The 27th Annual Emancipation Proclamation Program was held Jan. 1 at Bethel Baptist Church in downtown Watkinsville with a special remembrance of the late Rev. Archibald Killian, who became a prominent figure in Athens.
Killian died last October at the age of 83 after battling cancer.
Numerous awards were presented at the event, along with a new honor, the 1st Rev. A.R. Killian Lifetime Achievement Award. The first person to receive this award was Tharon Johnson.
“Tharon was once in a high school mentoring group that Clarke Central High School Principal Dr. Russell Studevan and I served as advisers. Tharon stood out among these young men,” Program Chairman Marvin J. Nunnally said.
“Our goal with the Adelphi was to prepare them for life and to be a difference maker. As you look at Tharon’s accomplishments, he exceeded our goals. He is a renowned political strategist with clients throughout the country,” Nunnally said.
In accepting the honor, Johnson said, “We all know that Rev. Killian did not mince words. In our last conversation, he stressed economic development. I grew up with his children and spent many days at the Killian home on Chase Street. I am pleased to receive this award honoring a man I have so much love and respect for.”
“Let me thank Marvin Nunnally and his committee for selecting me for this honor. I am truly humbled. I do realize that there is so much work to do and we must stay on the battlefield,” Johnson said.
Killian, one of Athens’ first two black police officers, helped shelter incoming University of Georgia student Hamilton Holmes when the University of Georgia was being integrated in the early 1960s.
Others who were honored with awards during the observance were Wilhelmina Bowles, Jeanette Browning, Johnnie Lay Burkes, Betty Brown-Williamson, Bertis and Katherine Downs, Bettye Hamilton Houston, John Paul Jones, Jacqueline McClendon, Johnnie Neely, Ruth Hawk Payne, Eddie Scotland, Lawrence Scotland, Virginia Scotland-Jenkins, Wilhelmina Seals and Eddie Watson Sr.
Numerous people spoke about Killian at his funeral including:
Michael Thurmond, who in 1986 would become the first black state representative from Athens since Reconstruction, said Killian was “a man of power, a man of courage, a man who always spoke truth to power.”
“If you are a citizen of Athens, you stand on the shoulders of A.R. Killian,” UGA social work professor Maurice Daniel said.
Born in Athens in 1933, Killian attended the Burdette School of Business in Boston, became a military police officer in the U.S. Air Force and was ready to accept a job as a police officer in California before deciding to come back to Athens, where he and a cousin, Donald Moon, became the city’s first two black police officers in 1961. Killian would later join the U.S. Postal Service, and also opened the city’s first integrated business, the Four Season restaurant.