MACON — For anyone who has ever heard the term "gnat line" and wondered just where and what it is, Larry Walker gives the answer in his new book.
Walker, a lifelong Perry resident who served 32 years in the General Assembly, is author of "Tales From Georgia's Gnat Line." The gnat line, he explains, is an imaginary line that runs from Columbus to just south of Macon, to Augusta. Below it, he says, gnats are abundant.
But he offers another, and possibly more important, explanation from a fellow state representative, Marcus Collins. Collins, a south Georgia farmer, in the 1970s kept complaining "We never get any money south of the gnat line." State Rep. Joe Frank Harris, who would go on the become governor, finally heard enough.
"One day, in an exasperated tone, Appropriations Committee chairman Joe Frank responded 'Exactly where is this gnat line?'" Walker recalls in the book. "Marcus retorted in his deep southern drawl, 'Well, it's that line below which we never get any money.'"
It's an issue that remains relevant today. Walker, a Democrat who served as majority leader in the House for 16 years, says South Georgia continues to lag in public education and healthcare, which makes it difficult to lure industry.
His book, however, is mostly not about politics but about southern culture, life in the South Georgia and why he loves it. He recounts humorous and poignant events that happened decades ago. That includes the time in 1962 that he and three friends hitchhiked to Charleston, South Carolina. He remembers the names of people who gave them rides and how much money each of them spent on the weekend getaway (Walker spent $14).
Walker retired from the General Assembly in 2005 and continues to practice law, as he has done for 54 years. Bryant Culpepper served in House with Walker and the two remain close friends.
"There's no better champion for the city of Perry and Houston County than Larry is," Culpepper said. "He does it out of his sheer love and appreciation for people."
One of Culpepper's favorite chapters in Walker's book is the inclusion of a speech Walker gave on the floor of the House in 2001. The speech argued in favor of changing the Georgia flag that had been dominated by the Confederate battle emblem. Walker spoke of his deep love of the South, its history, and his appreciation for those who sacrificed on both sides of the Civil War. But ultimately he argued that changing the flag would help heal wounds of the past.
Then Gov. Roy Barnes asked Walker to speak in favor because it could not pass without some votes from rural representatives. The change passed, but barely. Walker said Barnes recently told him that his speech probably swayed 20 representatives to vote in favor.
"When we came in on that Friday morning and that flag bill was in there, you could cut it with a knife in there," Walker said in recalling the vote. "I've served 32 years and I had never seen anything like it."
The flag that was adopted that day later changed by statewide referendum to the one that flies today. It incorporates the flag of the Confederate government but not the controversial battle emblem.
Walker talked about his book last week as he sat on a bench at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter next to a life-sized mule and tenant farmer monument. It was Walker who suggested the statue while he was in office and he secured the funding for it.
His book includes a chapter on why he thought it was important.
In the 1930s there were hundreds of thousands of mules in Georgia that plowed the fields that grew the food, he said.
"Much of the economy of the South, prior to the 1950s, was dependent on the mule," he wrote in the book. "They have never gotten their just recognition."
Walker gives a good summary of his book in the dedication.
"This book is dedicated to my nine grandchildren so that they will know about life in the South, and how it used to be — the good and the not so good," he wrote.
The Perry Area and Chamber of Commerce and The Perry Arts Commission will hold a book signing for Walker Thursday from 5-7:30 p.m. at the Perry Arts Center at 1121 Macon Road. The book will be available for $30, and is also available at Amazon. The book is published by Mercer University Press.