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  1. Everybody Loves the Sunshine. When you think of garbage? Think of Memphis! (Sorry, Akeem.) That is meant in the most honorable way possible. At its centennial, America and its populating, industrializing cities had a means to deal with its garbage. As a citizen, you carried your solid waste to a dump, whereby the piles would get washed into nearby rivers and streams. Alternatively, you just cut out the middlemen – rain and wind – and tossed it into the waters yourself. Not much of a technological innovation, no. But it was an upgrade from the good ole days of tossing rubbish into streets and alleys near one’s own home. Or burying personal trash in backyards along with the daily human waste. Either way, cities were known for their foul odor. Notably Memphis, the swampy, humid river town by the mighty Mississippi River, after New Orleans the South’s second-largest city, whose creosote-laden wood-paved streets only added to the pungent aroma as they decayed. None of this was good for Memphians’ long-term health, but it all served as great breeding ground for mosquitos. Over two decades before Walter Reed would get famously credited for establishing the nexus between that annoying insect and the yellow fever, an outbreak of the illness that made its way up the river from New Orleans wiped out a chunk of the city population. Having already suffered through four epidemics in fifty years, once word spread in 1878 of the deadly disease, over half of the over 40,000 Memphians, those with means, fled the city. Of those who stayed, nearly three-quarters of that population caught the illness, and almost a third of that sick subset perished. Among those who could not leave were thousands of African-Americans. While their population was ravaged by the African-rooted yellow fever, too, perhaps due to genetics, they had a vastly lower fatality rate. The abandoning upper- and middle-class White citizenry virtually handed them the keys to the city. African-Americans were suddenly permitted to serve as the city’s first, and last, responders – police and fire, nurses, coroner workers – while also holding municipal positions in city hall departments. Such employment opportunities wouldn’t last long after the epidemic passed. Reconstruction ground to a halt, and Jim Crow reared its ugly head. But Memphis and its returning citizenry would take sanitation super-seriously in the following years. No more combining sewer and storm water. An artesian aquifer source provided fresher drinking water in time for the city’s rebirth. And a new citywide service was getting rolled out: routine trash collection. By the 1930s, transformed from being known as America’s filthiest city, Memphis was now celebrated perennially as this nation’s cleanest. Unfortunately, garbage collection and disposal were not desirable occupations. And they were not rewarded well, not for the growing proportion of African-American laborers to whom these jobs fell. Industrializing America was building its middle class through the world wars, and public investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, and emerging technology were boosting the nation and its cities into a renaissance. The rub, for many Americans who benefitted from this growth, was the growing recognition that “public” anything means one might have to share some of this bounty with others. People we don’t know. People we don’t trust. People who don’t look like us. People who weren’t from where we grew up. People who weren’t raised the same way, nor holding the same faiths. People who weren’t already here. Them, and us. The “public”. In the Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave, the word “public” implied bravely sharing public revenue, public services, public space, public welfare, public housing, public transportation, public schools, public recreation, public accommodations, public elections and governance, public-sector jobs, and their benefits, with any and all of these People, in the neighborhoods, villages and cities we called home. The fearful resistance to these notions – desegregation, integration, equality – was powerful, and it fostered whole industries, and cults of personality, exploiting our citizen phobias while discrediting and dismantling our willingness to rely on things genuinely “public”. Labor unions organizing for better wages and benefits pre- and post-retirement, was a momentous and impactful development in this industrial age. But when those already benefitting had to make room in their union halls for persons of other races, and gender, and religious affiliations, one didn’t need stacks to produce this much smoke. It did not matter, especially in the Jim Crow South, whether labor unions were intended to support private-sector or public-sector workers. Ginning up the fear of Communist influence was a handy-dandy tool for industrialist barons and their interconnected politicians to beat back pushes to organize labor. In the boss-machine-controlled city of Memphis, its segregationist mayor (formerly the public works commissioner) staunchly refused to acknowledge the presence of a union chartered by the State of Tennessee, one that organized to represent employees like sanitation workers Echol Cole and Robert Walker. In the absence of labor negotiation, your employer might grant you days off during the work week, or the calendar, might grant you a bonus for extra hours or above-and-beyond exertion, might allow you ample breaks for respite and refueling during the workday, might give you an avenue for raises or a promotion, might allow you time to address pressing family or medical needs, might gift you something upon your voluntary retirement from the job, might gift your survivors something upon your involuntary passing away. But none of this is negotiable, nor guaranteed to be applied fairly among your working associates, absent enforceable law. On a torrentially