Reflections of Two Centuries
Out of towners often ask, "What's the greatest thing about Laurens County?" They ask, " Do you have anyone famous from here?" I say, "It depends on what you mean by famous." I also say "We are the home of the parents of several famous people." Then they say, "Did you ever have a Civil War battle fought here?" I respond by saying, "No but if the Union cavalry had been here one day earlier, Confederate President Jefferson Davis would have been captured here and there would be a monument and museum to commemorate the event. Then I go back to the first question and say, "Well, the greatest thing about Laurens County are her people." I tell them about the life long friendships we have, fellowships which transcend race, religion and social status. Then I tell them how when ever something really needs to get done, there are usually a group of people here that will get it done, though there is always a corps of doubters and apathetic "do nothings" here and for that matter everywhere.
But when my mind really concentrates, I think about the heroes and those who excel in their triumphs of the human spirit. I think about the heroes of the armed services. From the last great war of World War I, to the big war of World War II, to the so called "police action" in Korea, to the misunderstood and maligned war in the jungles of Vietnam, visions of heroes flash through my mind. From Congressional Medals of Honor, to Navy Crosses, to Silver Stars and bronze ones as well, Laurens Countians are unparalleled in their devotion to do their duty for their country. They do it well, with honor, with bravery and they do it in unrivaled numbers. Even in today's mix of regular army and national guard soldiers, more of the citizen soldiers come from this part of Georgia than any other section of the state. We have served our countries from Gettysburg to San Juan to Marne, to Normandy to Hue. No county, and I mean, no Georgia county can match the heroism, gallantry and bravery of Laurens.
Donning a uniform is not the only form of public service. We have served as governors, senators and representatives, both at state and federal levels. Laurens Countians have led the departments of Justice and Agriculture at the capital. Laurens Countians have served on both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals of Georgia. Service is not left only to the politicians and the lawyers. Think of the thousands of us who have worked for decades as school teachers, most of the them for a mere pittance. Then there are the public safety employees who work, train and risk their lives while the rest of us sleep, eat and play. The next time you see one of these underappreciated and woefully underpaid public servants, shake their hand, buy their supper or simply say "thank you."
Do the math. If every one of the forty five thousand plus residents of this county performed only one hundred hours of volunteer service that would mean that there would be 4.5 million hours of helping each other. Anyone can do it. Everyone should do it. Don't just think about it. Do it!
Throw adversity at many Laurens Countians and you'll find a champion when the dust clears. Time after time, especially in recent years, the young men and women of Laurens County have shown the entire state that they are champions, not only in athletics, but champion kids as well. We have won world championships in baseball, football and basketball. We have played in the Masters Golf tournament, raced at Daytona and repaired the race cars of Grand Prix champions. Many have been named to All American teams across a broad spectrum of sports. One Dublin teacher was once billed as the fastest man in the world.
Champions of the business world can call Laurens County home. Georgia Power Company, the Atlanta Constitution, the Federal Reserve Board and the Coca Cola Company were led by folks from here. Two of us have served as Imperial Potentates of the Shrine of North America, who make it their mission to help needy children.
When all doubts are out of the shadows, the women of our county shine as brightly as anywhere else. For more than eight decades, the fairer sex have shown they can remarkable things. They were the first woman to be a Georgia judge, the first woman deputy attorney general, the first woman to head a medical department of a major black university and the first woman in Georgia to be a licensed dentist. One Laurens County girl founded the first sorority in the world. Another, Gen. Belinda "Brenda Higdon" Pinckney may retire from the United States Army as one of the highest ranking generals, either black or white, in the history of the Army. Heck, one Laurens County man, as governor of Georgia, appointed the first woman to serve in the United States Senate. Our women have been here from day one, garnering few headlines. If you look at IT, they are the reason the headlines were here in the first place. Hug your mom, kiss your wife and encourage your daughter, "You go girl, there's nothing you can't do."
Then there are the thinkers and those who excel when thinking outside the box is a good place to think. In the 1920s and 1930s alone, ten Laurens Countians were writing for major newspapers and magazines around the country. Dr. Reece Coleman helped to develop the first color camera to film the inside of a living human being. Capt. Joseph Logue, former director of the Naval Hospital, reacted to the complaints of the U.S. Marine Corps and ordered the first use of DDT to combat insect bites during World War II.
And last but not least, there are those who refuse tot believe "it can't be done." Take Claude Harvard for example. Harvard, a poor black kid, sold salve to buy a radio, likely the first one in the county. His desire to learn took him to the highest levels of inventions for Ford Motor Company in the 1930s. Major Herndon Cummings and his fellow pilots stood up to the entire U.S. Army and led to President Truman's decision to integrate the armed forces. For the younger crowd, one Laurens Countian convinced networks to air MTV, Nicklelodeon, ESPN 2 and the Movie Channel. Dr. Robert Shurney, who grew up in the care of his grandparents and served his country in war time, went to back to college in his thirties and became, according to many experts, the leading black scientist of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, all without the benefit of a high school diploma.
The list goes on and on, but no matter how many plaques, awards, citations, hall of fame elections and newspaper headlines we garner, Laurens Countians do what they do because it needs to be done or simply it is the right, or the only thing, they can do. What do all of these people and thousands of others have in common? They are all natives or at one time residents of Laurens County just like you. Ask yourself, can you be champion or a hero? Sure you can and it doesn't take anything special; just serve others in your community and your community will serve you. Don't seek recognition. Just do it, do it well and do it with a passion. The rewards will flow back to you beyond all imagination. As we end the first two hundred years of our county's history, I challenge all of you to remember that our most important history is not in our past, but it lies in our future.