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By Boyd Lewis:
From the autumn of 1969 till three years later, I was the news editor of the most militant black newspaper in Atlanta .This city lays claim to be the most race conscious city in the nation. It was the hub of the great revolving wheel of the Civil Rights Movement. Atlanta provided the generals and the grunt troops to the great push to put Ol’ Man Dixie back into his wormy box built by slavery and sustained by segregation.
The postponement of the Aug. 28 corporate gala that was to officially freeze Dr. King at dreaming is a actually a good thing. Now a serious deliberation begins about the very liberal/radical economic remedies Dr. King would suggest to Great Depression II if he were a guest on the Rachel Maddow Show today.
Dr. King would tell Rachael the root of today’s economic misery and human anguish must be laid at the door of out-of-control capitalism and dehumanization of working men and women.
At the end of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was organizing a “massive coalition” of all people and races suffering under a dysfunctional capitalism to gather in the fall of 1968 in an encampment of moral suasion built of tents and plywood for tens of thousands in Washington for a Poor Peoples Campaign. Its purpose was to rip the veil of invisibility from the face of poverty and to organize the poor, all of ‘em, to influence the national conversation of the way things ought to be. “Resurrection Cities” were planned nationwide. Outbreaks of creative, massive nonviolence was envisioned for public buildings, the streets and places of the mighty.
The struggle over the true legacy of Martin King
The spirit of those days of courage and danger, community and cause known as the Civil Rights Movement are upon us again. A whole series of reenactments, anniversary events and memorials all kicked off in 2005, the 50th anniversary of the arrest and jailing of Rosa Parks, the boycott and rise of the most majestic figure of the 20th century, Martin Luther King.
Last year there the marking of 50 years since the sit-ins protested the ban on blacks in public places. This year is the 50th anniversary of the heroic and sometimes deadly Freedom Rides throughout the segregated South. And so it will go through the rest of the decade.
L.Roscoe Poats was in hog heaven.
”Hussein,” as he and his colleagues called him, would be a one term president after all.
Hellfire, said Roscoe to himself, knocking the ash off his Swisher Sweet. We could run that witch lady from Delaware and still drive Obama out of the White House.
Poats was a former Georgia governor, now directing a secretive PAC channelling hundreds of millions of dollars into attack ads, many of them total distortions of fact, personal slander, with overtones of violence and racism. A little rough but OMG, those Koch boys paid sweet money.
He punched up the FOX Broadcasting channel on his IPod2 for President Obama’s press conference. “Hussein” was expected to announce the agreement of himself and his party to outright privatization of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in exchange for a token raise in the ceiling on the $14 trillion national debt…
My first assassination was in 1963. I had just entered Memphis State University as a freshman journalism major. I graduated from Whitehaven High School in the South Memphis suburb of Whitehaven that summer. I was in the very last of the all-white student bodies of Whitehaven. Integration came to Whitehaven with the class of ‘64.In my senior year the buzz was furious: The colored are coming to innegrate Whitehaven and ain’t no stoppin’ em. Damn shame! I had somehow developed a keen distaste for the casual racism of Memphis. A popular movement for basic human rights guaranteed by moral law and the Constitution was erupting all around and it thrilled me. Racism for whatever reason didn’t.
The Whiteman Chronicles continue.
A synopsis of what has went so far. The year is 2031. Whiteman is a southerner of a certain age and of the Caucasian persuasion. He plays by the rules, works hard and hopes life will be better for his children than it was for him.
Twenty years have gone by since the revolution. A Tea Party-Republican Corporate Monied elite took their country back by throwing money bombs into the American political and social system. They did it under the guise of helping the Beckmotized white working class who needed tax relief, smaller government and no more hand-outs to the coloreds and shiftless poor. The new social policy was called It’s Time to Thin the Herd …
2031 A.D. They had taken their country back. Yessiree, they sure did. Whiteman sipped lukewarm peppermint tea on this sleety evening, looking at the fires in the distance. He shivered and thought to himself: “but they sure as hell didnʼt have to take mine.” It had been 20 years since a volcanic eruption of unfettered power, boundless greed, crowd frenzy, and the hallucinations of long dead Mayan astronomer priests began to brutally penetrate, probe, and kick the dream of America to reshape it into one of those dreadful SAW movies.
