Lonzy Edwards by any measure was talented and faithful. He came to the Macon community in the late 1970s after completing law school at Duke University. When he arrived he was anointed by the State Bar of Georgia to practice law and was ordained by God to practice his faith in the community of humankind.
Combining the law and the gospel made Lonzy Edwards uniquely qualified for a leadership role in Macon’s Black community. Prior to Edwards’ arrival, the leadership in the Black community (except for the leadership offered by William P. Randall), was serviced by men of the gospel, but none had been trained in the secular law like Lonzy Edwards.
At that time, Macon’s most charismatic Black leader was the Rev. Julius C. Hope, who pastored the First Baptist Church and was largely thought of as an “outside agitator” by the Macon business establishment. Edwards arrived just as Rev. Hope was leaving Macon for a post in New York with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as their National Director of Religious Affairs.
When Edwards set up his law practice in downtown Macon, race relations were at a pivotal point. The city had chartered a new course dismantling its alderman form of government for a strong-mayor form of governance. The new charter prevented Mayor Ronnie Thompson (R) from seeking the new post. Macon’s Black community was happy that Thompson would not be able to run again.
For the first time in the city’s history, district lines were drawn which made it easier for Blacks to be elected to serve on City Council. Five Black Democrats were elected in 1975, Willie C. Hill, Julius Vinson, Vernon Colbert, Rev. Eddie D. Smith and Delores Brooks. All except for Rev. Smith now sleep with the ancestors.
Rev. Hope ran for mayor under the new city charter in 1975. He was the first Black person to seek the mayor’s office under any form of government in the city’s history. The mayor’s race was eventually won by Buckner “Buck” Melton. He served one term and left to seek an unsuccessful run for governor.
When Melton declined to seek a second term, Ronnie Thompson attempted a comeback. The Black community was horrified. Thompson was challenged by a young Republican city councilman, George Israel, who actively campaigned for the Black vote and got it.
On this backdrop, Edwards rode into town.
He saw a more pragmatic approach to solving the problems facing the Black community than Black leaders prior to his arrival. He aligned himself with Vera Martin, Don Layfield, Ron Knight and George Israel, all of whom were power brokers in the Bibb County Republican Party.
He recruited other Blacks for leadership roles in the local Republican Party, even aiding in the recruitment of Black candidates. He was a rising star and destined to have an impact on how Macon and Bibb County did business.
We can now say that he has fulfilled that destiny by using his talents and his faith. He has run the course set out for him to run. I am personally touched by his passing as many of my friends were last week when they mourned the passing of Prince.
Lonzy Edwards becomes the second co-patriot (State Sen. Robert Brown being the other) from that group of young Turks who set out in the 1970s and 1980s to move Macon from her segregated past into the future to cast down his bucket in eternity. For this reason, as with Brown’s transition, Edwards’ transition has special meaning to me.
In 1977, Edwards thought I was not being treated fairly by a publisher of a local newspaper. The publisher had kept prize money that I had won from the National Newspaper Publisher’s Association, and would not allow me to have possession of the framed award that came with the prize.
So Edwards called and asked me to come into his office to discuss setting up a rival newspaper. We met for several hours and over the course of the next several months, we met to map out the business plan prior to launching the newspaper.
Being in his law office, discussing plans for a newspaper that would give me the editorial control I did not have where I was at that time, rather inspired me instead, to find a passage way to law school.
On a more personal note, in 1979 I met Cyn Anderson, a young broadcaster who worked at WMAZ-Radio. Edwards saw us together at a political reception of some sort, and pulled me aside to whisper: “Don’t let that girl get away.”
After that, whenever he would see us together, Edwards would inevitably whisper: “Don’t let that girl get away.”
In 1981, Cyn and I married. We have shared a cup of coffee each morning since then, except for the times my work took me out of town overnight, or the four months I lived in the Smoky Mountains writing my novel Paper Puzzle. Cyn didn’t get away. Lonzy was right.
Ironically, Edwards takes his leave, like Robert Brown, in the same year he ran for Mayor of Macon. And like Brown, his mayoral opponent was the same person. They both made political blunders in their campaigns that were uncharacteristic of their sagacious political nature. When Edwards stumbled a few weeks ago in a press conference he had called, I knew something was wrong. I sent word through my brother Gerald Harvey, to have him call me and I would help him with messaging his campaign. Word came back a week later that he had decided to suspend his campaign on the advice of his doctor.
Brown and Edwards entered the mayoral race for the same reason: “There is too much blight and poverty in the Black sections of Macon-Bibb County, Georgia.”
As history records, this was the same mantra coming from Black leaders in Macon, Georgia in the 1970s when Lonzy Edwards arrived in town armed with a law license in one hand and a Bible in the other.
If we truly loved him, we truly know how to honor his life and legacy.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.