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One of East Point's first African American officers talks about joining the force in the 1960s

Thornhill says he was having breakfast with his godfather, Henry Walker, one morning, when the Chief of East Point Police sparked a conversation that changed his life forever.

EAST POINT, Ga. — Gus Thornhill owns one of the biggest and well known funeral homes in East Point.

But in 1965, he was a young man his 20s having breakfast with his godfather, Henry Walker when they saw William H. Taylor, the Chief of East Point Police.

"I told him he had to have some colored police in East Point," said Thornhill.

"My godfather looked at me and said 'Do you want to be a police officer?' I said 'Oh no, heavens no,' "he added. 

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But he changed his mind. Thornhill joined the East Point Police Department with his childhood friend, George Clifford Burnette later that year.

The pair became the first black officers on the force.

Burnette's time was sadly cut short when he was killed in the line of duty only 9 months later.

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"It was one of the worst times of my life. I learned how to grieve," said Thornhill.

Though racial tensions were high in the '60s, Thornhill says he was embraced by his fellow officers.

"The acceptance among white officers was great. My acceptance was as well, and there was no division among us at all," Thornhill said.

He served more than 25 years and retired as a Major in 1990.

Thornhill opened his funeral home in 1979. His inspiration for entering the business was Walker, once again. Thornhill's godfather was a successful mortician in East Point.

In 2000, the City honored Thornhill by renaming the street near the funeral home after him.

Now at 78 years old, Thornhill and his wife of more than 40 years have three children and 13 grandchildren together.

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