One day, Whiteman found himself so angry, so anxious, that his head felt like the splitting rind of an overripe cantaloupe sitting in a south Georgia sun. The future he had planned for himself and his family was in ruins. Terrorism was all around him. Forces beyond his control were costing him his job, his home, his peace of mind and any hope for a quiet retirement. Whiteman had always valued control, and now he was losing it. All of his life, he had stayed generally honest. He had picked up the check and played by the rules. Now he felt as though he’d been played for a sucker. But played by who? He was angry.
How “the most dangerous man in America” was transformed into a feel-good platitude rolled out every January 15 to assure us racism is a thing of the past.
Since Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, The United States has initiated more violence than any other nation on the planet. The military and “national security” consume a higher percentage of the national budget than at the height of the Vietnam War. The gap between rich and poor has grown exponentially. Race hatred is again commonplace. What’s happening?
The last time I saw Paul Hemphill was in September 2007 at Manuel’s Tavern. I was in Atlanta for the opening of my first photo exhibit and wanted to get his opinion. I had suggested we get together for a few beers and chew over old times. Paul had been a legendary columnist for The Atlanta Journal, quitting the year I moved to the city to write his first and most successful book, The Nashville Sound.
Paul arrived late and, looking more haggard than his usual Raymond Massey self, politely passed on the beers. “Those days are behind me,” he said in a licorice-smooth Alabama baritone.
Christmas wishes from the guys in Summerhill circa 1974. The boys were members of a youth group organized by Emmaus House, an Episcopal Church outpost in Atlanta’s worst slum.
From Movement to Politics – Flanked by two veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), just-elected Congressman Andy Young shares a laugh in 1972. At left is State Rep. Julian Bond and the late State Rep. Ben Brown is on the right. Both represented Atlanta districts in the legislature.
Tales of Old Atlanta – The photo journalism of Boyd Lewis 1969-79.
These are the photographs of a bygone time and place. Paris had the 1890s. New York City the 1940s and 50s. San Francisco of the 60s. Atlanta of the 1970s had something in common with and had something unique compared to these epochs. We had the legacy of hometown hero Martin King.
The city, like Atlantis, sank long ago. Those were the rare old times.
I took the pictures. Hope you enjoy old times not forgotten.
Tales of Old Atlanta – The photojournalism of Boyd Lewis 1969-79.
These photographs come from my career as a freelance photojournalist in Atlanta during the 1970s. Half of the archive is with the Atlanta History Center, half is with me in Los Angeles. There are around 20,000 negatives, slides and prints in the collection, so the Tales of Old Atlanta might run for a little while longer.
Tales of Old Atlanta – The photojournalism of Boyd Lewis 1969-79.
This chapter may disappoint some gung-ho Atlanta boosters who may ask: Where are the pretty pictures of the skyline at sunset and lovely, leafy
To them, I say get one of those pricey enameled coffee table books assembled by Norman Shavin and revel to your heart’s content in splendid civic mythology.
It’s just my particular and somewhat skewed vision that’s on display here. I was the “white boy with the black press” and saw the different visions in my viewfinder as I wandered through the wonderment that was Atlanta on the make in the post-King decade.
