Michael Thurmond to speak at Athens Area Habitat gala

Michael L. Thurmond
Michael Thurmond (photo by Byron E. Small, Atlanta Business Chronicle, 25 August 2017)
  • Georgia political leader and author Michael L. Thurmond will speak at the annual Athens Area Habitat for Humanity gala on January 24th, 2019.
  • The son of a Clarke County sharecropper, Mr. Thurmond went on to become an attorney, state representative, head of Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services, Georgia commissioner of labor, and CEO of DeKalb county.
  • Mr. Thurmond’s 2003 book Freedom: An African-American History of Georgia, 1733-1865 won an award from Georgia Historical Society and is one of the “25 Books All Georgians Should Read” according to the Georgia Center for the Book. His 1978 book A Story Untold: Black Men and Women in Athens History is being re-released in February.

Very few people outside academia can speak as well or as eloquently about Georgia’s past and present as Clarke County native and current DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond. And he traces that ability back to a course he took during his senior year in the first graduating class at Clarke Central High School, a course on black history with no textbook. When Thurmond complained about the lack of a text, his teacher advised, “If you want a book in this class, why don’t you go write one.”

"A Story Untold" book coverThat challenge led directly to Thurmond’s first book, A Story Untold: Black Men and Women in Athens History, which is being re-released in February. (If you want a copy before then, be prepared to shell out several hundred bucks for one of the few hoarded originals up for sale on Amazon or Abe Books!) Thurmond’s second book, the award-winning Freedom: An African-American History of Georgia, 1733-1865, is considered essential reading on the South from the late colonial period to the Civil War and ranks among the “25 books all Georgians should read” according to the Georgia Center for the Book.

Mr. Thurmond’s understanding of current challenges faced by our state, region, and nation is informed not only by his historical research, but also by wide-ranging experience in business, politics, and education. Born the son of a Clarke County sharecropper in 1953, Thurmond became an attorney, was elected to the General Assembly in 1986, headed Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services during the “welfare to work” transition, served as commissioner of labor for more than a decade, then two years as superintendent of DeKalb County schools before being elected CEO of DeKalb County in 2016. Not surprisingly, Mr. Thurmond has also been heavily involved in media, from the Athens Voice newspaper of the 1970s to today’s WXAG radio.

Last year, Michael Thurmond became the first African American to be appointed to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association. And despite calls from some Georgians to remove the Confederate monument from the mountain, Thurmond believes there is a better option — to add more historical content to the park’s displays in order to “put [the carving] in the proper context”.

“We have to make peace with it,” says Thurmond of Georgia’s past. “We have to create a narrative that extricates us from this conundrum of history that we’re in,” one in which “we don’t connect current issues with what, unfortunately, is a very disturbing part of the history of our county, which is Stone Mountain as the birthplace of the modern Klan.” For Thurmond, a greater awareness of the past is part of the antidote to divisions created by that very past, but obscured by revisionist “Lost Cause” narratives which serve “to sanitize history [and create] a notion that slavery wasn’t what was fought over. [It’s] a mythological view of the Civil War” which an expanded Stone Mountain park could help to dispel.

As a longtime supporter of Habitat for Humanity’s efforts to increase home ownership, Michael Thurmond will be speaking at Athens Area Habitat’s annual gala for the Committee of 1000, a group of local donors who provide funding each year for Habitat’s work in Clarke, Oconee, and Oglethorpe counties. While the content of the address has not yet been released, Mr. Thurmond is expected to discuss the historical context of issues facing the area, most notably in housing, as well as prospects for solving those challenges. This year’s committee will help fund the construction of “kinda tiny homes” in Athens, an effort which the local Habitat affiliate hopes will spark a reassessment of local building and zoning codes.

The gala will be held on January 24th, 2019, starting at 7:00 PM at the Foundry Ballroom in Athens. All donors who contribute to the Committee of 1000 will receive invitations to attend. The event will be fully catered and will feature other speakers as well as live music. To join the Committee of 1000 and receive an invitation to the event, click here to make your donation of $80 or more, or a recurring donation of at least $10 a month.


For further reading: