Requiem for a Greek Revival

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To give you get a better idea of how the old house looks today, here’s a link to a recent picture of The Cottage on Flickr.com by a Mr. Greenjeans.

As for the title, I think now that it should have been called “The House of Many Sorrows” or something alluding more to the human tragedies than to the structure itself.

This article appeared in the annual “Myths and Legends” issue of Country Roads in October 2003.

On River Road south of Baton Rouge sit the remains of a plantation home named The Cottage. Ruined columns jut up from the earth, prompting passersby to wonder about their origins. There is a primal allure in their order, a lasting testament to the structure’s once-famed Greek Revival design.

“It is unfortunate that there is no roadside sign explaining the home’s past,” says Mary Ann Sternberg, author of Along the River Road, the definitive guide to one of America’s most historic roadways. “It was a landmark in its heyday.”

Named for a small weekend retreat that once stood nearby, The Cottage included twenty-two rooms. Lafayette reportedly slept there, as did Judah P. Benjamin, the Confederate secretary of war. Colonel Abner Duncan built the home between 1823-24 and presented it to his daughter on her marriage to Frederick Daniel Conrad. It is from the original occupants that the land on which the home once sat derived its name, Conrad’s Point (the spot is also referred to as Duncan’s Point).

“My mother, Fanny Bailey, was sentimentally attached to the place, for obvious reasons,” says Claude Reynaud, a Baton Rouge attorney whose maternal grandmother was a Conrad. “When I was a kid, we spent countless hours out there. I seem to recall hearing about a boat that blew up in the Mississippi.”

Indeed the steamboat Princess exploded off of Conrad’s Point in 1859. James Morris Morgan recorded his boyhood memories of that fateful day in a 1917 memoir, Recollections of a Rebel Reefer:

“The Princess had just drawn out into the stream, and… a great column of white smoke suddenly went up from her and she burst into flames… Men in skiffs… were rescuing the poor, terror-stricken creatures and bringing them ashore…. As fas as the burned and scalded people were pulled out of the river they were seized by the slaves and, screaming and shrieking with pain and fright, they were rolled in flour. Some, in their agony, could not lie still, and, with white sheets wrapped around them, looking like ghosts, they danced a weird hornpipe while filling the air with their screams. Suddenly, to my horror, one of the white specters, wrapped in a sheet, his disfigured face plastered over with flour, staggered toward my hiding place (and said), “Don’t be afraid, Jimmie, It is me. Mr. Cheatham. I am dying, hold my hand!” The ghostlike man [cried a cry] which seemed to wrench his soul from his body. He shivered for an instant, then lay still.”

The Civil War brought more suffering to The Cottage, as if the pain of human slavery were not enough for any single geographic spot to bear. Union troops seized and converted the house into a hospital for malaria-stricken soldiers.

“There are still Union graves about one hundred yards behind the house,” says Reynaud. “There is a slave graveyard on the property, too.”

After the war ended legend has it that Frederick Conrad’s employee, Angus Holt, returned to The Cottage, became a recluse, and died, only to be transformed into a spectral caretaker. Ghost or no, whether or not Holt was a real person in the first place has been debated.

“That he really existed is not really important. The story of Holt’s return would have reassured people that things would be okay again after the war. Stories like that function to heal communities. Of course, it would be interesting to learn if the tale was told differently in black and white communities,” observes Maida Owens, director of the Louisiana Folklife Program.

Naturally a protective ghost would keep the curious away from any lingering malaria germs, as well as the house’s contents.

“Such legends function in many different ways, for protection, for order,” says Owens. “They can also reveal our worries and values.”

Interest in antebellum life brought The Cottage fame in the twentieth century. The entire property was restored and opened to tourists in the 1920s. Later, in 1945, best-selling author Frances Parkinson-Keyes wrote a lengthy novel, The River Road, in which both The Cottage and downtown Baton Rouge figure prominently. While living on the property and conducting research, she encountered local landscape legend Steele Burden at work renovating the gardens. The year after its release, The River Road was the third best-selling fiction book nationwide.

