The Folklore Project


Los Angeles, California

Maps of Fannin County

By Elizabeth Adams

“There ain’t no map of Fannin County,” says the man behind the gas station counter.

My dad and I stand there for a second, not knowing what to say, and then leave. Dad’s late model Mercedes SUV says “Fulton” on its license plate. Fulton is the county in which Atlanta mostly lies. The counties are so small in Georgia that Atlanta also has some land in DeKalb County, where I grew up. So, it’s possible to live in Atlanta, but not live in the county for which Atlanta is the county seat. Got that?  I grew up in Decatur, recently a hot hipster locale, then a sleepy suburban town. Decatur is the county seat of DeKalb.

Georgia, you see, has a lot of counties. Not just a few. A lot. 159. More than any other state in the union besides Texas. Georgia is the biggest state east of the Mississippi river. That doesn’t make it very big, though. It’s less than 1/3 the size of California; 1/5 the size of Texas. 

Why so many counties?  I was always told there was a law on the books that said that county seat could not be farther than a half a day’s horseback ride from the furthest point in the county. There’s no such law. Even the horse riding thing stretches credibility. The last Georgia county created was Peach County in 1924. Not a whole lot of horse-riding in 1924.

Georgians take their counties very seriously. All Southerners will ask you who your people are. Georgians may categorize your people by county. 

Every license plate in the state has its county label. People know where the big counties are. They know where the small ones are. Let’s just call it out — they know the red counties, and they know the blue counties. Since November 9, I’ve been thinking a lot about the places we’re from. The roads we travel. Who we are as Americans, as people. 

My mother’s family is from south-central Georgia. Multiple generations of Flanders and Tarpley and Roberts. They have these great Southern names like Bathsheba and Bertram. Many of them were Methodist ministers, and, while they never had money, they always were highly educated. At a time when few women went to college, my grandmother, youngest daughter of the Rev. John Chestnut Flanders and Anna Roberts Flanders, went to Wesleyan College for Women in Macon (Bibb County) in 1928. 

My mother met another Flanders some years ago, and they began to talk about how they were related. They were, of course, and I’m sure I could pay the Mormons to log on to and figure out how. I’m not going to, though. A couple of years ago, I looked into some of our relatives’ grave sites, and I discovered that my great-great grandfather Frederick William Flanders and his wife, the aforementioned Bathsheba Winifred Drake Flanders, were buried in Wrightsville, Georgia, county seat of Johnson County. When my mother told her Flanders friend/some sort of cousin, the response was, “Oh, so your people are Johnson County Flanders, not Emanuel County Flanders” as if that explained something.

Emanuel County (county seat: Swainsboro), population of about 22,000, had a median income of about $30,000 at the 2010 census. Sixty-eight percent of voters in Emanuel voted for Trump, 32 percent for Clinton. The county is 62 percent white and 34 percent African-American. Johnson County had about 10,000 people at the 2010 census with a median income of $27,607. Johnson county voters favored Trump over Clinton by a margin of 68 percent to 31 percent. The county population is 63 percent white and 35 percent African-American. 

Emanuel County. Johnson County. Laurens County. Toombs County. There are some great names. Coweta (pronounced kai-EE-tah) county. Lincoln (named after a different Lincoln, natch). We owned a lake place in the far northeastern part of the state in Rabun County when I was a teenager. If it got rainy, we drove into Clayton, the county seat. Banking was better done in Habersham County (county seat: Clarkesville).

Dad and I were driving around Fannin County because my parents had built a place looking over the Blue Ridge Mountains in Gilmer County (county seat: Ellijay) and Fannin (county seat: Blue Ridge) was the next county over. GPS didn’t work very well. We had been led down dirt roads, and the signal kept dropping. We were trying to map the places in Gilmer and Fannin Counties into our minds. We needed the mental maps everyone creates of the spaces they occupy in the world.

“There ain’t no map of Fannin County.”  Not for us. Dad in his loafers, me with no makeup and shaggy hair. Fulton County plates. It may even have been an Emory University plate. While Emory started in Oxford (which is not the county seat of Newton County), the University is decidedly Atlanta and decidedly not Fannin. 

I love Georgia. My California-born spouse doesn’t understand it completely, and I can’t explain it. 

Give me a week on Saint Simons Island (Glynn County), and I just start sweating and getting into that groove. Spanish moss. A drive over to Jekyll. Bike rides on the path. Hyppo pops imported from St. Augustine. Did we run out of Tervis tumblers again?  I hate a sweaty glass.

North Georgia?  Sure, let’s find a place like Laprades (RIP) on Lake Burton (Habersham County) and sit at long benches and pass the biscuits and gravy. Maybe former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn will be there again, if only in my mind’s eye. 

South Georgia away from the ocean?  Ok, let’s go see the peanut statue in Blakely (county seat of Early) and then have some chicken in the car at Blakely Chicken (four stars on nine Yelp reviews).

Speaking of chicken, this summer my mother, spouse, and I drove back from Saint Simons to Atlanta in my mother’s late model Acura SUV (Fulton plates) and stopped for lunch in the town in which my grandmother was born. Eastman, county seat of Dodge County, does not feature prominently on Yelp. Chic-King seemed a solid choice (4.5 stars on two reviews), and we stopped there to have some chicken. After some discussion of how to pronounce the name of the establishment (we settled on she-king), we enjoyed our chicken and left. As is my wont, I bought the local paper as we exited the restaurant. The Dodge County News is published weekly. As we drove north, I read through it. There was a long letter to the editor that argued women were less likely to be politically informed and should, therefore, be denied the right to vote. The writer said that if men alone had voted in the last few elections, they would have gone the “right” way. He was quick to say that there were exceptional women (citing Ann Coulter as one) and denying women the right to vote was not a statement on their intellects or contribution to society. July of 2016. In a town just off I-16. Dodge County favored Trump over Clinton 72 to 26.