Next week, Chapter Six: The rise of Andy Young
To mark the 40th anniversary of the formation of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s (physical) exit from the White House, our poor players strut and fret and proudly present this topical sketch. Scene: A conservative pet shop. Present day. A customer enters the shop with a motionless bird in a cage. Customer: Hello, I want to register a complaint. Shop-owner: We’re closing for teatime. Like a tea bag? Customer: Never mind that. I would like to complain about this bird You sold it to me saying it would parrot a bold fresh slice of the new ideas of the Republican Party and the conservative wave of the future. Shop-owner: Ah yes, the Limbaugh Lemon. Lovely yellow color, don’t you think? That’s our most conservative model. What’s wrong with it? Customer: This parrot is dead. It hasn’t had a new idea in decades. It doesn’t move. […]
Atlanta 1984. The over-produced and artistically underwhelming Alliance Theater was being challenged by pocket playhouses springing up in store fronts and warehouses throughout the city. To review all the new plays, there were enough theater critics (and publications willing to print their opinions) to form ACDC, The Atlanta Circle of Drama Critics. Stuart Culpepper (of “dia-munds” commercial voice-over fame) founded the deliberately double entendre’d ACDC to encourage professional critical commentary about Atlanta’s growing theater community. You know, like they did in Noo Yawk. As producer of WABE’s “Friday and the Performing Arts” theater show, I got an invitation to the 1984 ACDC awards banquet. Jomandi Theater would get the annual prize for best locally produced play, Joseph A. Walker’s “The River Niger,” a drama about black men struggling to survive in a racist society. The presenter, a nice white lady from Buckhead, announced the award to Jomandi for “The River […]
Atlanta’s Peachtree at 10th Street had become the porno palace and whorehouse of the Southeast by 1977. Ten of the city’s 17 sex bathhouses and yellow-front massage parlors were found within two blocks of the intersection. The Male Castle featured “love wrestling.” And Lord knows what went on in the sticky, overheated confines of Wild Mary’s, The Love Machine, Madame’s Love Parlour and the Go Go Dinner Lounge. Above the intersection’s shrieks and giggles, haggling and roaring pickup trucks full of bubbas on the make, we sat in darkness on the third floor of an abandoned Victorian mansion on Halloween night trying to conjure up the spirit of Margaret Mitchell. The six of us sat around a candle and a plaster hand from a store mannequin and sent out thought vibrations for the long dead author of Gone with the Wind to give us a sign from beyond the grave, […]
Not to put too fine a point upon it, but I couldn’t be more deep-boned Southern if I had the Bonnie Blue Flag tattooed upon my yam sack. My brother and I have documented our family’s Rebel roots to three of our four matrilineal and patrilineal lines; direct ancestors having served with the Confederate Army in Louisiana and Arkansas (one lost his arm at the Battle of the Wilderness).
Some of my direct ancestors dwelled on plantations and owned slaves. I am named for my father, who in turn was named for two uncles who were members of the Louisiana KKK. I was the last person to have lived in the dark and dumpish Atlanta apartment where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind. There’s more, but that’s laying on the butternut grey a shade too thick.
Having said that, I must say that the ghastly fandango of Confederate Congressman Joe Wilson barking like a dog at our president in a joint session of Congress in the most important domestic issue discussion we have faced since the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 makes me vomitous.
For those who remember me as the wild child of Atlanta journalism (remember the costumed gorillas who tried to arrest Fulton Commission Chairman Shag Cates for monkey business in 1976 ?) it may come as a surprise to learn the my first job in the city was with The Atlanta Constitution. Tom McRae, the courtly managing editor of the morning newspaper hired me in the summer of 1969 after I was chased out of Meridian, Miss. by the KKK for reporting on the police killing of a 14-year-old black kid.
Tom must have sensed something crusading in me, a potential throwback to the Jack Nelson era of golden glory for southern newspapers fighting the good fight against fear and hatred. Maybe.
I wound up on the copy desk. Like most, it was a horseshoe of tabletops with the scowling, elephantine chief copy editor in the middle, barking “copy!” like a terrier. every five minutes He checked stories for trim length, headline fit and everything for potential libel. Since the days of Ralph McGill, segregationists had walloped the Consti with libel suits on an almost weekly basis. It was their way of strangling a free and inquisitive press. But it made the Consti very careful about checking the facts.