The Cottage also enjoyed mid-century fame in celluloid, serving as a set for at least two films, including Band of Angels, the 1957 movie version of Robert Penn Warren’s book. The presence of celebrities such as Yvonne de Carlo and Clark Gable in the area caused a stir. Reynaud confirms it is The Cottage pictured behind de Carlo and Gable on the movie’s poster, making the home’s facade part of then-popular culture.

“I saw the movie being filmed at the house and met Yvonne de Carlo. Of course, because of segregation, Sidney Poitier (another of the film’s stars) didn’t come to Louisiana,” says Reynaud. “But Clark Gable came to my house for dinner.”

“My mother, Myrle, repeatedly tried to get on the set to see [Gable],” says Jimmy Boudreaux, a lifelong Louisianan who remembers passing The Cottage frequently as a little boy. “Finally, she drove out to my grandmother’s house, cut limbs off of the ligustrum shrubs and loaded them into the back of her station wagon. She and my aunt, Olive, drove to the set. At the guard’s station, Mother rolled down the window and called out, “Scenery!” It worked.”

In 1958, the house enjoyed a high-profile mention in a National Geographic article, “Land of the Louisiana Sugar Kings.” The story mentions that a corporation had been formed to protect and renovate the property, further preserving it and thirty adjacent acres for posterity. Within two years, however, The Cottage was rubble. It burned to the ground on Thursday, February 18, 1960.

“My mother got the call in the early morning hours. There was no water source for the firefighters to use, and the top two floors were wood. I was eight and that was the first time I remember seeing my mother cry,” says Reynaud.

According to the Morning Advocate, a caretaker discovered the blaze at 2:30 am the day after a grand jury visited the property while investigating the January 10 murder of Dr. Margaret Rosamond McMillan, a University of New Orleans professor whose body was discovered nearby. Her skull had been shattered.

The sensational inquiry generated interest from Baton Rouge to Berlin. LSU administrator George H. Mickey was the primary suspect. Mickey was McMillan’s former [supervising] professor, and he admitted publicly to having helped her secure a job in New Orleans not long after he moved to Baton Rouge with his wife and family. National wire services reported that her wallet contained a photo of Mickey and an identification car listing him as the person to be notified in case of an emergency. Lacking an alibi, Mickey was arrested when blood matching her type was found on the fender of her car. In a scandalous twist, the case was dismissed. Mickey was released on bail and promptly relieved of his post as the dean of LSU’s graduate school and chairman of the zoology department. [More on this mystery can be found in my postscript.]

As for the suspicious timing of the fire, investigator discounted any connection. In the end, they attributed the blaze to faulty wiring and an electrical storm, despite claims that the house had recently undergone a thorough inspection.

“My mother suspected a vagrant or hobo burned the house,” says Reynaud. “Arson was another possibility. Several plantations burned in the area around that time.”

Whatever the cause of the fire, none of the structure was salvageable. Jim Bailey, Jr., Reynaud’s uncle, described the fire in the Morning Advocate as an “atomic mushroom” of flame and smoke “more impressive than anything ever filmed in Hollywood.” The paper’s editors bemoaned the loss of the house with an elegiac line:

“To the old residents of the city, it is as much a part of them as the Old War Skule campus, the Old State Capital, and the river itself”

Today the ruins still hold appeal for passersby, particularly for their romantic formal arrangement. Within the last decade, two LSU students, one in painting, the other in landscape design, have used the site as a point of departure for their graduate level projects. The lore of The Cottage lives on, too, through several paranormal Web sites. As progress makes its inevitable march down River Road, bringing subdivisions and convenience stores in its wake, the spectacular stories to which the site has born witness survive. For those of us interested in Baton Rouge’s stories past, this is reassuring. After all, the stories from The Cottage are final testaments to the many spirits, real and imagined, who once trod this stretch of River Road.

