Reflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection, ROGP 039 Michael ThurmondReflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection, ROGP 039 Michael Thurmond

Reflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection, ROGP 039 Michael Thurmond

Descriptive Summary

Title: Reflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection, ROGP 039 Michael Thurmond
Creator: Thurmond, Michael L., 1953-
Dates: 2008 July 21
Extent: 1.0 interview
Collection Number: RBRL/220/ROGP
Repository: Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies
Abstract: Having served as a Representative in Georgia State House, the director of DFACS, chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, and Georgia Commissioner, Michael "Mike" Thurmond discusses his early life in Athens, his education, his experience with legislative policies and politics, his philosophy on labor in Georgia, and the outlook for the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Collection Description

Biographical note

Michael L. Thurmond was born January 5, 1953, in Clarke County, Georgia, to Sidney and Vanilla Thurmond. He attended Clarke County public schools before graduating cum laude with a B.A. in philosophy and religion from Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, in 1975. He graduated from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1978. Shortly after graduation, he published his first book, A Story Untold: Black Men and Women in Athens History.

Thurmond returned to Athens and served as Assistant City Attorney before starting his own law practice. He became a senior partner in the firm of Thurmond, Thurmond, Miller and Rucker. While in Athens, Thurmond served as vice-chairman of the Athens-Clarke County Charter Commission and worked on the board of directors of the Salvation Army and the Boys Club. He was a founding member of Citizens for Better Government and served as chief executive of a local radio station, WXAG.

Thurmond developed the Juvenile Justice Program used in the Clarke County School System to give grade schoolers some exposure to the law as it affects them. He also co-authored a proposal, funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to create summer jobs for Athens teenagers.

He ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature in 1982 and 1984, but was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1986. He represented the 67th District from 1987 until 1992 as a democrat. Thurmond was the first African American since Reconstruction to be elected to serve as state representative by the citizens of Athens-Clarke County. During this service, Thurmond authored major legislation that provided more than $90 million in tax refunds to working families in Georgia. He also served as chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus and on the agriculture and consumer affairs, education and judiciary committees.

In 1992, Thurmond ran unsuccessfully for the US Congress, 11th District. By 1994, he was appointed by Governor Zell Miller as director of the state’s Division of Family and Children Services (DFACS). While he was director, he created the “Work First” program, Georgia’s welfare reform plan that provided incentive for more than 50,000 families to move off welfare and into the workforce.

In 1997, he became the first distinguished practioner/lecturer on public policy for the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. He was elected Labor Commissioner for Georgia in 1998.

Scope and Content

Thurmond discusses his childhood in Athens-Clarke County, including graduating from the first integrated class of Athens-Clarke County High School. He recalls leading protests and spending his first day in court being issued a restraining order by Judge James Barrow. He goes on to discuss his time at Paine College in Augusta and the decision to study law at the University of South Carolina rather than going into the ministry.

Thurmond discusses his career as assistant city attorney for Athens and his later election as the first African American to the State House in 1986. He recalls his mentors Paul Brown and R. Chapelle Matthews, his appointment to the Ways and Means Committee, and his first legislative bill concerning a tax credit for low income families. Thurmond also discusses his other legislative interests in areas including education, children's issues, and adoption.

Thurmond recalls becoming Charmain of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus and a factioning of the caucus over the "max-black plan," an effort to concentrate black voters in a single district that was popular in the 1990s. Thurmond discusses how his opposition to the plan caused him to lose support during his campaign for Congress in 1990.

Thurmond speaks of his time as a lecturer at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia and his subsequent race for Labor Commissioner of the state of Georgia. He describes his Georgia Works program, which allows employees to apply for jobs while still receiving unemployment. He discusses other job training programs in Georgia and how important the Labor Department is in economic turmoil.

Thurmond recalls his association with civil rights leaders Hosea Williams, Ralph David Abernathy, Dr. Joseph Lowery, and Tyrone Brooks. He also discusses his memorable moments with other figures in the legislature such as Tom Murphy, Denmark Groover, Bill Lee, Paul Brown, Sanford Bishop, Culver Kidd, Billy McKinney, and Joe Frank Harris.

Thurmond comments on Zell Miller's keynote address at the 2004 Republican National Convention and on the outlook for the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Administrative Information and Restrictions

Custodial History note

Reflections on Georgia Politics began in the fall of 2006 at Young Harris College, as a lecture and discussion program hosted by Georgia political veteran Bob Short. In late 2007, the Richard B. Russell Library began producing the program as an oral history video series to further illuminate and personalize the tectonic shifts that occurred in Georgia politics in the late twentieth century.

Preferred citation

Reflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection, ROGP 039, Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Georgia, 30602-1641.

Copyright Information

Resources may be used under the guidelines described by the U.S. Copyright Office in Section 107, Title 17, United States Code (Fair use). Parties interested in production or commercial use of the resources should contact the Russell Library for a fee schedule.

Finding Aid Publication

Finding aid prepared by Russell staff, 2013.

Related Materials

Access Points

Athens--Clarke County (GA)--Politics and Government.
Brooks, Tyrone L., 1945-
Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
Civil rights--Georgia.
Democratic Party (Ga.)
Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.
Harris, Joe Frank, 1936-
Matthews, Robert Chappelle, 1908-1986
Miller, Zell Bryan, 1932-
Murphy, Thomas Bailey, 1924-2007
Oral histories.
School integration--Georgia.
Williams, Hosea, 1926-

Related Collections in this Repository

Reflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection

Michael L. Thurmond Papers

Series Descriptions and Folder Listing

ROGP 039 Michael Thurmond video, transcript, and interview index in OHMS Access Online
ROGP 039 Michael Thurmond video (Extent: 59.0 minutes ) Access Online
ROGP 039 Michael Thurmond PDF transcript Access Online