stormy February day in this proud-to-be-pristine city of Memphis, in 1968, as sewers and streets overflowed, Cole and Walker sought momentary shelter in the one place where it was safest for them to do so -- the back of the garbage truck, driven by crewmates. Poorly maintained by the city despite decades of employee pleas, this truck’s garbage compactor malfunctioned and fatally consumed the pair. Cole’s and Walker’s grim deaths would not be of commercial appeal in the next day’s daily newspapers. After all, Elvis Presley just gave birth to a baby girl around the same time that day. They would name her Lisa Marie. Of course, the widows would receive no insurance benefits, but offering one month’s pay for the deceased $12-15/hour (current USD) non-union workers, five hundred bucks for funeral expenses, and some half-mast flags, would serve the city well as adequate PR. Within days, most of the city’s garbage collection stopped, as incensed truck drivers and sanitation workers went on strike. The mayor’s threats and intimidation tactics went unheeded as garbage piled high. Demonstrators, inspired from a rally speech by activist Reverend James Lawson, marched down Main Street, carrying placards with the now iconic slogan, “I AM A MAN.” It would not take long before the movement brought Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to town from Atlanta. But this was just the latest endeavor that had heads scratching, Black and White, as the growing national sentiment was that the nation’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner had too much dip on his chip. The whole idea of stepping up for a bus-commuting seamstress, where he resided and preached in Montgomery, was noble and all, and that his advocacy and leadership led to the desegregation of public facilities was a bonus. Standing up on behalf of shoppers in downtown Atlanta, not far from his birth home, or travelers through Mississippi, or children killed by a Klan-targeted bombing in a Birmingham church, made admissible sense to many Americans. But what is this business of a Southern pastor moving to Illinois to protest slum conditions in Chicago? What is King’s hang-up with our “freedom”-fighting troops waging war in Southeast Asia? And what is there to gain from risking harm for himself and others – again – only this time to align with garbage workers and labor unions in Memphis? Why can’t the man just stick to his area code and rabble rouse there? Can’t he just worry about his own, “kind”? In Memphis, King would reiterate much of the thought that prevailed when he spoke at Oberlin College in 1965: “All I’m saying is simply this: that all life is interrelated, that, somehow, we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” King’s compassionate pleas often resonated because he had no need to modify them, not for the college-educated nor for the labor class. His sentiments were not exclusive to his parishioners, or followers of his personal faith. “You are demonstrating that we can stick together,” he would praise the sanitation workers three years later, in what would be one of his final addresses. “You are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny…” As you might imagine, all of this demonstrating, collaborating, debating, inspiring, was not only dangerous for a subject like King. It was exhausting, physically and mentally taxing. Everyone needs a break from their committed endeavors. For King, deep-sea fishing was his thing. He and his wife Coretta would go on vacations, to Mexico, and Jamaica, and not just to fish. Jamaica was where he completed the manuscript for, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”, and would address University of West Indies grads in a valedictory speech where he declared, “In Jamaica, I feel like a human being.” Recreational activity was not something every working American could afford, and vacationing beyond one’s home was fraught with risk, for traveling African-Americans, of encounters of the worst kind with those who might see them as something less than human beings. Nonetheless, vacationing allows people to get better in touch with themselves, while often allowing ourselves the joy of feeling in greater touch with humanity and the larger world we inherit and inhabit. King understood this, and he made sure to mix the business of civil and human rights advocacy with pleasure. Among his favorite deep sea fishing haunts was off the coasts of South Florida. Miami Beach, in particular. [This is as good a place to drop the details of today’s Atlanta Hawks game with Miami’s heat (3:30 PM Eastern, 92.9 FM in ATL, TNT). Carrying on…] “Oh my God, it blew that place wide open.” A.D. Moore was convening with other Miami desegregation activists at a segregated “Colored-only” motel, near the airport in the burgeoning middle-class black neighborhood of Brownsville, and when King foisted his “I Have A Dream” speech on the attendees, Moore knew their guest from Atlanta was quite the catch. “I’m telling you he was fantastic!” The year? 1960. King discovered he would wow audiences of any size by speaking of a Dream “deeply rooted in the American Dream,” tugging at the thread in that garment of destiny so many Americans dare to make manifest. He would elaborate on his Dream again three years later, in 1963, first at a freedom rally in Detroit, then two months later, most famously at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, at the close of the March on Washington, D.C. The Brownsville hotel in Miami would soon be rebranded as the Hampton House. Jewish citizens were once barred from acquiring property, but as those hardened rules relaxed, those with capital pounced on the opportunities. One married Jewish couple of Brownsville-area landowners bought and upgraded the motel with a swimming pool, a late night restaurant, and a jazz club. In the era where the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc on Miami Beach were off-limits to all but