5 Questions with Matt McDaniel: Looking back at the history of the Valley

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 12, 2014 

Matt McDaniel, here with his daughter, Lucy May, recently published a book about the emigration of African-American residents of the Chattahoochee Valley to Liberia.

SPECIAL TO THE LEDGER-ENQUIRER

You have recently published a book about the emigration of former slaves from the Chattahoochee Valley to the African nation of Liberia before, during and after the Civil War. How did you come to write about this subject?

It's an evolution of my master's thesis at LSU. When my wife and I moved to Columbus, I needed to find a topic closer to home. My good friend and colleague Ken Thomas put me on to the topic. He had found a few odds and ends in period newspapers. I found more documentation. The topic was interesting, so I ran with it.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in your research for the book?

That a significant percentage of all post-Civil War Liberian emigrants came from the Chattahoochee Valley. Although these emigrants originated from all over the South, more than 1 in 10 came from here. I don't know exactly why.

You are a architectural historian and preservationist by trade. How would you rate the job Columbus has done in preserving its past?

What impresses me about Columbus is that historic preservation is the default setting here. It's an important agenda item. The community and the government are thoughtful and look for opportunities. Not just to save old things because they are old, but to protect things that are meaningful to people here and are an important part of the landscape. As long as that culture persists, then historic resources will get the consideration they deserve.

Are you going to write another book?

Most likely. I have been thinking about doing something on regional historic architecture. I'm very interested in the connections along the river from here to the Gulf. Columbus, Eufaula and Apalachicola are old friends, full of great old buildings, and would be fun to tie together in a book.

What is the best-kept secret in the Chattahoochee Valley?

It's not much of a secret anymore, but the outdoor sporting opportunities around here are great. Dedicated venues for running and cycling that are continually expanding. And of course the whitewater, which also means restored swift-water river habitat and new fly fishing opportunities.

VITAL STATS

Name: Matt McDaniel

Age: 39

Job: Architectural historian, Mulkey Engineers & Consultants

Hometown: Social Circle, Ga.

Current home: Lakebottom

Family: Wife, Dorothy, and daughter, Lucy May

Education: Bachelor of Arts in History, Hampden-Sydney College; Master of Arts in History, Louisiana State University; Master of Historic Preservation, The University of Georgia.

Favorite book: Any of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels

Favorite movie: "Chariots of Fire"

Favorite restaurant: Dreyfus Store, Livonia, La.

Favorite quote: "Daddy!" - Lucy May McDaniel

Best concert attended: Pick of several vaguely remembered Jimmy Buffet concerts. But I remember I had a good time.

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