An upcoming lecture on March 2 from Athens native, historian, politician, Georgia Labor Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of Dekalb County Michael L. Thurmond will highlight not only important moments of black history in Athens but also the new updates made in his soon-to-be re-released book, “A Story Untold: Black Men and Women in Athens History.”
His speech will also be accompanied by musical recitals by youth groups from the Athens Historical Society, followed by a reception and book signing by Thurmond himself.
Thurmond’s book, published 40 years ago, tell multiple stories about the black community in Athens. For Fred Smith, co-chair of the Athens Area Black History Committee, the book provides a unique opportunity for those interested in Athens’ African-American history.
“Some communities are not fortunate enough to have someone who researched local African-American history to this extent,” Smith said.
The Athens Area Black History Committee hosts a lecturer to speak about Athens history every year, naming the speaker as the honorary Michael L. Thurmond speaker. Derrick P. Alridge, last year’s speaker and professor at the University of Virginia, spoke about Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and last work, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”
Alridge said Thurmond is an important researcher, scholar, writer and is an authority on the history of the black community in Athens. As Alridge was a former professor at the College of Education at the University of Georgia, he values the teaching of black history.
“I think it’s important that, when we talk about people learning the history of African-American education, that we’re not talking just about black people learning but about everyone learning,” Alridge said.
Thurmond’s work and legacy have inspired an entire event based on black history in Athens, a student bowl hosted every year. High school teams register to compete in the competition every year, having studied his work and other facts about local African-American history, in hopes of winning the bowl.
But people wishing to learn about local African-American history often have to do their own research, according to Smith.
“People aren’t educated about black history in Athens because it’s not in the curriculum,” Smith said. “If they don’t learn through local organizations, they probably don’t know about it.”
By taking the time to research and revise the latest edition of his book, Thurmond has made the information and history accessible. The most recent edition is being published by the Athens Historical Society.
“It’s important to recognize and celebrate contributions of the past,” Smith said, referring to Thurmond. “Often we take what we have for granted, so it’s important to recognize the contributions that people before us have made to tell our history.”