The Rev. Harold Cobb believes he was more of a member of a team working to better his community than a groundbreaker for Black Newton residents in county government.
Cobb was the first Black county resident elected to the Newton County Board of Commissioners in 1976 and served parts of three decades on the county’s governing body.
He also led the committee that organized the annual Martin Luther King Celebration from 1985 to 2017.
Cobb, 80, is a Newton County native. He recalled he ran for a seat on the Covington City Council five times before he earned the District 4 seat on the Newton County Board of Commissioners.
He served until 1996 when he left the commission to return to college and earn a degree in theology.
Cobb recalled he ran for the commission seat to bring more recreation services to the city and county.
“I saw a lot of things I wanted to do to improve the city and county,” said the longtime church pastor.
After serving in the military, he returned with a “desire to work and be a part” of improving the quality of life in his hometown.
However, he said he won election in an effort to better the whole county — not just one part of it, Cobb said.
“You cannot go into politics looking out for yourself,” Cobb said.
The former commissioner served with such chairmen as Roy Varner — for which Lake Varner is named — and Davis Morgan, he said.
At the time of his election, there were few recreation facilities for anyone in the city and county, Cobb said.
Cobb said he was proud he was able to bring about construction of some recreation facilities and establishment of a “strong” recreation program.
During his time on the county commission, Cobb also saw such major achievements as the establishment of the county’s new drinking water source at Lake Varner, which opened in northeast Newton in 1992.
“The whole board really worked together on that,” he said.
He said the board at the time acted in a nonpartisan fashion and was “unique” in working together on projects without regard to race.
However, Cobb admitted that, while the commission may have worked in harmony, the county still had a long way to go on race relations.
Cobb recalled not being allowed to enter the park in the middle of the Covington Square when he was young because of his race.
As a result, he rarely thought about the statue honoring Confederate war dead in the middle of the park.
The century-old monument has proven divisive in recent years. Some community members have called for its removal because they said it was offensive to the county’s Black community.
"That statue never even crossed my mind,” Cobb said.
He said he believed the statue should be removed but “put in the right place” and not destroyed.
“A statue can’t hurt me,” he said. “It’s not something I’m going to cry over.”
After working for everyone from Lithonia Lighting to the city of Atlanta, Cobb left his seat on the county commission to return to college full time and earn a theology degree.
“God told me to work for him,” Cobb recalled.
He ended up pastoring or helping to pastor six churches in three counties, including White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Conyers where he remained 12 years.