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Listening Project:

The Keysville Listening Project

Keysville, Georgia is a rural town with a majority black population. In 1985, when African-American residents organized the Keysville Concerned Citizens group, there had been no elections in Keysville for over fifty years, even though the town was incorporated. Keysville Concerned Citizens worked for years to reactivate the town and to elect officials as a means of developing basic, long needed services such as water, sewage and fire protection.

The Concerned Citizens group received strong opposition from some of the town's white residents. However it was successful in electing town officials and developing new programs and services for people. In the process though, the town became divided along racial lines. Original plans to form a biracial town government failed and community improvement efforts received no support from white residents. The national media picked up on the story all along the way and Keysville was presented to the nation as a prime example of racism and racial tensions in the 80's.

In the summer of 1989 a Listening Project sent bi-racial teams of Listeners out to the white homes in Keysville. The white members of the listening teams came from other communities. The goals of the project included opening up lines of communication and understanding between black officials/organizers and white residents and to develop new ideas and plans for interracial community improvement work.

The Keysville Listening Project was successful in a number of ways. Listeners found white residents who were supportive of the town government and community improvement efforts, but they had been too afraid to speak out. Now they began speaking and acting out. Two white residents came out publicly in the Augusta city newspaper in favor of community changes and others became the first whites lo work with blacks on organizing a community event. One woman, the widow of the man who had been they main opponent of reactivating the town became an employee of the activist Keysville Mayor, Mrs. Emma Gresham.

Some Keysville residents responding to the Listening Project survey started out negative, but then they became more positive as Listeners were able lo clear up misunderstandings and better inform residents about past and present community improvement efforts. Keysville organizers followed two of the Listening Project recommendations by starting a newsletter to keep people better informed and by starting a bi-racial Mayors Advisory Committee on Human Relations. Supportive whites, identified by the Listening Project are now serving on that committee.

One of the results of the Listening Project was a five page report with the Listening Project survey results. This report helped Mayor Gresham with a State Representative whose support was essential for State approval of a new, more progressive Keysville town charter. "He really was impressed with our Listening Project report," said Mayor. Gresham. "He can't say now that I only represent the black community, which is one reason he used to give me for not helping us..."

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