Oconee County is an excellent opportunity for Democrats, Michael Thurmond told a gathering of party members at the Bogart Library earlier this month, because of the demographics of the county.
The county has one of the highest educational levels in the state and in the southeast, Thurmond said, and the college educated, and particularly college-educated women, are being targeted by Democrats nationally.
Thurmond was the featured speaker at the Democratic Party meeting on the occasion of the publication of the third edition of his book, “A Story Untold: Black Men And Women in Athens History.”
The former Georgia Labor Commissioner and state representative from Athens-Clarke County devoted two-third of his talk to politics, giving a political pep-rally for those gathered.
“Georgia is on the verge, on the cusp of ‘flipping,’ becoming purple,” Thurmond said. “One of my most earliest prayers is that I live long enough to see Georgia blue again.”
Thurmond said that the Democratic Party is having a debate about electoral strategy.
“Do we put more emphasis on turning out the base?” Thurmond ask. “Do we continue to try to reach out to moderates and Independents or even a moderate Republican?
“And one of the things I’ve always said is, it’s a false choice. It’s not an either or problem.
“You have to do both. You really have to do both,” he said.
The party needs a “strategy that supports registration, mobilization,” Thurmond said. It is also needs to reach out to “a growing number of disaffected Republicans out there.”
Thurmond currently is CEO of DeKalb County. He also has served as the superintendent of the DeKalb County School District.
“So we have to turn out the base," Thurmond said, "but at the same time, we have to reach out to people who may, quite frankly, just be sick of the leadership that’s being exhibited at the national level right now.”
Third Time Success
Thurmond was the first African-American elected to the Georgia General Assembly from Athens-Clarke County since Reconstruction.
He told the 36 people in the audience at the Oct. 17 meeting that he was elected in 1986 after two unsuccessful tries--in 1982 and 1984.
Thurmond said he had been hesitant to reach out to White voters in those first two campaigns.
“Never allow your fears to overpower your hopes and your dreams,” Thurmond said. “Never. Don’t ever do it. Don’t ever let that happen.”
“It is much easier to engage and spend time with people who always agree with you,” Thurmond said. “It’s easier to hang out with the Democrats. Isn’t that right? You know, we’ve got kindred experience here.
“But in order to be successful,” Thurmond said, “we’ve got to go out. Some people are on the line either way. And you can’t really tell just by looking at them.
“Well, some of them you can,” he said, pausing with the laughter.
Thurmond began his comments by telling those present how happy he was to be speaking to Democrats in Oconee County.
“I’m so excited about what Democrats are doing in Oconee and I’m so proud that you all have held up the banner,” he said.
“I’m a native of Athens,” Thurmond said, “but my roots are in Oconee County, Georgia.”
“My father moved from Oconee County–North High Shoals–shortly after the Moore’s Ford lynching,” Thurmond said. “Because you know, there was fear and trepidation.”
The lynching was in 1946, and Thurmond said he moved to what is now the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens-Clarke County at that time.
“I remained a member of Shady Grove Baptist Church all the way through college and through law school. “So my roots are here.” Shady Grove Baptist Church now is located at 1080 Mars Hill Road just north of Butler’s Crossing.
Thurmond got his undergraduate degree from Paine College, a private liberal arts college in Augusta. He earned his law degree from the University of South Carolina.
Thurmond became more pointed on national politics and President Donald Trump specifically near the end of the political section of his talk.
“I say this all of the time,” he said. “I’ve not lost faith in the American dream. Trump can’t take that from me. He can’t take away my enthusiasm and my dedication and love of this great nation.
“And he shouldn’t take it from you,” Thurmond said. “He’s in the White House. Yep, politicians come and politicians go. This nation is greater than him. And we’ll survive him.”
“America doesn’t have to be made great again,” Thurmond said. “America’s always been great. We’ve not always been perfect. But we’ve always been great. And nothing he can say or do can take that away from me.”
“So those who want to go turn the clock back and want to stir up racial sentiment and anger at immigrants and people of color,” Thurmond said. “We’ve seen that.”
“Really, sometimes you have to see the worst in order to appreciate and protect the best,” Thurmond added.
“I just play a politician on TV,” Thurmond said as he switched from politics to history in his talk. “I’m really a writer and a historian. That’s who I really am. And that’s what I love to do. That what really gets my juice flowing.”
The Athens Historical Society has republished his first book on the 40th anniversary of its initial publication. He wrote that first book when he was in law school.
Thurmond also is the author of “Freedom: Georgia's Antislavery Heritage, 1733-1865,” published in 2002.
Thurmond said he is working on a third book about James Olglethorpe, the founder of the colony of Georgia.
Thurmond called Oglethorpe “the first abolitionist.”
“He was the first White man, European, to actively oppose slavery,” Thurmond said. “He embraced Native Americans.
“He opened up Georgia to all people, except Catholics,” Thurmond said. “Catholics were the enemy, down in Florida. He was just an amazing person. Visionary person. He befriended Africans and African-Americans.”
District Attorney Candidate
Brian Patterson, a candidate for district attorney for Western Judicial Circuit, introduced himself to the Oconee Democrats as they were waiting on Thurmond to arrive for his presentation.
The Western Judicial Circuit consists of Clarke and Oconee counties, and Patterson said he has worked as a presecutor in the office of District Attorney Ken Mauldin for the past 17 years. Mauldin is retiring.
Patterson said he was promoted to chief assistant district attorney in 2007 and now supervises 17 assistant district attorneys in the office.
“I try and prosecute complex high profile crimes, mainly involving homocide and public corruption,” Patterson said, “and I also coordinate all of the appellate litigation in the Georgia Court of Appeals and the Georgia Supreme Court.”
“And so I want to stress to you all tonight that I’m running on my proven experience, my leadership and commitment to our community,” Patterson said.
Deborah Gonzalez, an Athens attorney and former representative in the Georgia General Assembly from House District 117, also has announced she is seeking the District Attorney position.
Both Patterson and Gonzalez are Democrats, as is Mauldin.
The video below is of the entire Oct. 17 meeting of the Oconee County Democrats at the Bogart Library.
Patterson began speaking at 4:33 in the video.
Oconee County Democratic Party Co-Chair Melissa Hopkinson introduced Thurmond at 7:17 in the video