[Letters to the Editor are viewpoints submitted by readers. They may or may not represent the editorial view of the Courier]
As you drive through the City of Smyrna, you could be forgiven for not even noticing it’s there. An unassuming white structure, Aunt Fanny’s Cabin used to be a restaurant on Campbell Road in Smyrna. In the early nineties, when that road was being redeveloped, the city moved the cabin to its downtown location on Atlanta Road. Now the place is in disrepair, and its future is being weighed against its past.
I grew up in Smyrna and although Aunt Fanny’s wasn’t a restaurant my family frequented, I do remember eating there once when I was young. I clearly recall the black children who wore chalkboard menus around their necks as they stood beside the tables of white patrons, reciting the menu in an obsequious, sing-song fashion while female servers dressed in appropriate “Mammy” garb attended to the tables around them. The atmosphere of the place is etched in my memory, and though just a teenager at the time of my visit, I recognized even then that it perpetuated the myth of the Old South that comforted so many of my white brothers and sisters, one in which happy black people sang in the fields, forever honored to serve benevolent white masters. Though I had few black classmates at Campbell High School at that time, I can remember thinking of them at dinner that night, and feeling my face grow hot with embarrassment.
While it is true that Fanny Williams, the servant for whom the cabin is named, did much for the black community through her membership in Atlanta’s Wheat Street Baptist Church, as the fate of this place is debated, you may hear that she was also a civil rights icon, despite the fact that she died in 1949, years before the civil rights movement began in earnest. You may also hear that she was proud of the restaurant that bore her name and would certainly want it preserved. But I wonder. Fanny Williams was a product of her times. I doubt she could have dreamt of a day when the United States would be a place where she could freely speak her opinions out loud without fear of retribution, much less one that would one day elect a black president. Perhaps no white person should have the temerity to speak for her.
Often, when certain phrases are coined to illuminate controversial issues in our country, they quickly become co-opted by those who wish to warp or dilute their meaning. This, I believe, is the case with the term, “white privilege”. In truth, I would bet that those Smyrnans who most wish to see Aunt Fanny’s Cabin preserved as part of “our” history are almost all of the white race, and whether or not they are cognizant of the fact, it is a clear indulgence of the lifelong privilege afforded them to view this part of our collective history as something worthy of preservation.
Despite its biblical origins, empathy is often a troublesome concept as it puts one in the place of placing another’s feelings on par with one’s own. It certainly seems thin on the ground in our country’s political arena, especially today. But I would respectfully suggest that when it comes to this issue the current leaders of Smyrna should turn to our black citizens for council and consideration as they decide which path our city should take towards the future. I am of the belief that their viewpoint should carry infinitely more weight than anyone else’s.