By Tia Lynn Ivey managing editor
When Fred Perriman and Donald Harris were attending Pearl Street High School together, before the dawn of integration, neither imagined it possible for African-Americans to gain full equality in their lifetime, let alone achieve pivotal leadership positions in the Deep South. But as the years moved on and the tides of progress rose, African-Americans have overcome obstacle after obstacle preventing them from equality. The year of 2016 serves as another milestone for the local African-American community because it is the first time ever in the history of Morgan County that an African-American, Commissioner Donald Harris, has been elected as the chairman of the Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC). Harris’ election coincides with the term of the first African-American, Fred Perriman, serving as the Mayor of Madison.
Harris hopes the people of Morgan County will remember the past to see how far the county has progressed and to inspire for the future.
“I think it’s an important think to recognize because you need to take in and remember the past so you know how to go forward in the future,” said Harris. “You need to remember the past so you won’t make the same mistakes in the future.”
“Madison-Morgan County has made some tremendous changes in the last century by recognizing the fact that race or color should not be a defining or deciding factor. Over the past century, Madison had made improvement from segregation to integration of our schools, businesses, residences, organizations, and even churches. Furthermore, Madison has become one of the best communities in which to live, attend school, and film movies as this was evident by Madison voted as ‘Best Small Town in America,’ our school system receiving several accolades from the state, and Madison-Morgan being chosen as a film location for a few movies.”
Harris believes Madison-Morgan has improved tremendously since the time of his youth and it’s only going to get better. “It was rough back then, but not as bad here as some other counties I knew of,” remembered Harris.
Harris, 68, who was elected to the BOC in 2008, after Curtis Butler, the only other African-American to serve on the BOC, died in office after 25 years of service. Back in the 1970s, Butler was the president of the Morgan County Branch of the NAACP and Harris served as the vice president. They sued the county to do away with countywide voting and instead implement voting districts to give minorities a chance to win elections. Harris was drafted into the Vietnam War during his senior year of high school. His mother accepted his high school diploma on his behalf. When he returned from Vietnam, Harris used the G.I. Bill to attend Fort Valley State College where he studied Biology. Harris went on to earn his Master’s at Georgia State College in Health and Physical Education. Harris became an educator at Morgan County Middle School in 1976, then moved to Morgan County High School in 1981, until he retired in 2005. Harris continued to work part time at MCHS until 2010.
Perriman, 67, was born and raised in Madison, graduated from Pearl Street High School. He attended Mercer University in Macon and Georgia State College in Milledgeville, before graduating from Interdenominational Theological School to become a minister. Perriman has been the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Lincolnton, Ga. for the last 25 years. He was elected as a Madison City Councilman in 1983 and served in that capacity until he was elected Mayor in 2014.
“I wanted to serve the community in the role as mayor to have the opportunity to bring our community together as One Morgan and to establish a positive working relationship with both our city and our county government as we are elected to serve the people and the taxpayers in our community not by power, but by uniting together and making the best decisions for our community,” said Perriman. Harris hopes to leave behind a legacy of success and improvement for Morgan County.
“One of the main goals is to try and bring in more jobs. My main goal for 2016 is to get our roads paved and repaved and improve the dirt roads,” said Harris. “But most of all, I want to try to improve the lives of all the citizens of Morgan County.”