White citizens, the Hampton House was swinging nightly with African-American celebrities of all stripes, and their biggest fans of all races. As with Aretha Franklin, Althea Gibson, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Jackie Robinson, in Miami the Hampton House was the place to stay for MLK (that’s him enjoying the swimming pool, in the colorized photo above). Also, for the then-named mega-star, Cassius Clay, who liked to reserve the room above King’s on the new second floor. It was here where the world’s most renowned athlete would have his victory party upon vanquishing Sonny Liston, and would make fast friends with Malcolm X, initiating his conversion to Islam and the new name of Muhammad Ali. (as depicted in the 2020 Regina King drama, “One Night, in Miami…”) King’s final moment of life was at a motel balcony in Memphis. But his final days were filled with recreation, specifically, fly fishing in the Bahamas. Ostensibly. His friend and fishing guide in Bimini, Ansil Saunders, recalled, “we didn’t have time to fish, because he just wanted to write at that time.” King drafted his Nobel acceptance speech here, as he would his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address in Memphis. But he would also gain refreshment by connecting spiritually with his fishing guide. “Ansil, you made me feel so close to heaven,” Saunders shared of King speaking in what would be his final vacation. “I feel as though I could almost reach out and touch the face of God.” By insisting on giving his messages about local injustices global meaning, Atlanta’s King is regarded highly in every corner of the globe, probably more than any enterprising or politicking American. This nation’s first MLK Day Parade was organized not in Atlanta, or in the nation’s capital, but in Miami, less than a decade after his death, and continues today down MLK Boulevard in Liberty City, just east of the revitalizing Brownsville community where he once loved to lodge. Murals of King and his famous quotes are easy to find in Liberty City and Overtown. Much is made of King’s dogged global pursuits to combat the forces of injustice, here and abroad. Just as instructive was his commitment to work hard, play hard, pray hard, rest hard. The phobic resisters to the civil rights movement would not rest until they fomented unrest for King and his growing legion of followers. They failed repeatedly, even as the Drum Major for Peace now rests in peace. In our pursuit of a more perfect union, Americans are today confronted daily by propagandists, professional contrarians, brutes in “alpha-male” disguises, and privatizers, handsomely paid from around the world, hell-bent on stripping bare the value of public institutions, marketing violence, exploitation and avarice the sole perceivable paths to personal peace. No “collective bargaining” allowed, the boot-strappers will insist. “All men are created equal” is superseded in this milieu: it must be “Every man for himself,” and only if we dare to count you as one of us men. King’s voice cuts through the din as sharp and as clear as it did in his heyday. It reminds us of our divine interconnectedness, and of our need to occasionally disconnect from the clamor, in order to reconnect with where our strengths truly derive: the diversity of our livelihoods, our environments, our families, our faiths, our dreams, melting together in this pot of righteousness. The pursuits of genuine justice across the lands, and not simply for ourselves and those we individually hold dear, figuratively and often literally requires some offshore fishing. We must strive to nurture a bionetwork, where when we think of garbage, we think of where it goes, and of the people who make their living handling it for the benefit of everyone’s health. An ecosystem, where our future fishers of justice can lay their bait deep, and not suffer the indignities of reeling in the garbage strewn by those who came before them. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. Building up… Tumbling down. You’ve heard the one about the Atlanta pastor who drew inspiration while in Nazi Germany? Michael King, Sr. was among a traveling party of the Baptist World Alliance, touring Wittenberg and other European sites associated with the Protestant Reformation of the early 16th century. Standing in post-Great War Berlin in 1934, the BWA boldly convened at its quintennial World Congress to defy practices of “racialism” and antisemitism, particularly those becoming prevalent under the direction of the German nation’s newest chancellor. Attending the conference, at least one of the 30 Black ministers in Berlin, Michael, had additional transformative ideas. Michael learned a lot during his European tour about the writings, influences and legacies of a Protestant reformer, one who stood up to the all-powerful Roman Catholic Church leadership to question its customs and underlying moralities. In just five years, the next BWA World Congress would be held in Michael’s home city of Atlanta, where he would be an organizing chair. Michael would be tasked with assembling, in 1939, possibly the first fully-integrated meeting of leaders in this center of America’s Jim Crow South. By the time BWA leaders had arrived in Atlanta, Michael King, Sr. bore an all-new first and middle name. The pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church updated his name shortly after his return from Europe. His namesake child, “Little Mike,” would get his name changed, too. Just five years of age when his father dared to cross the Atlantic and speak truth to power, “Little Mike” had little choice about getting acclimated to this whole “Martin Luther” business. But he was granted some latitude as to whether he’d follow his father, now Martin Luther King, Sr., behind the pulpit. “This is not to say that he ever spoke to me in terms of being a minister,” the junior MLK would scribe about his father in an essay, “An Autobiography of