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Thurmond To Discuss the Price of “Freedom”

Former Labor Chief Shares New Novel at Cyclorama

By A. Scott Walton Executive Editor | 6/18/2013, 11:11 a.m.
Michael Thurmond is the interim superintendent of the DeKalb County School District, the third largest district in the state of Georgia.

There’s no better authority on how businesses get away with paying workers little to no wages than Michael Thurmond. That’s why his new novel, “Freedom: Georgia’s Critical Role in the African American Quest for Equality Since 1733” should resonate with readers throughout the state, and inspire people to keep struggling for fare compensation for their toil and sacrifice.

Thurmond, an avid historian who served for 12 years as Georgia’s Labor Commissioner, knows best about the state’s history of putting people to work under duress. And his rigorous research on the topic of Blacks’ struggles for freedom and social equality will be showcased Thursday (June 20, 6 p.m.) when he shares his insights at the newly refurbished Atlanta Cyclorama, adjacent to Zoo Atlanta.

Despite Georgia’s reputation as a state with long-standing discrimination against Blacks, Thurmond points out in his new book and in conversation that this was the only one of the original 13 colonies that signed on to the Declaration of Independence where slavery was forbidden.

The need for free labor is what chased our state’s founder, General James Oglethorpe, into out-of-state seclusion and ushered in generations of cruelty that culminated with Civil Rights activism spearheaded here in the 1960s.

“This book details how black and white and red (Native American) Georgians fought to prohibit and, ultimately, abolish slavery and its aftermath,” said Thurmond, who was reached by phone at a book tour stop in Savannah.

“The system of slavery reached beyond racism. It was about labor. It was about control over a workforce. The enslavers did not initially transport Africans here to discriminate against them. Primarilly, it was for the forced labor.”

The point of irony, he said, is that, “That’s the scholarly connection between my previous career and that (slavery) institution.”

Thurmond, who has authored another book about social activism and uprisings in his hometown of Savannah, said “Freedom” was inspired a decade ago by a memorable quote he read written by Dr. D.E.B. DuBois.

“I had just lost a race for state Congress, and I re-read ‘The Souls of Black Folk’,” Thurmond recalled. “There was this passage he wrote that said both now and in the future the Negro problem has alwas been centered in Georgia. I was puzzled by that. So I explored it. Back then I thought it was all about the Civil Rights movement and Martin and Julian Bond and John Lewis and Maynard and Ralph Abernathy. But it goes way back further than that.”

Points Thurmond includes in his thoroughly researched book include:

--As opposed to the notion that the Underground Railrod ran from the south to the northern U.S. for escaped slaves, Blacks in Georgia fled south to the warm embrace of north Florida territories held by Native Americans who helped them wage war against their former captors.

--The British Empire tried, in vain, to contain revolutions in what became America by granting freedom to any freed or escaped slaves who fought on their side, and gave loyal soldiers safe passage to northeastern cities or the Caribbean in exchange for their service.