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Historical Society unveils marker
Sign commemorates Darby Lumber Co. case
092611 DARBY LUMBER MARKER 01 web
Georgia Southern University Museum director Brent Tharp, left, reads the text of a new historical marker erected by the Bulloch Historical Society on Zetterower Avenue Monday. Steve Darby, center, the grandson of Darby Lumber Company founder Fred Darby, attended the dedication with daughter Alison, center right, and wife Regina. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    On an unassuming tract of land, now enveloped with a patchwork of weed and kudzu, the Bulloch County Historical Society gathered Monday to recognize the site as a launching point for a landmark case in American legal history.
    Members of the historical society along with city officials converged at the South Zetterower setting, located adjacent to Statesboro’s Memorial Park, to unveil a plaque documenting the site’s historical relevance.
    A large marker, with the area’s historic tale emblazoned in gold-leafed letters on each side, now stands as a reminder of the role a Statesboro business played in spurring change to labor laws across the country.
    “We’re delighted to have the story preserved here, and we hope it will encourage others to seek additional information,” said Dr. Brent Tharp, Director of the Georgia Southern University Museum, who presented the marker. “It is a great opportunity for us to take a look at history by marking this story of national importance.”
    The now-abandoned grounds were once the host of Darby Lumber Company, who in 1939 became one of several lumber companies in Southeastern Georgia indicted by the federal government for violations of the newly enacted Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
    The company, which was founded by Fred Darby in 1919 and grew to be one of the largest and most prosperous employers in Bulloch County, became entrenched in a legal battle that culminated with a 1941 Supreme Court decision affirming the federal government’s ability to regulate employment conditions — including the ability to set a minimum wage for workers.
    More than 70 years later, the FLSA still applies standards and regulations to businesses throughout the country.
    “This is a very historic event, and to not have it commemorated publicly was a shortcoming that needed to be corrected,” said Joe McGlamery, Vice President of the Bulloch County Historical Society. “We are grateful for the opportunity to do that.”
    “One of the functions of a historical society, we think, is to preserve local history,” he said. “These historical markers are designed to do just that — and to educate our community, and future generations, about historic events and personalities that we have been blessed to have in this community.”
    The group funded the marker, which is the first in the city, with grant monies from the Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Foundation. According to McGlamery, the historical society plans to dedicate others throughout Statesboro.
    As part of a regular meeting of the Bulloch Historical Society held at RJ’s Steaks and Seafood prior to the unveil, Georgia Southern political science professor Dr. Patrick Novotny presented an overview of the landmark case (United States v. Darby Lumber Co.).
    “After spending many, many hours looking through historical archives and newspapers from that era, I assembled a remembrance of a story of how a thriving and much-respected business in the heart of our community found itself all the way in Washington, D.C., in the hollow chambers of the Supreme Court,” said Novotny. “More than 70 years later, Statesboro, Georgia still is very much present in debates taking place in courts and in the halls of our legislature at the very highest levels.”
    Family members of Darby — Darby continued to operate Darby Lumber Co. in Statesboro under the newly imposed FLSA guidelines once determined by the court to be in violation of the act (failure to observe minimum wage statutes and failure to pay overtime wages) — were in attendance Monday for the presentation and dedication ceremony.
    “On behalf of the Darby family, thank you,” said Steve Darby, the grandson of Fred W. Darby. “If my grandfather and grandmother were here, they would be beyond pleased.”
    “We are very honored to have this done,” he said.
   
    Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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