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CSU professor writing the book on county's history

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Creek Indians were once the primary residents of what is now Clayton County.

The Jonesboro Police Department had only three officers and a squad car in the 1950s.

Up until the late 20th century, the county's economy was largely based on agriculture.

Dr. Kathryn Kemp, associate professor of history at Clayton State University, is currently working on a book which will chronicle the history of Clayton County. The book was commissioned by Historical Jonesboro and Clayton County to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the county's founding. The book will be released this summer, Kemp said.

"I'm starting with the Creek Indians and going all the way up to [Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport]," she said. "I think Clayton County must have been a really interesting place 50 years ago. There was a peach orchard on Jodeco Road, and the county also had a shetland pony farm."

Violet Caren, the project manager for the book, said Historical Jonesboro's and the county's vision for the book is to "provide a historical perspective of Clayton County, from 1858 to the present."

"Dr. Kemp is a historical writer. She's a historian. She lives in Clayton County and she teaches at Clayton State," Caren said. "With all of those things, it makes sense for her to be the writer of this book."

Kemp began working on the project six months ago. Her work will result in a "coffee table book," which will mainly have old photographs which visually tell the stories of the county's past, and what the area and its people were like.

She previously wrote "God's Capitalist: Asa Candler of Coca Cola," which was published in 2002.

"One of my reasons for doing this [the Clayton project] was that I moved here in 2001," Kemp said. "This has been an opportunity to learn about the community I live in ... It is my hope there will be a sort of living account of how the county started and how it's changed in this book."

Kemp said she and her husband, Jim, have been doing research by making use of resources such as the Georgia Archives in Morrow, and scrap books owned by local families who have been in Clayton County for several generations.

She said she is particularly interested in finding materials which would chronicle the history of the African-American community, since African Americans now make up the majority of the county's population.

She said she is also curious about several aspects of the county's agricultural past, including such developments as how kudzu was introduced to the county in the 1950s and 1960s. Kemp said her research has shown that kudzu -- a plant which spreads quickly, covers anything which gets in its path, and is difficult to get rid of -- was introduced because farmers wanted to preserve the land for as long as possible.

"Like all good farmers, they were worried about erosion, so they bought into the wonderful idea of planting kudzu crowns," Kemp said. "No one could have pictured what would happen with the kudzu."