I’m the daughter of the younger daughter of the youngest daughter of some Johnson County Flanders. My great grandfather was born during the Civil War. My grandmother was born before women got the right to vote. My mother was born during World War II. I was born during Vietnam and two weeks before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain in Memphis. The places are trapped with time. It shimmers just out of the distance. And unless we look, we forget that those resonances remain.

Patrick Phillips’ new book, “Blood at the Root,” exposes how this happens and then is quickly forgotten. He writes of the systemic racism that allowed for racial cleansing throughout the 20th century in Forsyth County (county seat: Cumming, 74 to 22 Trump). It’s written on the land, this history.

The popular mysteries written by Atlanta author Karin Slaughter have always amused me. Set in fictional Grant County…  

Actually, that’s all I know and plenty enough amusement. No county in Georgia would let itself be named Grant or Sherman. When I was a kid, we went to Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta. It’s one or a handful of churches Gen. William T. Sherman spared when he burned the city. In the basement, there’s blood on the walls from the use of the church as a slaughterhouse. Every confirmation class was taken to see the rusty stains. What we were to think of it, I’m not entirely sure. I do know it was not pro-Sherman. 

Over Thanksgiving, I took a trip to San Francisco. For one day of the trip, I went without my phone (I had simply left it in the hotel room) and used a regular map instead. Hilly San Francisco seemed smaller than it ever had as we walked from the Castro to the Tenderloin. Our tour of the Tenderloin was very good, focusing on the past and present, the economics and poverty, the arts and crafts, the people. San Francisco rent is almost unfathomable. In the Tenderloin, an single room, with no private bathroom and no kitchen, costs $1,500 a month. There’s a two- to three-year waiting list. People who are employed wait in long lines for free meals because they have no money left after paying the rent. People die from living in illegal tenement tinderboxes in Oakland. The first listing I find on Craigslist SF under “apartments” is a two-bedroom, one-bath in Noe Valley: $3,900 a month. No parking. My mortgage in L.A. (not a cheap city by any stretch) is $1,730 a month. I do live in “the Valley,” the oft disparaged, never really acknowledged part of L.A. that sprawls north of the Santa Monica Mountains. My house is next to the Chatsworth Reservoir. A seemingly lovely piece of California chaparral, it’s kept free of people because of a radioactive leak at the Santa Susana Field Lab. Every place has scars. Danger underneath.

San Francisco County has a population of 805,000 and a median income of $65,000.  Los Angeles County has a population of 9.7 million with a median income of $56,000. Los Angeles County voted Clinton over Trump by a 71 to 23 margin. San Francisco voted Clinton over Trump by an 86 to 9 margin. Ok, 9.4 percent, but still.

Angelinos (conceived broadly) love to talk traffic and how to get from place to place. The highways get definite articles. The 101, the 10. When I was growing up in Georgia, you attributed the highway to its “owner.”  Georgia 441; County 2, US 78, I-285. In L.A., highways are themselves. The 2. The 210. Who you are is defined by which ones you use. Which ones border your neighborhood. You never talk distance in L.A. Only time. It’s 30 minutes to get over there. Oh, I’d allow an hour for that. And then tuck into the details. Should you take the PCH through Malibu to avoid the Sepulveda Pass on the 405?  Now that everyone is using the 210 is it really a timesaver over the 10?  Even off the highways, even out of West Los Angeles, conversations abound about the increasing traffic in the eastern part of the Valley. Getting to Studio City is a thing. It didn’t used to be. Now it is.

But drive through L.A. and sit at its restaurants, even the ones in the Valley, and you find people who feel lost. The place we thought we knew, the place that wasn’t fixed or perfect or even good but was the place we knew, it didn’t exist. America elected a narcissistic demagogue. L.A. knows from narcissists. They’re legion. Part of the fabric of those freeways, the hikes up Runyon Canyon, the people eating at SUR. But those L.A. narcissists voted for Clinton. The people who live in the other America voted for the other guy. 

Truth doesn’t matter. Racism doesn’t matter. Misogyny doesn’t matter. The truth is written on the landscape. The racism is in the soil. The misogyny is in the air we breathe. And we don’t live there anymore. We moved. I moved. My mother moved. Her mother moved. 

My grandmother moved from small towns where her father was a preacher. He hid, in their closets, men who were being threatened with lynching and helped to get them out of Dodge County. But she never quite got over calling African-Americans “blacks.”  She moved to Macon (Bibb County — 58 to 49 Clinton). Then my mother moved to Atlanta (Fulton County — 69 to 27 Clinton; Dekalb County — 81 to 16 Clinton). I moved to L.A. 

Dad and I stopped at the next gas station and asked for a map of Fannin County (82 to 16 Trump). It was proffered and purchased without comment. We’ve moved away. Created places that are exclusive of one another. We tell the stories of the landscapes in which we choose to live. Mourn for pasts that never existed. And now we’ve elected a man who can’t be bothered to rule, who was elected on hate, on misogyny, on racism, on xenophobia. 

When there was a limit to the “known” world, many maps just sort of faded out, often noting “here be dragons” on the edges.

We are moving into an unknown world. There are maps of Fannin County, but they won’t help us understand where we’re going.