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North Georgia plants tree to celebrate liberty
Dahlonega university marks Arbor Day along with First Amendement celebration
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The freshly-planted 20-foot tree at North Georgia College and State University is no ordinary Arbor Day effort.

Friday, the university partnered with Dahlonega's Downtown Development Authority to plant a constitutional reminder: A Liberty Tree.

"What we did was not just plant a tree, but remember a freedom," said Chris Jespersen, dean of the school of arts and letters.

The tree is a piedmont elm, just like the original Boston Liberty Tree. Before the American Revolution, colonialists would gather around the tree in the Boston Commons and vent about the British.

NGCSU's Liberty Tree stands near the West Main Hall, not far from West Main Street.

The planting is one of the First Amendment awareness program events at the university this semester. The program is funded by a $5,000 grant awarded by the McCormick Foundation and achieved by Wilson and his colleague Maria Carabelli.

Under this nationwide Liberty Tree Initiative, the organizers hope to teach folks about all their First Amendment rights, not just freedom of speech.

"The first step in appreciating these (freedoms) is actually being aware of them," said Charles "Trey" Wilson, NGCSU professor and program organizer.

Each event will emphasize a specific freedom of the First Amendment. The events include an exhibition of art that concerns censorship, a workshop on how to petition the government and speeches by special guests addressing the topics of freedom of religion and of the press.

Friday's planting of the Liberty Tree underlined citizens' freedom to assemble.

"The ability to gather can be an extremely powerful thing," Wilson said, noting the recent activity in Egypt and the Middle East.

As both a liberal arts institution and a senior military college, the Liberty Tree is a particularly poignant reminder for NGCSU.

"I think that it helps us remember that we get certain freedoms and opportunities. We understand that it is sometimes necessary to fight for those freedoms," Jespersen said.

Joel Cordle, director of Dahlonega's Downtown Development Authority, said that the planting was a more tangible effort than other joint initiatives with the university.

"This was a project that people could see and touch, take a shovel and put some dirt on," Cordle said.

NGCSU was one of only six schools awarded the grant. Wilson said that the other colleges were much larger.

"We feel pretty special about getting it," he said.

"Bars and Blues," an art exhibit targeting censorship versus freedom of speech, is the next part of the First Amendment awareness program at NGCSU. It opens Monday in the Bob Owens Art Gallery in the Hoag Student Center, with a free reception 5 p.m. Thursday.

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