Postscript

Postscript: Requiem for a Greek Revival

For years, I’ve wrestled with the many stories that I wove together for this single article. Two of them in particular stay on my mind, but in very different ways. More on one of them in a moment…

But first, a bit of personal anecdote. For a long time, I thought I discovered The Cottage on a Sunday drive down River Road the first year we lived in Baton Rouge. In truth, my mother had first mentioned it to me years ago, while she read from Frances Parkinson Keyes’ novel, mentioned above. It seems my paternal grandfather’s late first wife had purchased a copy and kept it in her private Texas hill country library for my mom to discover decades later. After the story came out, my mother reminded me that she’d read the book and told part of the story to me as a child. In retrospect, I wonder how much of those stories of the Deep South compelled me to respond so strongly to the ruins upon first seeing them? The book is in my possession now, a reminder of how we’re all connected.

Back on track…Since I tend to find that people with whom I tell this story are interested in updates–especially with regard to the late Margaret Rosamond McMillan, here are a few:

– The McMillan murder case is receiving a bit of press again, thanks in part to Malcolm Shurman‘s new book, The Levee: A Novel of Baton Rouge (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2008). He’s also giving an interesting series of public lectures regarding how this case brought Baton Rouge into the ’60s. I’d be curious to know what he says, given that he’s an anthropologist by training. (I’ve ordered the book.)

– It seems that television-generated interest in old murder mysteries led to a revisiting of the story in 2005. That April, Chris White, a writer for the LSU Legacy, published an article, “Cold Case Files: Mickey and the Mysterious Murder.” There are a few interesting morsels in the story.

– An old article from 1960, The Dean and the Professor, is up now on the Time magazine site.

Life Magazine now has a few photos online from the investigation. Note that in the caption to the image of police inspecting the accused’s car, Mickey is referred to as “Dr. George Mickey” but Margaret Rosamund McMillan is not afforded the same respect. While retyping my story, I noticed the opposite is true here. It’s probably trivial and unintentional in both cases… and yet a telling clue as to how different people bring their own perspective/bias to stories.

Although I do not profess to know who killed McMillan, I do confess to feeling empathy for her plight as a young female academic at the dawn of the ’60s. Given the nature of the attack–a blunt instrument (perhaps a tire iron) was used to strike her head and there was no evidence of theft, it seems to have been a crime of passion. Or was it a premeditated act designed to look like a crime of passion? Hmmm… This was long before DNA tests. Just because blood matching her type was found on Mickey’s car doesn’t mean it was her blood–though it’s certainly provocative. Then again, who knows if he was anywhere near the car when the blood got on it.

– On a separate tangent and not so much an update as a footnote… A friend with whom I shared the ruins’ secrets once–long before this article was published–sought to encourage me and sent along a beautiful book, Vestiges of Grandeur: The Plantations of Louisiana’s River Road, by Richard Sexton. In it, the author/photographer includes this quote opposite a photograph of The Cottage:

“The scale of civilization and, indeed, of American frontier topography, was changing beyond the capacity of a temple form to control it…. [W]here those demands were least felt or most resisted, the old classic ideal could be longest retained in its romanticized form. The late Greek Revival plantation houses of the Deep South best embodied that condition and intention. Their softly gleaming column screens furnished the symbolic image around which Southern apologetics of the immediately pre-Civil War period and Southern mythology of the interminably postwar period were both to be fashioned. The more in ruin, the more Greek they seemed.” – Vincent Scully, American Architecture and Urbanism

A Marriage Story: Anne & Ed Price

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This story appeared in the January 2003 edition of Country Roads. Seeing as that was the annual “Weddings Issue,” it seemed a good idea to spotlight a successful marriage. We also wanted to highlight the couple’s visible involvement with the local cultural scene, though that bit (near the end) reads far too clunky now.

A Marriage Story: Anne & Ed Price

Originally opting for “career life” over wedded bliss, Baton Rouge’s longtime arts voice discovered in the ’40s, she could have both

Story by Pamela Price

One afternoon in March, 1947, a recent college graduate named Ed Price rolled into Baton Rouge on a bus form Tuscaloosa, Alabama. At the tender age of twenty four, he had already stormed Omaha Beach and helped liberate Paris as an infantryman in the second World War. After leaving the bus station, he walked to the Daily Advocate–as the Baton Rouge newspaper was named at the time–where he was to join the editorial staff.

