Island. Men with fishing equipment greet each other, students are on the way to the marine research institute on Sapelo, and Tourists want to see that fairy-tale enchanted island on which descendants of the former 500 coastal slaves still live and kept their culture and language after the collapse the southern states. Geechees is what they call themselves. The former slaves bought land, the rest was later acquired the automogul Howard Coffin, who built a gigantic house on the Island in 1912 where in the 30s the tobacco family Reynolds celebrated wild parties with their rich friends.
Even today, both parts exist, the huge southern house with his big park - and Hog Hammock, the village of the Geechees, in which only about 50 inhabitants who trust and love their traditional medicine still weave their baskets of seagrass. Most of them remain invisible this afternoon. A horse trots across the dusty village street at a pace that seems to be typical of the whole island: slow, hips sluggish, stopping to graze, and then trots on, until it finally disappears between the trees towards the sea.
This pride of the coastal slaves is also praised by Vaughnette Goode-Walker, 63. She wants to show Savannahs history to tourists, especially the history of African American is close to her heart. Before she starts, she sings old slave songs and asks the ancestors to accompany us. She is a poet, a lecturer, was a radio and television journalist in New York, Atlanta and Chicago, studied fashion in New York, came back to her Savannah and finally stayed as organizer of history tours. In her colorful clothes she walks across the squares and talks about the slave trade, the cotton, the heroes, and most of all from the heroines who taught slave children in secret schools. She tells how the first slaves came over from South Carolina in 1733, how during the 1960s, more than six million Blacks left the region. In Savannah stands the oldest black Baptist church in the USA, and still at first glance it is not a black city.
Savannah is a string of green parks, avenues, white-painted houses with rocking chairs on the porch. It's hard not to like Savannah, maybe because it feels so perfect, like a good life in one of the 1300 historic lovingly restored houses. The Savannah river flows wide and sluggish, life has a calm nonchalance, even in the queues in front of the barbeque pits on the arterial roads where people wait hours before opening. A good barbecue is a sacred topic in Georgia: how to smoke, how to pull the meat, whether the pork tastes better with col slaw or without it. For hours, people can argue about this, as well as the right Southern drawl. On our drive back north we hear a bitter discussion on the radio about how to pronounce which word in one or another county. The villages on the eastern side of Georgia are surrounded by cotton fields, they call the cotton the snow of the South here.
Two-lane roads meander through a hilly country, through places where the bible is still read intensively. We pass Milledgeville that was once the capital of Georgia and in the Southern War was almost destroyed by General Sherman but they still exist, the big villas with their gigantic Columns called Antebellum houses, pre-war houses. That is why here and in Madison film after film is produced, the area is that decal of the Southern Dream.
Many elements of this dream are today owned by the state or historical societies. The plantations are the place where the great stories of the South play, conjure images of festivals, of polished manners, of God and family and the love of the country. If you go through their entrance gates, the modern world remains outside. Entering a museum like at Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation in Brunswick, a nearly 200 years old rice plantation, where you can see pictures of the long past life. On the bedside table in the manor house lies still a dog magazine from the last owner Ophelia Dent who lived here alone after her sister’s death and bequeathed the plantation to the state of Georgia in 1973.
Also in the house of Laura and Meredith Devendorf in Midway there is a book with portraits of their ancestors. They rode on the islands off the coast, sat in the sand and drank champagne. Dunham Farms is the name of their estate, it is the oldest intact plantation in Georgia, which is still in the hands of its founding family. 24 square kilometers full of wilderness, expansive lawns between oaks as tall as cathedrals. Meredith, 48, and her mother Laura are the last owners of this plantation founded in 1755. Now they run a Bed and breakfast in the former horse stable. In summer, it is humid here, dolphins are almost swimming up to the shores of the Atlantic, where the sun sinks like a huge ball, the moss on the oaks blows in the last evening wind.
As on the Hofwyl Broadfield plantation, it is the women who tried to save this legacy from destruction. Women like Meredith's grandmother who flew over their land in the 20ies, like her mother, who returned after trying to live a hippie artist life in San Francisco. But Meredith will be the last of the family in this place. If she passes one day everything will be donated to a foundation. It's the way of things, that cannot be stopped. Her mule Clementine roars at night, loud against the silence, and suddenly there is the thought that we caught a last piece of the old Georgia at this place before it completely descends in the past.

STAY
Macon
Burke Mansion is an old one Victorian house, every room a treasure with original furniture and art. In the evenings small pralines lie on the huge beds, for breakfast there is French toast with berries and cream served on old Wedgwood china.
Midway
Our absolute favorite place was the plantation Dunham Farms. Meredith Devendorf is an enthusiastic host who takes you to spontaneous kayak trips and can tell a lot about the old South. 

Athens
Georgia's cities are also pilgrimage sites for music lovers. Who is into Otis Redding, Tom Petty or James Brown should drive to Macon. All big names come from this area or performed in legendary clubs that still exist today. Tours with personal stories of musicians who were there at the time are available with Rock Candy Tours. Athens, a lively student city, is famous for being the home of R.E.M., Brent Cash and The B-52s. The legendary "Go-Bar" (195 Prince Ave.) is owned by singer Michael Stipe. The record Shop Wuxtry Records (197 E. Clayton St., www.wuxtryrecords.com) was a former meeting place of the band R.E.M. and is the best address to find rare record in the south.