“But for the Grace of God: Milledgeville!” written by Dr. Peter G. Cranford, is a remarkable work of nonfiction, simply by its existence as a work of nonfiction. A chronicle of the history of Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia, it illustrates one of the darkest chapters in the history of Georgia, and in doing so describes conditions and behaviors that are as shameful as they are seemingly unbelievable. But as anyone who grew up as a child in Georgia for generations can attest, the threat of being sent to Milledgeville sent shivers down the spine of anyone who had ever visited there, and who could attest to the reality of the depravity displayed there.
The book is written in two parts. The first part is a concise history of Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia, which for some period of time in its history was the largest asylum in the world, and held over 12,000 men, women, and children imprisoned in its walls. Between 25,000 and 30,000 people are buried on the hospital grounds, where they were discarded by their families and society. Part One describes in detail how the hospital came to be, and what it came to be. Many statistics and personal stories are brought to life in the second part of the book, where Dr. Cranford shares information he collected in his diary while on staff at the hospital. Much of the data is as fascinating as it is appalling: In 1949, a Georgia legislative committee discovered one physician at the hospital responsible for the care of 1,400 patients; In 1951, one day’s typical grocery list included 1,800 loaves of bread, 3,000 pounds of bacon, 4,000 pounds of okra, 3,000 pounds of steak, 4,000 chickens, etc, and grown and raised by patients on the hospital farms.
Equal parts source material for scholars, haunting elegy, and cautionary catalog of countenanced cruelty, “But for the Grace of God” is a unique artifact of a time and place that bred beliefs and behaviors we must never allow to flourish again.
A native of Savannah, Georgia, Dr. Cranford attended Emory University, and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Florida, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas. He was a member of the American Psychological Association, a fellow of the Georgia Psychological Association, and the founder of the American Society of Psychologists in Private Practice; founder and Board Chairman of the Bertrand Russell Society, and among many other accomplishments, he created the CBS radio show “Take It or Leave It” that would later become the television show “The $64,000 Question.” But by far, his greatest accomplishment was using his credentials as a member of the medical profession to document the horrors of Central State Hospital so that even as the buildings and grave markers there continue to crumble, society’s memory may not fade.
When the Georgia Consumer Council mobilized in 1997 to restore the cemetery at Central State Hospital, Dr. Cranford donated the copyright to his “But for the Grace of God” work to the Council so that dignity and honor might be restored to the dead, and a memorial created to carry their legacy into the future.
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