In the newsroom, he met Anne Kirkendall, another twenty-four-year old journalist. She planned to leave Louisiana soon. While at the University of Missouri, she had switched her major from music to journalism after realizing she was more talented at writing. She only took the job in Louisiana when her attempt to join the Women’s Army Corps failed; she was too light to meet the minimum weight to serve.

Did the late C.P. Liter, a local editor who liked to recruit young journalists through his contacts at various universities, know he would play matchmaker? Probably not. But the couple left the newsroom that March night more than fifty years ago and went to dinner.

“We’ve been together ever since,” says Ed.

Although he retired in 1998, Ed sees his favorite journalism colleague daily–even though the bride-to-be was hesitant initially.

“I never dreamed that I’d ever get married,” Anne says. “I planned to be a career woman.”

Undaunted and perhaps a little enchanted by his beloved’s independent streak, Ed proposed not long after they met. Since the  couple shares a love of the arts, especially music, he arranged for them to see the Metropolitan Opera when it stopped in New Orleans.

“No one could afford a car after the war,” explains Ed. “So we took a bus.”

“We went to the Municipal Auditorium, and we saw The Marriage of Figaro,” Anne says. “He proposed at intermission. I said I had to think about it.”

Anne’s father had died the previous year. An only child, she felt responsible for her mother’s long-term welfare.

“There were thing to discuss before I could agree to his proposal,” Anne says.

“She didn’t think I was ready,” Ed volunteers. “But I was.”

They wed at First Methodist Church in Baton Rouge since, at the time, their church, United Methodist, still met in a building on the LSU campus. Anne’s mother made the bridal gown.

“Ed arrived here in March, and we married on September 14 that same year,” Anne says. “The only reason we waited so long was because that was the first weekend we both had off from the paper.”

At this point in the story, one might suspect that Ed continued his journalism career while Anne left hers to make a home.

“At the end of the war, the staff at the paper was entirely female. We felt that what we were doing was desperately important. The press was the fourth arm of government. I couldn’t just stop working,” Ann says. “I stayed on full-time until we had our first child. Then I worked part-time. I was always on call. The night Robert Kennedy was shot, Ed called and said that I had to get down to the paper right away. I woke one of the older children, said that I’d be at the paper if anyone needed me, and raced downtown.”

“We were the only paper east of the Mississippi to put out an extra edition that night!” announces Ed with pride.

For years, the couple sat together in the Louisiana house chamber and covered politics. On many mornings, Anne would send her column into the office with Ed in a primitive form of telecommuting.

“One of the secrets of our success is that we respected each other’s abilities and interests,” says Anne. “Ed never said to me ‘you can’t do that because you’re a woman.’ I wouldn’t have tolerated it if he had!”

How did their children (five boys and a girl) feel about their “working mom” in a time before the phrase had cachet?

“One of my sons once said, after a visit to a friend’s house, that he couldn’t imagine having a mother who only kept a clean house,” says Anne. “When the legislature was in session, they knew I’d be gone more. But that meant more money for our camping trips. I do recall one particular phone all from home at the office. A tiny voice asked for oranges and other items–like a prisoner requesting rations.”

As the children of journalists, the Price kids enjoyed special perks. When Anne interviewed the Beatles in New Orleans, her eldest son, Ted, went with her. That was the same year the couple took a trip to California to visit family, and Anne’s nephew told his neighbors in Oxnard that Ted, who had stopped cutting his hair that summer, was himself a Beatle.

“We looked out the window after dinner, and there was a crowd of people in the backyard waiting to meet him,” recalls Anne. “Ted played some music for them, and we had a marvelous time.”

With a healthy balance of work and play, the couple overcame the hardships that their generation faced to create a vibrant home life filled with discussion of politics, art and culture.

“The war made our lives so different. They took our teenage years away,” Ed says solemnly. “We were only twenty four when we married, but we’d both done so much already.”

Might the challenges of the early years have fostered a greater interest in the world around them? Or was it the couple’s shared curiosity that has kept them engaged with their local hometown?

