The book “Across the River: The People, Places, and Culture of East Athens” recently received the 2020 award of Excellence in Documenting Georgia’s History. The authors were thrilled after they received the award from the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council because East Athens is their home.
Authors Patsy Arnold and Maxine Easom wanted to make the rich culture of this area known. They then embarked on a six-year journey to finish this book which explains this culture in 648 pages.
”There’s a lot of history out there about the beautiful homes on the Westside, but we felt it was time someone writes about the East,” Easom said.
Arnold and Easom, both native East Athenians, said they wanted to explain their home’s real history and showcase the exceptional people and contributions to Athens’ economy that came out of this area. They also said that it was a safe place to grow up. Arnold said she didn’t even think East Athens had somewhat of a bad reputation until she attended junior high.
“One of my friends asked a girl on a date, and when she went home to ask her mother, she said no because he was from East Athens,” Arnold said.
The pair wanted to show that this was not the case. Arnold said she used to run around her neighborhood all day and be friendly with everyone. She was shocked to find out about this stigma.
Arnold described her happy childhood in East Athens as “growing up in the right time and place.”
After attending the historical Athens Heritage Walks together and reconnecting at a restaurant by chance, the pair decided it would be a great idea to write a book, Easom said.
“There were no real history books on East Athens, so we gathered information through interviews and artifacts,” Easom said.
The two had meetings in Easom’s basement where they would research whatever they could and network, Easom said. To equally contribute to the piece, Arnold mainly composed interviews and described herself as the “people person,” while Easom said she did the majority of the writing.
Easom said the first thing they did was send out a questionnaire to people they knew from East Athens and received inspiring individual responses about their lives.
Easom said the people from her home are incredibly hardworking and that Athens probably would not have survived without the people from this area.
“They didn’t make money to start teaching courses at the University [of Georgia] through the University,” Easom said. “It began with the people working in the mills.”
Easom said one time she was visiting her local doctor’s office, she told her doctor, a native of East Athens, she was writing a book about people like him. Easom said his response encompassed the reputation of the area for years: nothing good ever came out of East Athens.
The two wanted to change this view, according to a Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council press release. The press release said the book improves “the documentary record of Georgia through its use of records to document and preserve those communities often overlooked.”
The importance of culture to their community is something the authors were trying to convey to a wider audience. Arnold said she is grateful for the UGA and all it has given to the town, but there is still a price to pay for the contribution.
“If you belong to a community your whole life, you just have a special love for it,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s sad to see your home change from how it was when you were a kid.”
Arnold said that there is a gap between how the young people who move here and the locals who have lived in Athens their whole lives view the town. She believes their book could bridge that gap by educating students about the “hardworking people who built their homes which are now owned by college-realtors.”