James Oglethorpe arrived in Savannah on Feb. 12, 1733 and Michael Thurmond arrived at his burial site on Oct. 7, 1996. Two dates which represent the start of something special.
Oglethorpe and a group of trustees from England planned and built the framework for Savannah, officially founding the city 291 years ago this month. Thurmond’s interest in writing a book about Oglethorpe began 28 years ago when he read eight words etched into a plaque above Oglethorpe’s grave at the Parish Church of All Saints in Cranham, England.
He was a friend of the oppressed Negro.
For Thurmond, the words were powerful. The moment memorable.
The church where Oglethorpe's remains are buried in a vault below.
"I remember that day," he said during a recent phone call with Connect Savannah
. "I was a member of a delegation from Georgia that traveled to England to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Oglethorpe’s birth. And on the last day of that visit, we visited a church where he is buried. There's a plaque on the wall that lists all of his life accomplishments, and one of the passages were the eight words chiseled into marble."
James Oglethorpe, Father of Georgia: A Founder’s Journey from Slave Trader to Abolitionist,
hits bookshelves on Feb. 15. It’s Thurmond’s latest work detailing the life and legacy of a man who consumed him for nearly three decades.
“I was mesmerized. It was just overwhelming to me," said Thurmond of the eight-word claim. "And the truth is, I didn't believe it to be true because I never heard him described in that way. My skepticism was pervasive. I just did not believe it to be true. However, I committed myself to beginning the process of uncovering the truth. A journey of research, evaluation and analysis."
"Because if this was true, it could fundamentally redefine his legacy and help create, I think, an even more compelling and inspiring vision for our state today."
A Stone Mountain resident, Thurmond
is one of 29 authors scheduled to present Saturday, Feb. 17 during the 17th annual Savannah Book Festival. He will be at the Trinity United Methodist Church (225 West President St.) at 10:20am for a discussion on his creative process, his writing style and his career in general. It is free to attend, as are all author sessions on “Free Festival Saturday.”
Currently serving as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of DeKalb County, Thurmond is no stranger to public service.
Books previously authored by Thurmond include award-winning titles Freedom: Georgia’s Antislavery Heritage, 1733-1865
and A Story Untold: Black Men and Women in Athens History.
He has worked in positions like Director of Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services, Georgia Labor Commissioner and Superintendent of DeKalb schools. In 2020, The Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to African American Georgia history, research and preservation.
The idea that Oglethorpe's legacy could be altered by Thurmond's book is a significant one. Still, it's a belief held not just by the author, but by fellow Oglethorpe scholars as well.
"James Oglethorpe’s effect on the abolition movement is succinctly and convincingly proven in James Oglethorpe, Father of Georgia," wrote
Eli Arnold, the library director at Oglethorpe University. "I believe this book will initiate a reevaluation of both Oglethorpe and Georgia’s important role in both the antislavery and abolition movements."
Civil rights leader Andrew Young said the book "adds an inspiring new chapter to Georgia’s origin story."
The Oglethorpe monument in Savannah
"James Oglethorpe was among the first white men in North America to oppose slavery," said Thurmond. "A lot of people don't know that. A lot of people wouldn't think that he was one of the first white men in North America to oppose slavery. He was centuries ahead of his time. Obviously, he opposed slavery. He embraced Native Americans. He allowed Jewish people to migrate to the Savannah colony and he respected the intellect of women."
Readers can order the book at local bookstores, including E. Shaver's, beginning Thursday. Copies will be available for purchase at the Savannah Book Festival and also for ordering online via Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Thurmond will be speaking during the 10am worship service on Sunday, Feb. 18 at First African Baptist Chruch in Savannah for fans who miss him on Saturday.
Find out more information on the Savannah Book Festival at savannahbookfestival.org.
Read the 2024 Connect