An Ever-changing Town
By Awet Eyasu
Clarkston City Council Member / Historian
Clarkston, Georgia is a small town in the heart of DeKalb County which is now famously being dubbed as the “Ellis Island of the South.”
The city has evolved from a sleepy farm town with a population of less than 1,000 until the middle of the 20th century to now 14,500 with a diverse panorama of cultures from across the world. It is believed that there are over 50 languages spoken which can be easily seen in the variety of restaurants that dot the city including Ethiopian (Eritrean), Nepalese, Somali, and various small corner stores.
The story of the city as the mecca of immigration started in the early 1980s with the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees, some of whom still call the town home and also own several businesses in the city’s downtown. The rest has been an epic of continuous resettlement of refugees from war-torn places across the globe such as Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Bosnia, Burma, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iraq, and recently Syria, to name some.
Each wave of immigrants that has passed through this small town has a story to tell – a story, although very different, also very similar. Stories typically begin with long waits in refugee camps in neighboring countries of their respective native homes. Despite all the challenges of the effects of war, they have endured and reached this small town mostly with the clothes on their backs.
This would not have been possible without the several non-profit organizations that help the new residents with basic needs for the first few months and, of course, not without the generosity of the U.S. government and the welcoming nature of native-born Americans in Clarkston that volunteer to the miscellaneous organizations by donating their time, furniture, clothes, food and lots of love.
Read more of Awet's story here.