Historical Sketch Of DeKalb Branch of NAACP
“…I recall so vividly the threats on my life and my family for the work that was being done…” -as recorded by Ms. Rosetta Williams condensed and edited by Ms. Sharon Mills
In early 1955 following several years of soliciting memberships in DeKalb County by the Atlanta Branch of the NAACP, a group of concerned citizens, representing a cross-section of DeKalb, decided to set up a Branch of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in DeKalb. This decision set off many doubts and fears in the minds of many citizens. Nevertheless, after one or two meetings the DeKalb Branch was organized at Lily Hill Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia by Charles E. Price, Executive Secretary for the State NAACP. John Shanks was elected President; Ruby Langford, Secretary; and Earl Gunby, Treasurer. Deacon D.G. Ebster, Mr. & Mrs. Grover Robinson, Harry Furr, David C. Albert, George Hoke, Jimmy Hoke, Jessie Bussey and I, Rosetta Williams, were Charter Members. We served on the Executive Committee, and later, I was elected Secretary.
The Branch grew rapidly and soon became the second largest Branch in the State. The Youth Directors, Frank Starks and Barbara Woods, conducted a youth choir of 250 voices who sang at the National NAACP Convention in Atlanta in 1961. Because of fear and tension aroused in some people when the name NAACP was mentioned, the DeKalb Branch worked under the guise of “DeKalb Citizens Committee” and launched the greatest Voter Registration Project ever held in DeKalb County.
We worked cautiously throughout each community, calling on every minister to urge his congregation of unregistered church members to register to vote. More than 4,000 voters were added to the roll, including 29 blind clients who had to have special training to pass the voter’s test in order to register. Jackie Robinson, one of the first Blacks to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame, came to Decatur to deliver the keynote address for the Kick-Off Rally which was held at Thankful Baptist Church. It was one of the greatest events to occur in Decatur.
Problems were many, and a great number of people were afraid to be affiliated in any way with the NAACP. In most instances during the early 50’s and 60’s, if you were found to be a member of the NAACP, you were immediately fired from your job. Eventually, we carried our meetings into 14 communities: Decatur, Scottdale, Lithonia, Stone Mountain, Clarkston, Redan, Lynwood Park, Mt. Zion, Ellenwood, Edgewood, Doraville, Chamblee, Tucker, and Miller Grove.
The History of the DeKalb Branch NAACP would not be complete without recognition and praise being given to a group of white friends who saw the plight of the Negro in DeKalb County and dared to do something to help us. As I write now, I recall so vividly the threats on my life and my family for the work that was being done by this group and other interested citizens who only wanted freedom, justice and equality for all.
The activities of the Youth Councils were very essential in achieving our goal of equal opportunity in all facets of life. We sat-in at lunch counters and swimming pools. We marched on the DeKalb County Courthouse and held a Civil Rights Rally on the steps. We continued to meet with City and County officials; and consequently, the Civil Rights Bill was passed.
Years passed and the racial profile of DeKalb started to change. It was so gratifying to see the first Black police officers on duty in the City of Decatur, although they could not arrest whites—only Blacks. Having served 20 years as secretary under five presidents, I, Rosetta Williams, retired and Miss Essie Pearl Scruggs, the competent and efficient assistant secretary, became Secretary of the DeKalb Branch. John Evans, Executive Director under Rev. Leavell, became President from 1981 to 1982 and went on to become the first Black Commissioner in DeKalb County. From 1983-1986 Coleman Seward and Major Brown served as presidents respectively.
In 1987 Patricia Jones became the first woman to become President of DeKalb NAACP. Ms. Jones reactivated the DeKalb County Youth Council and started the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics program (ACT-SO). Other past Branch Presidents who continued the fight for justice include Angela Hayes, Jeanette Rozier, Rev. Dr. Kenneth Samuel, Vivian Moore, Yvonne Hawks, John Evans and now current leader , Teresa Hardy.
Under the Branch’s dynamic leadership, the DeKalb Branch through the years has received many awards for membership increases, political action, voter registration and voter empowerment at Regional, State and National NAACP conventions. Through the collective efforts and sincere dedication of our Branch Presidents, guided by the grace of our Supreme Creator, the DeKalb County Branch NAACP has kept the flame of justice burning brightly. It has continued to be a beacon of hope for the hopeful and the hopeless; and with continued community support it shall continue to be a keeper of the flame of justice in the struggle for equal rights and freedom for all.