Black Heritage of Rockdale inducts 10 trailblazers into inaugural Hall of Fame

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Rockdale’s native daughter and Pulitzer Prize recipient E.R. ShippandKatrina McCollum Young, president of the Rockdale County School Board and Georgia School Boards Association, presented the Lifetime Achievement award to Cleveland Stroud, who was the first African American elected official in Rockdale County.


By Mackenzie N. Morgan

The Black Heritage of Rockdale County organization hosted its  symposium and inaugural induction into the Black Heritage of Rockdale Hall of Fame on March 16. More than 100 people turned out for the free community event, which was held at the J.P. Carr Community Center in Conyers.

Ten living trailblazers were inducted into the organization’s 2019 Hall of Fame class including Willie Otis Benton, Jr.; Mary Grace Flanigan; Robert Flanigan; Genoulia Lee; Augustus Lett, Sr.; Grover Simmons; and Dora Zachery.

Hall of Fame and Lifetime Achievement honors were awarded to former president of Georgia Perimeter College, Dr. Jacquelyn Belcher; Ms. E. R. Shipp, the first African American female to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for her “penetrating columns on race, welfare and other social issues” during her tenure at the New York Daily News; and community activist Cleveland Stroud, who was the first African American elected official in Rockdale County.

Eighty-two deceased trailblazers were inducted into the 2019class for their work in making Rockdale a suitable place for blacks to live, learn and make a living. Program officials stated that the list of trailblazers is a work in progress and is based on oral histories as well as written documentation.

In addition to the awards ceremony, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and Rockdale native E.R. Shipp moderated a symposium entitled “Embracing

the History Around Us,” highlighting four notable black historic sites in Rockdale, Newton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties.

Shipp was joined by Johnny Waites of the Flat Rock Archives in DeKalb, Nasir Muhammad, director of Dinah Watts Pace and the Reed House and Orphanage in Newton and Catherine Long, cultural resources manager of The Big House, a historic homestead known as the Promised Land in Gwinnett County.

The Black Heritage of Rockdale County is a voluntary association of individuals working to uncover, reclaim, restore, preserve and promote an appreciation of Rockdale County’s black heritage. Black Heritage of Rockdale County was established by E.R. Shipp, c and the Rev. Aldren Sadler, Sr. on June 5, 2017 as a Facebook group. To date, more than 500 people have joined the group.

More information can be found at

A captivated audience listened to guest speakers, enjoyed live entertainment and applauded as trailblazers were inducted into the  Black Heritage of Rockdale’s inaugural Hall of Fame.

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