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Clayton County's tribulations 

Dunderheads, dumb growth and race in the southern suburbs

Page 5 of 5

Clayton County's African-American leaders say the county's political leadership is experiencing growing pains.

"In the Caucasian community, you have these notions [of leadership] that have passed through the centuries," Kimbrough says. "In the African-American community, not only do you have the segregation, Jim Crow laws and these things, but we're only one generation removed from the Civil Rights Movement. And the question is, how do we become viable citizens? And what you see in Clayton County is a microcosm" of that struggle.

In the months leading up to the primary, forums and meet-and-greets were held with candidates for the school board and county offices. Park your car at a county fair, and you'd return to a windshield littered with fliers hyping political hopefuls who were, by and large, running on the platform of "competence."

Angela Jackson, a mother of four who moved from Chicago in 2005, attended one such school board meet-and-greet forum at the Jim Huie Recreation Center off Tara Boulevard. She says she knows 16 children who have been placed by their parents in private school because of the accreditation fallout. She doesn't have that option. Tuition per child is $8,000 a year, more than she can afford.

"As a parent, I have to get out and do my research," Regina Hall says after a recent school superintendent town hall at Lovejoy High School. "We go by the signs we see in yards and on [the candidate's] cars. I never cared about the political side. We're learning the hard way."

Rosalie Doggett, a greeting card vendor who lives in Jonesboro's Keystone Apartments, held voter registration drives and encouraged her neighbors to get involved. The days of blind voting are over, she says.

But as the primary results filtered in last Tuesday night, it was unclear whether anything had changed. Sheriff Victor Hill posted a strong lead, but ended the night with 49 percent and will have to face Kimbrough in an Aug. 5 runoff. Jewel Scott won more votes than Tracy Graham-Lawson, a white juvenile court judge whom she had branded in campaign literature as a "hanging judge." But Scott and Lawson will also meet in a runoff.

As for Eldrin Bell, his election night ended after midnight at Boston's Restaurant in Morrow with friends, family and supporters proud, yet shaking their heads. The man with the bandage on his thumb – who on July 15 looked crisp, clean-shaven and alert – came in first, but with only 41 percent of the vote. In the Aug. 5 showdown for commission chairman, he'll face Lee Scott.

Bell talks about a young woman who had fled to another county, where she found the school system was in disrepair and the local taxes high.

"I urge those who are running to be careful about what they are running from and what they're running to," Bell says. "'Fear not' – 365 times in the Scripture those two words are mentioned. And I encourage people all the time to stay the course. If it's bad today, if you work toward helping, things will get better. Things will change. What is our responsibility in change as we look in the future? It is our responsibility to determine what it will be, but also what it won't be."

We are in control of our own destiny?

"Yes," he says. "We are in control of our own destiny. I'd rather stay here and fight and make it what we want it to be."

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