“We’ve never stopped talking and we’re naturally interested in a variety of things,” Ed says.

“Being a part of the community is important to us,” says Anne. “For example, Ed helped start a crisis hotline at LSU called ‘The Phone.’ [At the newsroom,] he got calls late at night from people, often students, who were in trouble or hurting. He’s such a good listener.”

“The newsroom was the only place open late back then,” Ed explains.

“So he approached the university about putting a hotline in place. Ed stayed active with it for many years. As for me, my real passion is the arts.”

If you have ever read about a Baton Rouge arts event in the pages of The Advocate, you probably already know that, because for over fifty years, Anne has given voice to the arts scene in the city’s daily newspaper.

Although she didn’t begin covering the arts exclusively until about twelve years ago, when she stopped covering the legislature, Anne has been writing about the arts since 1945. 

“I asked if I could review events and did that for many years, covering symphony, dance, theater, etcetera,” she remembers. “I started doing visual art in the late fifties at the request of the publisher, who was then Charles Manship, uncle of the present publisher. He sent me to the University of Georgia for a refresher course for art criticism, and then I added that to my list of tasks.”

“Ed and I share a genuine interest in the arts. I always took our children to the free music recitals at LSU,” Anne says. “We still do what we can to support the arts in the community.”

Many locals feel indebted to her for her thoughtful coverage in an age when many newspapers would rather fill space with celebrity stories purchased from wire services.

“Anne’s extraordinary contributions to the arts provide a vital service not only to local patrons, but also to our talented artists and gifted technicians,” says Michael Tick, LSU Theatre department chair and executive producing director of Swine Palace Productions.

How do Anne and Ed Price, a couple that invested so much time and energy into the arts community, feel about the recent developments like the new Shaw Center for the Arts?

“It’s a dream come true to see these things happening in Baton Rouge. We’re thrilled!” says Anne, as energetic and enthusiastic today as one suspects she was the day Ed met her in the newsroom.

Postscript:

Alas, Ed Price passed away a couple of years after this story ran. I believe that Anne Price has retired from the newspaper business. And in case you were wondering whether or not we’re related, who knows? If so, it’d be only distantly and by marriage, though Ed used to love to greet my husband as “Cousins!” I can live with that.

Re-typing this story brought back a lot of memories…. Many a time I chatted with the Prices on opening night at the local theater. My husband and I spent the better part of one fun-filled evening (with Ed in bright green pajamas, which was recommended attire) at the Louisiana Historical Foundation’s annual Old Governor’s Mansion Gala. For this story, I spent an evening in their home eating cookies and drinking green tea in their University Hills home, built by the same man who constructed the “New Bridge” over the Mississippi. It was really wonderful.


Explore More:
• Priceless: Anne Price Reminisces About Her Years With Our Newspaper (Judy Bergeron, The Advocate, 4 November 2006): Much of the content is similar, but there’s a nice photo of Anne.
• University Hills Civic Association History – Includes a mention of the Prices along with several other writers who resided in the neighborhood.

Next Generation Civic Groups…Community Involvement in a Post Rotary Club Era

(Was looking for something online and stumbled upon this old bit that I wrote a couple of years back…)

Lemme say upfront that the second half of the title was not mine…Rotary International is alive and kicking, thank you very much, but this article (“Next Generation Civic Groups: Community Involvement in a Post Rotary Club Era,” January 2005) that I wrote for Next American City reflects some trends that I saw (still see) with regard to how my generation engages in civic action. 

Disclosure: It’s not mentioned online…but it did appear in the (sold out!) print edition…at the time that I wrote this article, I was serving as president of Forum 35 in Baton Rouge

Next Generation Civic Groups Community Involvement in a Post-Rotary Club Era

By Pamela Price
The Next American City

In 1999, a twenty-something engineer named Bill Carson faced an increasingly common decision: to stay or go. Having moved to St. Louis seven years earlier in a job transfer, he didn’t have strong ties to Missouri. He toyed with the idea of returning home to Pennsylvania or venturing to a seemingly more exciting city like Seattle, but St. Louis had started to grow on him. When Carson finally decided to stay, he committed to forging deeper roots. He joined Metropolis St. Louis.

