Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Former Gov. Roy Barnes speaks to a full auditorium of students and staff at Newton High School on Thursday morning as part of the school's Black History Month program.
COVINGTON -- Newton High School kicked off its Black History Month celebration Thursday with one of the school's most notable visitors to date.
Roy Barnes, who served as governor of Georgia from 1998 to 2002, spoke to a packed auditorium during a special school assembly Thursday morning.
"To have someone of Gov. Barnes' stature is a tremendous honor for us," said school Principal Roderick Sams. "We are very excited."
After musical and spoken word performances from Newton students, Barnes briefly reminded students to learn about and remember the past.
"Sometimes we believe the conditions we have today ... were always there," he said.
But he told them of his life in Georgia, which included not attending an integrated school until he attended the University of Georgia
"I have seen changes that have occurred in education," he said. "I have seen changes that have occurred in voting."
He said Newton County would not have its first black sheriff and the country would not have its first black president even just a few years ago if it weren't for historical leaders.
"This would not have happened by themselves," he said. "I want to challenge you -- all of us, black and white -- to remember people who went ahead before us."
He said this does not only mean Martin Luther King Jr., but others who marched, fought and even died to give the rights that are here today, including W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes and Crispus Attucks, among others.
"Don't ever forget these that went before us ... those that changed us," Barnes said. "Don't ever forget we are one people ... from all over the world that built a nation full of hope, full of promises and full of a great future."
Four NHS students served as assistants for Barnes Thursday during his visit.
"He seems like a humble guy," said junior Zahava Thompson-Kennedy. "You should never forget about the past. ... It's not just about a black celebration -- it's about everybody celebrating culture, especially for us because we are such a diverse school."
Barnes is seeking another term as Georgia governor in the November election.
The school will hold another Black History Month assembly Monday featuring U.S. Rep. John Lewis of the 5th District of Georgia.