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Jewish World Review June 25, 2003 / 25 Sivan, 5763

Phil Perrier

Phil Perrier
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Maynard and me | My family moved to Atlanta in 1971. We were from New York, heading to Florida to be near my Dad's Mom. Our car broke down in Atlanta. We never made it to Florida. I spent the next 29 years in Atlanta until moving to Los Angeles 3 years ago.

This morning I went on-line to check my e-mail and I got one from my ex-wife, Judy. The subject line read "Maynard Jackson died."

It hurt. flat-out hurt. Maynard Jackson had been the Mayor of my adopted home-town for most of my childhood and I just liked the guy; sort of reminded me of my Dad; big, strong, charismatic, great voice. The kind of guy you respected without even thinking about it.

During Atlanta's darkest time, when someone was murdering black children and dumping their bodies in the Chattahoochee river, Maynard Jackson took the heat. This was not a politician saying what he was supposed to say, this was Maynard Jackson and it was obvious to anyone that seeing his babies murdered was ripping his heart out.

Sadly, Maynard Jackson's strength and compassion at that awful time was never fully appreciated. Rudy Giuliani's guts and tears after 9/11, made him a hero. But Maynard Jackson was trapped in a slow, pressurized hell; one dead child after another; it seemed it would never end. A man who deserved to be recognized as the first African-American Mayor of a major Southern city, who made Hartsfield Airport a landmark, who helped make Atlanta an Olympic city and the great modern city it is today; forced to deal with a nightmare beyond comprehension. And he did it with strength and grace.

Then, I thought about the time I met Maynard Jackson. It was 1973, maybe 1974. My family had gone to the Rialto Theater in downtown Atlanta to see the movie "Mandingo."

"Mandingo," starring boxer Ken Norton, was about a slave forced to bare-knuckle box for the amusement and wagering of his captors.

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So here my family is, the only white people in a packed theater on opening night, watching a movie about a black slave being tortured and eventually boiled alive by evil white men.

At one point Norton turned the tables on a white villain and beat him savagely; the place went nuts.

Even at 8 or 9, I remember questioning my parents judgement about their choice of movie and venue. But, I also wanted popcorn and a coke. So Dad forked over a huge bill- probably a $10- and I headed for the concession stand. After buying a big bucket of popcorn and a coke for me and a coke for my brother, I headed back toward the theater, but as soon as I turned around I saw Mayor Maynard Jackson, surrounded by a clutch of theater-goers, and he was looking right at me; possibly thinking "What is a white kid doing at the Rialto on opening night of 'Mandingo?'"

But he was smiling at me. That huge Maynard Jackson smile. I didn't even think, I just headed right toward him; the crowd around him parted like the Red Sea; all looking at me, stunned, probably thinking "What is a little white kid doing at the Rialto on opening night of "Mandingo?'" I walked right up to him, carefully cradeling the cokes and bucket of popcorn so I could free a hand to shake his.

"Be careful not to spill your drink son," he said, as he bent his massive frame over double to shake my hand. He grabbed my hand firmly and smiled that neon-blue-eyed smile of his. He may have asked my name, I can't remember, all I can remember is that great big warm, smile, his eyes never leaving mine. I got the distinct impression that he liked me. Maybe he thought "This kid's got guts."

We said our goodbyes and I shuffled back to catch the tail-end of "Mandingo," leaving a beaming Maynard Jackson and a retinue of people silently pondering what had just transpired.

All the tension seemed to drain out of the theater then. What was there to fear? My friend Maynard Jackson was there.

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JWR contributor Phil Perrier is a Los Angeles-based writer and stand-up comic. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2003, Phil Perrier