Formed as a non-profit civic organization in 1997 in part to address the city’s brain drain, Metropolis St. Louis strives “to create and promote an environment in the City of St. Louis that attracts and retains young people.” Today its over 1,200 members rehabilitate rundown buildings, sponsor architectural tours in the city’s urban core, and place members on non-profit and governmental boards. The organization puts special effort into involving and empowering young people. Carson, in fact, took the reins of Metropolis’s leadership development initiative within six months of joining the organization.

Carson’s story runs counter to political scientist Robert Putnam’s theory that young people are not interested in civic engagement. In his 2000 book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Putnam cited declining membership in community service groups nationwide as evidence that communities are facing a decline in “social capital,” the personal networks and channels of trust that individuals can draw upon as a resource. Yet while the phenomenon that Putnam documents may ring true overall, the popularity of groups like Metropolis St. Louis suggests that more traditional organizations simply may not know what young adults seek in civic life.

A Growing Movement

Consider the statistics: Young Leadership Council of New Orleans has almost 1,400 members, most between the ages of 21 and 42, and has raised over $14 million to support the community since its inception in 1986. Less than an hour away, Baton Rouge’s Forum 35 recently reached 600 members and celebrated its tenth anniversary. Meanwhile, Young Professionals Milwaukee, only three years old, has over three thousand members. “We never anticipated such success when we launched,” says Shelley Jurewicz, Young Professionals Milwaukee’s executive director. “Our growth rate is five to eight percent per month right now. They just keep coming.” In over twenty cities around the country, these new civic groups are expanding dramatically. While only about twenty percent of the membership is very active in the clubs, that still means that a significant core of young people remains heavily involved.

Most cities sporting these new groups face heavy population decline. Motivated by the need to retain young talent, these organizations serve as incubators for new forms of civic engagement centered on service and social outings. Activities typically reflect the needs of the community in which the organization develops, and include visual and performing arts shows highlighting local talent, volunteer opportunities with local charities, and group trips to athletic events.

Leading the charge to put a fresh face on civic groups are young people themselves. While a few such groups came from local chambers of commerce eager to attract and retain young professionals, most developed organically.

“Our organization was started eighteen years ago by a small group of young campaign workers,” says Gerald Duhon, executive director of New Orleans’ Young Leadership Council, one of the first of the new breed of civic groups. “They had just finished working on a mayoral race, enjoyed the experience, and wanted to stay involved with the community on a permanent basis.”

Since its formation, Young Leadership Council has inspired the launch of two other groups, Baton Rouge’s Forum 35 and Mpact Memphis. Similar organizations, including Metropolis St. Louis, formed independently in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Keeping it Local

Although these next generation civic groups vary in origin and size (Young Professionals Milwaukee is the largest), their similar missions, goals, and projects reveal a great deal about the attitudes of young people toward civic engagement. Each group is homegrown, rather than chartered through a national office like Rotary, and designed to help people capitalize on local assets and opportunities.

“Our model is to be a portal for individuals to engage with the city,” says Dawn Lopez, a founding member of Mpact Memphis. “We like to say that if you are from here, we can show you things about the city you’ve never seen before. And if you’re not from Memphis, we’ll show you even more.”

Homegrown groups appeal to the desire of today’s young people to be part of something that is obviously “alive” and “responsive.” “From my research, there is definite interest in civic life that is simply not going to play out in Rotary clubs,” says Carol Coletta, a consultant and host of the city-oriented public radio program “Smart City” who recently wrapped up a report on the migratory trends of young people. “It is simply not true that Generations X and Y are disinterested in civic life. They [just] don’t want to regard things as ‘done.’ When they see buildings being built [in downtowns], that suggests a dynamism, that there is a ‘role for me.’”

The grassroots, civic orientation of these groups stands in contrast with the missions of their more traditional, chartered counterparts. Although local Rotary club members make significant contributions of time and cash to their respective cities, Rotary International is primarily a “worldwide organization of business and professional leaders” dedicated to humanitarian services, peace, and goodwill. Mpact Memphis, on the other hand, aims to “inspire, engage, and empower a new generation of Memphians to make their city a better place.”

