During the April 1 Mary Frances Early Lecture, Michael Thurmond, superintendent of the DeKalb County School District, challenged students to be courageous and speak out against all inequality.
Currently on leave from the law firm of Butler Wooten Cheeley & Peak, Thurmond is a former state legislator and also a former state labor commissioner. He was appointed superintendent in 2013 to address accreditation issues. Under his leadership, the school district’s accreditation was upgraded in 2014.
Thurmond, a native Athenian, paid homage to Early—the first African-American to earn a degree from UGA—for her accomplishments.
“Thank you for your unwavering faith, perseverance and quiet dignity,” he told Early, who attended the lecture. “Thank you for ensuring that the stain of legalized racial segregation has been forever removed from the black and red fabric of this university.”
Thurmond said the purpose of the lecture isn’t just to celebrate Early, but to continue the work she began. He then addressed the students in the Tate Student Center audience, asking them to fight inequality whenever and wherever they encounter it.
“Greatness is within your grasp,” said Thurmond, who encouraged students to follow in Early’s footsteps and challenge inequality, even when it may create enemies. “This lady decided that she was going in and not running away. One young man or one young woman with courage can make a majority.
“The people who cursed her, the people who slandered her, the people who despised her, are not being honored with a lecture series at the University of Georgia,” he also said.
The lecture was sponsored by UGA’s Graduate School, the Office of Institutional Diversity and Graduate and Professional Scholars.