On Jan. 28, 1987, respected journalist Bill Shipp wrote in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution that “Forsyth County is not as mean as it looks on network television … Most of the citizens here simply have no time to hate. They are too busy making a better life for themselves and their families.“
This was written as a postscript to the infamous Forsyth County March that took place the previous Saturday.
Oprah Winfrey in her show honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King this past Monday used clips from an earlier show that took place following the march in 1987. Once again the hate filled scenes of angry racists, and interviews with white supremists dominated the screen. Those people did not come from Forsyth County and certainly did not represent our county.
The real story is about a relatively small county of 35,000 people rising to the challenge of 20,000 people invading our streets. In just one week, local citizens organized a group of leaders who fielded countless interviews, met continuously with state and federal leaders and established a committee that would welcome the marchers on the courthouse steps. Two hundred reporters descended on our town along with four thousand state troopers sent by the governor. The logistics were monumental, but our community came through with grace and dignity.
What transpired from this politically motivated march was a reunion of black leaders who marched along side Dr. King in the ‘60s. They shared with the younger generation that marched with them that day their experiences from the past. It was a crowning moment and wonderful way to celebrate their legacy and that of Dr. King. What about Forsyth County?
After the march, citizens in our county were apprehensive to go anywhere in Atlanta with their “Forsyth” county tags for fear of retribution. Students from our high schools were mocked and jeered when visiting other schools. In one incident, the band buses were pelted with rocks. Worst of all we ended up with a reputation we do not deserve. Once again, Ms. Winfrey used our county to embellish her show rather than to tell the truth.
On that cold Saturday morning in 1987, one of our local leaders declared: “Forsyth County welcomes you and the world to our community. We who live and work in Forsyth County, Ga., are a peace-loving people.” Forsyth County is the same friendly, progressive place now that it was in 1987. It did not become that way because of the march or Ms. Winfrey’s show.