Diversity, Dating, and Dinner

Just as important, the new breed of civic groups works hard to make all kinds of people feel welcome. Putnam never mentions in Bowling Alone that Rotary International didn’t open its ranks to women until 1987, when it was forced to by the U.S. Supreme Court. Although today many women are Rotarians, membership is often still offered upon invitation only and subject to review by current members. Some clubs even restrict membership to only one or two representatives from each industry or field in an effort to create a microcosm reflective of the larger community.

In marked contrast, the newer civic groups are openly—even aggressively—inclusive on all fronts, from professional occupation to sexual orientation. Seldom is more required for membership than a check—usually under $100 and often covered by employers eager to keep young talent rooted in place. Group missions reflect a commitment to inclusiveness, too. Among five focus areas defined by Mpact Memphis is diversity, with the goal of “a measurable increase in the number of interracial civic, political, social, and business relationships in Memphis.” Meanwhile, Metropolis St. Louis declares in its core belief statement: “We believe in a city, committed to its people, economically and racially diverse, that looks forward to the future without neglecting its history.” Ultimately, the inclusiveness these groups promote fits the definition of “bridging (social) capital” that Putnam argues is necessary to “generate broader identities and reciprocity” and yield constructive social change.

“We want our members to be intentional about diversity,” says Jurewicz. “And we define it broadly as ‘culture, profession, and lifestyle.’ Every once in a while, I get a call from someone saying that we’re too ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’ When that happens, I point to our 2003 membership survey, which shows that our members are almost equal thirds Democrat, Republican, and Independent.”

This attitude of inclusiveness is also manifest in programming. In 2003, for example, Forum 35 assisted with the 50th anniversary of the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, a significant event in the early Civil Rights Movement. More recently, Young Professionals Milwaukee hosted a six-part program series called “Mosaic Café,” designed, in Jurewicz’s words, to help people “live diversity rather than just talk about it.” Participants gathered around small tables, discussing topics such as segregation and education in fifteen-minute intervals before rotating to another group. Over 1,700 people participated in the entire series.

While innovative, socially-conscious, progressive programming is common to these groups, so is a more laid-back, casual approach to interaction. Many members are, at least initially, motivated to get involved by the frequent wine tastings, cultural events, and group dinners at local restaurants. Social activities provide busy young people with an easy mechanism for meeting their peers while exploring their respective cities. And naturally, more than a few love matches have been made, a fact not lost on 20- and 30-somethings interested in a safe atmosphere to find a mate. Ultimately, the integration of personal and professional networking opportunities with socially-motivated, locally-focused programming is the hallmark of these next generation groups.

Of course, how beneficial the groups are to their communities in the long run remains to be seen. Because the majority of groups recently formed, with localized projects and no national office collecting data or issuing press releases, the groups have generally flown under the national radar. It is not surprising, then, that Putnam did not recognize this growing trend.

Yet at a minimum, the membership numbers of these groups alone reveal tangible interest among young people in establishing a meaningful connection with their communities. If next generation civic groups continue to grow in size, number, and influence, perhaps Putnam—and Rotary—should take a closer look.

REFERENCES

Gottleib, Paul. “Labor Supply and the ‘Brain Drain’: Signs from Census 2000.” Brookings Institution, January 2004. A PDF can be downloaded at:

http://www.brookings.edu

Saguaro Seminar at the John F. Kennedy School of Goverment, Harvard University. Prepared by Robert Putnam et al. “The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey Community Highlight Report for East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana” 2000.

http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/saguaro

http://www.cfsv.org/communitysurvey

Forum 35 (Baton Rouge, La.)

http://www.forum35.org

The Memphis Manifesto

http://www.memphismanifesto.org

Metropolis St. Louis

http://www.mstl.org

Mpact Memphis

http://www.mpactmemphis.org

Rotary International

http://www.rotary.org

Young Leadership Council (New Orleans)www.youngleadershipcouncil.org

Young Professionals Milwaukee

ypm.mmac.org