August 8, 1999
By Rob Peecher
EATONTON - Wooten's Barber Shop encompasses all that a small town is. Trophies from Sammy Wooten's hunting expeditions hang on the walls. Wooten has also hung documentation certifying his ability to tell tall tales, and it's the same place where many of the men who come here got their hair cut when they were boys.
On Thursday Hillary Clinton's possible bid for a New York Senate seat was the topic of discussion as Wooten trimmed a man's hair and others waited their turn. In addition to national politics, hunting and local rumors, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors has been a topic of conversation in the barber shop since the fraternal organization moved to Putnam County six years ago.
"That's all they talk about," Wooten said. "You tell me any town that wouldn't. That's been the biggest concern in the last year, the Nuwaubian situation."
Some Fear Group
Wooten said his customers once joked about the Nuwaubians, a group that claims in at least some of its literature that its leader, Malachi York, is from another planet and a space ship will be coming to take York and his followers away.
But over the course of the last year, the jokes have died down. Some locals are concerned, others are afraid, Wooten said.
Wooten cites a series of pamphlets as the cause of Putnam County's concerns. Those pamphlets have been handed out around town by members of the fraternal organization for more than a year. Two groups take credit for producing most of the pamphlets, the People Against Violence in Eatonton and the Concerned Citizens of Eatonton. In the literature, the groups claim to be made up of Nuwaubian members and others, though most in Putnam County believe the pamphlets come straight from the Nuwaubians.
The pamphlets have attacked numerous public officials. J.D. "Dizzy" Adams, Putnam County's building inspector, and his children have been targeted; at least one pamphlet insinuates the sheriff was responsible for a motorcycle wreck that killed a man; a tabloid-sized newspaper offered a $500 reward for information on past criminal history of several county officials.
"To start with, it was kind of a joke. People laughed about it. But paying $500 just to get some dirt on people, and the way they treated Dizzy's children - that was terrible. ... People are getting afraid of what's going to happen," Wooten said.
Many Putnam Countians don't want to talk publicly about the Nuwaubians, and some that do aren't comfortable providing their names. One woman, who wished to be identified only by her first name, Dixie, said the Nuwaubians have brought disruption to the county.
"This was a hometown community. It was a small town, and to me it was a very peaceful town. They have disrupted that," Dixie said.
Some Nuwaubian women have come into Dixie's downtown shop in the past, and she said she's never had any problems with them. But she believes the group is refusing to obey the county's laws, and she believes the national spotlight that has been cast on Putnam County and the Nuwaubians has portrayed an unfair view of the county.
"It's making our county look like it's a bad place to come, and that's the furthest from the truth. They're the ones who moved into our community, and they should have to obey our laws," Dixie said.
Ray Saltamacchio, who owns the photography studio Moments to Remember in downtown Eatonton, said he shares some of the concerns with the rest of the community, but Nuwaubians often come to him for their Nuwaubian-passport photos and have always been pleasant customers.
"They've always been nice, never given me any problem whatsoever," Saltamacchio said. "As long as they don't come into town causing problems, I don't have any problem with them."
Others in the community, like Vanessa Bishop, believe the Nuwaubians have already caused problems.
"I think that they are arrogant know-alls who are out for self gain. Everything for them is race, and everything against them is race," Bishop said. "I'm sure not all of them are like that. I'm sure there are some good folks within that realm, but some are not."
At The Courthouse
Putnam County's Clerk of Superior Court, Sheila Layson, said employees at the courthouse are sometimes afraid to come to work, and when one of the pamphlets targeted a deputy clerk of court, claiming she had "sold her soul to the devil," employees at the courthouse took it personally.
Layson said that pamphlet was hand-delivered to the deputy clerk. Like Dixie, Bishop believes the press has treated the county unfairly.
"People on the outside are only going by what the Nuwaubians are saying and not talking to the people who live here. I don't believe Putnam County has been given a fair shake," she said. "If you don't like the way things are, you don't come in and try to change them. You leave."
Intent To Change
Other Putnam Countians expressed similar sentiment. They complain that the Nuwaubians are not like many emigrants who move to a place because they like the place. The Nuwaubians, people say, have moved to Putnam County with the intention of changing the place.
"Malachi said himself on TV that 'We're going to change the color of politics in Putnam County,'" Wooten said. "I don't know what it's going to come to."