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Interview with Michael Thurmond, July 7, 2008

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:07 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Hello, I'm Bob Short, and this is Reflections on Georgia Politics, sponsored by the Richard Russell Library at the University of Georgia

Segment Synopsis: Bob Short introduces himself and Michael Thurmond.

00:00:48 - Early life and education

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Partial Transcript: You were born in Athens, one of nine children.

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond outlines his early life in rural Clarke County and his education from elementary school to law school.

Keywords: Athens, Georgia; Augusta, Georgia; Burney-Harris High School; Clarke Central High School; Clarke County; Columbia, South Carolina; Cotton; Lyons Elementary School; Lyons Junior High; North Athens Elementary; Paine College; Sandy Creek; Sharecroppers; Sydney Thurmond; University of South Carolina School of Law; Vanilla Burton Thurmond

00:03:09 - Deciding to go to law school

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Partial Transcript: Well, with a degree in philosophy and religion and law, you chose to be a public servant. Why not a minister or an educator?

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond discusses his decision not to go into the ministry, as his parents wished, and instead to study law.

Keywords: Augusta, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina; Paine College; Preachers; Vocation

00:04:53 - School desegregation in Athens

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Partial Transcript: You know, I found out something about you that I'll bet you very few people know, and that is you were the 100-Yard Dash champion in college.

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond talks about demonstrations during school desegregation in Athens and ending up in court in front of people he later worked for.

Keywords: Athens, Georgia; Athletics; Burney-Harris High School; Civil rights movement; Clarke Central High School; Demonstrations; Denny Galis; James Barrow

00:07:26 - Early legal work

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Partial Transcript: So you came back to Athens. You--you began practicing law.

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond discusses his work after law school, starting with a job as an Assistant City Attorney in Athens.

Keywords: Assistant City Attorney; Athens, Georgia; Denny Galis; Ken Dious; Upshaw Bentley

00:09:07 - Early political career

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Partial Transcript: At that point, you were well known and well respected because shortly thereafter, you were elected to the Georgia House of Representatives--the first African American in--since god knows when.

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond describes his first campaigns for the Georgia House of Representatives, his relationship with Chappelle Matthews, and some of the key moments during his time in office. He discusses his failed campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Keywords: 1980s; 1990s; Athens, Georgia; Atlanta, Georgia; Cynthia McKinney; Earl Warren Scholarship; Georgia Legislative Black Caucus; Hugh Logan; Lawton Stephens; Low Income Tax Credit; Max-black plan; Paul Broun; R. Chappelle Matthews; Reconstruction; Tom Murphy; Ways and Means Committee; Zell Miller

00:19:42 - Serving as director of DFACS / Teaching at UGA

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Partial Transcript: It wasn't. I got a call one day after I was--in the summer of '94. I came home and, uh, there was a--I was back in Athens, practicing law again.

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond talks about his time as the director of the Division of Family and Children Services (DFACS) in the mid-1990s and the Work First program. He discusses the difficulty of leading DFACS and his stint at the UGA Vinson Institute of Government.

Keywords: 1990s; Bill Clinton; Carl Vinson Institute of Government; Contract for America; DFACS; Division of Family and Children's Services; Jim Ledbetter; Newt Gingrich; Welfare Reform; Work First; Zell Miller

00:24:26 - Serving as Labor Commissioner

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Partial Transcript: But shortly thereafter, uh, in April, I came--I went to, uh, Carl Vinson in September. In April, I threw my hat in the ring for Labor Commissioner, State of Georgia.

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond discusses his campaign for Labor Commissioner and implementing the Georgia Works program. He describes the origins of government support agencies, including the Department of Labor, and their roles in the lives of citizens.

Keywords: 1990s; David Poythress; Economic Security Act of 1935; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Georgia Department of Labor; Georgia Works; John Frank Collins; New Deal; Outsourcing; Public service; Richard McGee; Sam Caldwell; Steve Henson

00:34:04 - Jobs and labor in Georgia

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Partial Transcript: Commissioner, for those of us who probably don't know, uh, tell us about your statewide organization of, uh, centers for, uh, people who need to find work.

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond discusses recent economic trends and some of the challenges job seekers face in the state of Georgia. He talks about the ways the Department of Labor is addressing unemployment and shares his views on major labor issues.

Keywords: Career Centers; Division of Rehabilitation Services; Globalization; Immigration reform; Jobs training; Outsourcing; Technical schools; Unemployment; Workforce Investment Act

00:39:58 - Writing books about black history in Athens and anti-slavery movements in Georgia

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Partial Transcript: Since you've mentioned being an author, let's talk a little bit about some of your, uh, works.

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond discusses the two books he has written--A Story Untold: Black Men and Women in Athens History and Freedom: Georgia's Anti-Slavery Heritage.

Keywords: Abolitionist; American Revolution; Civil War; Civil rights; Georgia Historical Society; James Oglethorpe; Seminoles; Slavery; The Souls of Black Folk; W.E.B. DuBois

00:44:34 - Relationships with civil rights and political leaders

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Partial Transcript: Let's talk for a minute about the Civil Rights Movement. Uh, did you have a relationship with Dr. King?

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond talks about his work and personal relationships with a number of politicians and civil rights leaders.

Keywords: Athens, Georgia; Atlanta, Georgia; Bill Lee; Billy McKinney; Calvin Smyre; Culver Kidd; Democratic Party; Denmark Groover; Hosea Williams; House Rules Committee; Joe Frank Harris; Joseph Lowery; Paul Broun; Ralph David Abernathy; Republican Party; Roy Barnes; Sanford Bishop; Sonny Perdue; Tom Murphy; Tyrone Brooks; Zell Miller

00:50:58 - Party politics in Georgia

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Partial Transcript: Well, in addition to--to serving as Commissioner of Labor, you're also Vice Chair of the Georgia Democratic Party.

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond explains his views on the current status of the Democratic and Republican parties. He talks about the future of the Georgia Democratic Party.

Keywords: Class; Democratic Party of Georgia; Georgia Republican Party; Politics; Recession

00:55:00 - Pride at being elected to the Georgia General Assembly / Disappointment over not being elected to a national office

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Partial Transcript: Looking back over your career, what has been your proudest moment?

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond describes the proudest moment of his career: winning the Georgia General Assembly seat from Clarke County as a black man in a majority white district in his third attempt. He discusses his disappointment over not winning a campaign for national office.

Keywords: Barack Obama; Elections; Politics; Race

00:57:10 - Future plans

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Partial Transcript: Well, what can we expect from Michael Thurmond down the road? Another office?

Segment Synopsis: Thurmond talks about the possibility of running for office again in the future and his responsibilities as Labor Commissioner. Interview concludes.

Keywords: Georgia Department of Labor; Recession