Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

January 4, 2010

Clarkston, GA

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 6:00 am

Clarkston, just east of Atlanta and five  miles west of Stone Mountain, is where I lived during my teen and young adult years. Clarkston was the ancestral home of my father’s family.  Clarkston was chartered as a city in 1882, the same year that Jolly Store was opened for business. This, one and only, general store was begun by my great-grandfather and continued through three generations.  (That’s a story I will share in the future.}

Clarkston was one of those quaint small towns where families and friends lived for generations.  Everyone knew the family history and kinships of everyone living there.  It was a safe and happy town.  Most activities centered around the school and sports.  The elementary and high school shared the same property.  In the early fifties, the total enrollment was approximately 325 students.  My graduating class had 37 students.

The high school was built in the early twenties.  My grandmother made a proposal to the county school board that if she could raise the money,  they would build a high school in Clarkston.   They agreed, and she raised the money.  The first graduating class had 7 students.  Only two were male, and they were my father and his first cousin.  A local elementary school is now named for my grandmother.  You can see how true my statement that Clarkston is a place of very deep roots for me.

One would have the tendency to believe that such a tiny place would go unnoticed and survive the vast changes in our society.  I certainly believed that.  But was I ever wrong!

In the 1990s, Clarkston was designated a refugee settlement.  Against the will of the city, the government began to transform the town into a global community.  Clarkston, known as Small Town — Big Heart seemingly changed overnight.  It would have been a difficult transition, even if the townspeople had willingly chosen to become a refugee settlement, but to know that they had no choice in the matter, made the dramatic shift extremely hard.

In the last twenty years, nearly 5000 refugees have settled in and around Clarkston.  The older residents have shown their grit and spirit.  They have not protested with marches and anger.  They sought reasonably to deal with the issue.  They have even erected a sign to welcome new residents.

Some estimate that half of the population is from outside the United States.  This city, which had only a Baptist church and Methodist church, has seen an influx of religious beliefs that were unheard of in years past by the long-time residents.  One evidence of this is seen in the Baptist church where my family attended.  They presently house in the facility the following groups for worship: Ethiopian, French African, Liberian, Sudanese, Bhutanese Napali, Zomi Laizom, and Karen Burmese.  There is a local mosque with 800 worshippers.

Yet, perhaps the most dramatic change is seen in my high school.  In our 1953 graduating class, all but one student was classified WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant).  Today, Clarkston High school has over 1100 students from 54 countries and 47 different languages.  Six of the seven world continents are represented in the student body.  Now that is what we really call change!

Shortly after this influx, Judy and I visited the old home place.  There is no evidence of it unless you know the terrain.  Amid the large apartment complexes, the sights, sounds, and smell of ethnic foods caused us to realize this might be the most unusual place in America.  We are experienced with foreign cultures, but never have we seen such a gathering of so many cultures in one place.

I commend the citizens of Clarkston for dealing with such a dramatic change forced upon them.  My only judgement, and you have probably picked up on it through certain words I have used, is that I do not believe any city should find itself with  such an influx thrust upon them.  Change can be constructive or destructive.  I believe it depends on proper leadership, planning, preparation, schedules, and timing.  But that’s just my opinion!



1 Comment »

  1. Yep! I agree with you Sir! If change isn’t a choice, it won’t be embraced. At least history can’t be change.

    Comment by jjr, mo — January 4, 2010 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

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