DeKalb County celebrates 200th birthdayCEO Michael Thurmond speaks during the DeKalb County Bicentennial Celebration Kick-Off at the Historic DeKalb County Courthouse on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This story has been updated.
Decatur, GA — DeKalb County kicked off its bicentennial festivities on Dec. 9, which marked the founding of the county in 1822.
DeKalb County was formed by an act of the Georgia legislature on Dec. 9, 1822, from portions of Fayette, Gwinnett and Henry counties, according to a press release. The county was named in honor of Johann de Kalb, a native of Germany and self-proclaimed baron who aided the American colonists in their fight for independence from England.
De Kalb lived from 1721 to 1780 and died fighting for the American Revolution.
“He was born in Germany and became an officer with the French army. He was sent to the colonies on a covert mission. He was tasked with determining how dissatisfied the Americans were with British rule,” DeKalb Board of Commissioners Presiding Officer Robert Patrick said. “He respected the American settlers for their spirit of independence, something that we still share today, that innovation, that drive that keeps us going and growing.”
The land that makes up DeKalb County was once held by Native Americans. It was the 1821 Treaty of Indian Springs where the state of Georgia acquired the land, Patrick said.
During the Civil War, the Battle of Atlanta happened to a great extent in DeKalb County.
“Many lives were lost between the states that were fighting. This war brought an end to slavery and established the right of a whole people to become citizens of the United States,” Patrick said. “This painful chapter did spark critical amendments to the constitution, the abolition of slavery, the granting of citizenship to all persons born or naturalized within the United States, the granting of equal protection under the law, ensuring citizens’ right to vote regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”
In the business realm, the county has been forward looking since about 1942 with the construction of the Scott Candler Water Plant, Patrick said.
“This $4 million investment in public funds sparked modern-day DeKalb County. That investment brought General Motors to DeKalb County and provided jobs and economic stability for decades,” he said.
The county has also become a television and film production hub within the Southeast. About 200 years ago, DeKalb’s population was over 10,000 and the county’s population is now over 750,000.
The yearlong celebration of the county’s bicentennial will be a unifying force, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said in a press release.
“History is more than the simple recitation of facts and dates,” Thurmond said. “A more expansive and inclusive presentation of DeKalb’s history will strengthen our resolve to overcome present challenges and achieve future goals and objectives.”
During the celebration, Thurmond said, “There is no limit to our greatness.”
“The charge is simply this: let’s never turn away from each other. Let’s always turn to each other. Let’s continue to work together, play together, pray together, sing together, laugh together. Let us continue to love this county and love one another because if we stay together there is nothing we cannot accomplish,” he said.
One initiative in the county that Thurmond highlighted which began several years ago was a movement to remove the Confederate obelisk from outside the Historic DeKalb County Courthouse on the Decatur Square.
The monument was removed on June 19, 2020. It will be replaced by a statue commemorating the late Rep. John Lewis.
Hilton Howell, CEO of Gray Television, announced that Gray Television will pledge $50,000 to the fundraising effort for the statue.
“I hope this gets you over your goal because John Lewis was a unique human being. He was a unique treasure for the state of Georgia. He was someone that we can all honor that brings us all together that makes us proud,” Howell said. “I could not think of a more noble statue to arise in the courtyard of this county’s courthouse than one dedicated to the living memory of John Lewis.”
DeKalb Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson and Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett are the co-chairs of the John Lewis Commemorative Task Force.
“John was a great man. He did not meet strangers, and a lot of times we would have to pull him away from conversations with just your average person on the street. That’s the person that John was,” Davis Johnson said.
The task force will announce the artist who will create the John Lewis statue on Dec. 29. The task force has raised over $550,000.
“We’ve selected an amazing artist,” Garrett said. “It really brings chills to me to think about not only the Confederate monument being moved and gone from in front of the historic courthouse that is right in the center of our downtown in Decatur, but to think about what’s going in its place is the most wonderful outcome.”
Also, during the kickoff celebration, Bill Crane, co-chair of the DeKalb County Bicentennial Commission, and Bill Stephens of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association presented Thurmond with a gift of framed newspaper articles about the W.W. King Bridge.
W.W. King designed and constructed what was known as the College Street Bridge, but it was moved in 1965 to DeKalb County. The SMMA, earlier this year, rededicated the W.W. King Bridge and had it placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Thurmond also noted that the SMMA approved a $2 million project to create a truth telling museum at Stone Mountain.
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