Religious Development,” as a young adult in 1950, “but that my admiration for him was the great motivating factor. He set forth a noble example that I didn’t mind following.” From a far more privileged position, Ivan Allen, Jr. didn’t mind following his father’s footsteps either. Son of a state senator, local booster and founder of Atlanta’s Rotary Club, the junior Allen returned from reservist duty in World War II to work for Georgia’s governor in the statehouse, before accepting a plea to take over the family business of office supplies and furniture that his father was making famous. From his boyhood home, an estate on Peachtree Road a few miles north of Atlanta in the unincorporated community of Buckhead, Allen was raised a segregationist, and he ran as such when entering politics. Still, he failed in gubernatorial races for the crime of being a city-slicker Atlantan, “out of touch” with Georgia “values.” The Georgia Tech grad and Chamber of Commerce president was evolving, though, in the dawning age of Federally enforced desegregation. Addressing his audience after soundly defeating stauncher segregationist Lester Maddox in the pivotal 1961 election for Mayor of Atlanta, Allen revealed he had drawn inspiration from a recent visit to Germany, too. “It was in Berlin,” Mayor Allen recalled during his inauguration, as recounted in what would be ironic fashion by Time magazine, “that the tragic and dramatic lesson of what happens to a divided city came home to me, and if I could make you see it as I saw it, you would share with me my feeling that Atlanta must not be a city divided.” What Mayor Allen observed was the physical and societal imposition of the new, massive Berlin Wall, constructed that year by East Germany and splitting families and livelihoods into separate, unequal, and crudely enforced zones. A businessman through and through, the junior Allen was beginning to see the myriad of ways segregating people by fiat would prove ultimately bad, for commerce. But he had to travel abroad to more deeply grasp the impacts of such decisions applied back home. Including his own decisions as Atlanta’s new mayor. Another World War II veteran had returned home, having participated in the theater of war at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day. Seeking out a peaceful postwar existence by resuming and completing his education, Clinton Warner obtained his master’s degree, then a medical degree. Eventually, he returned from the training in the Midwest to open a private practice as a physician and breast surgeon in Atlanta. Dr. Warner sought out a pleasant home in the emerging western subdivision of Peyton Forest, south of Gordon Road in Atlanta’s west side and not far from the city’s grand Westview Cemetery, the Southeast U.S.’s largest. Peyton Forest homes were nestled in a tree-shrouded area that was once the site of the Civil War’s Battle of Utoy Creek. There were no more cannons to be fired in this bucolic cul-de-sac. Still, a whole different battle, around Warner, was only beginning. Dr. Warner, you see, was a graduate of Morehouse College, one of Atlanta’s prominent cluster of Black universities. Black colleges, like Black neighborhoods or Black schools or Black banks and retail businesses, came into being because there were rarely other options for non-White citizens. Not, at least, in the Jim Crow South. However more progressive Atlanta was being perceived, relative to its Southern peers, White citizens did not “take kindly” to upwardly mobile Black citizens declining to move in with their own “kind.” Warner’s move to his 20-acre lot, Allen would later write in his memoir, “set off a Holocaust among the Whites.” “Blockbusting” was becoming all the rage in the ruthless real estate industry. Pay Black citizens to mingle in White neighborhoods, then advise White homeowners of the “threat” to their property values, coaxing them to sell and move further out of town at a markdown. Turn around, sell to a Black buyer with limited options, like Dr. Warner, at a markup. Then keep spinning with the scare tactics, the profiteers enjoying perpetual windfalls as grumbling sellers and hamstrung buyers pointed fingers of varying color at one another. The digits also pointed squarely at City Hall to do something. Allen’s longtime mayoral predecessor, William Hartsfield, always thought there was a compromise around the corner, usually one involving a hard bargain for the Black citizens. There’s no segregation, Hartsfield thought, if we let Black golfers swing on public courses on Mondays and Tuesdays, and they leave us be for the other five days of the week! While cities like New Orleans were already doing this, SCOTUS would not go along with that silly measure. The 1955 Court order ruling, against Bobby Jones Golf Course and the city, didn’t go over well in Mayor Allen’s Buckhead, the ritzy Fulton County area incorporated into Atlanta just three years prior, or anywhere else in town where segregated co-existence had been the order of the day. As Dr. Warner would later experience firsthand, Black citizens and their families were threatened relentlessly with their livelihoods for daring to desegregate, and it took years before the agitation relented. Mayor Allen drummed up a compromise, too. He vowed to have the city purchase undeveloped land near Peyton Forest and develop separate, yet somehow equal, residential homes, if Black leaders would agree to keep their citizens out of established White communities. (Hartsfield had tried this ploy with the golf courses, only to run into a city council reminding him they had no budget for them). As that compromise failed, there was no way for Allen to placate the skittish White homeowners who were taking their new cars, and their tax revenues, outside of Atlanta city proper. UNLESS… “Race Buffer goes up, is Hit in Court,” read the Atlanta Constitution in December 1962. By this time, “Little Mike” had been working his way through the South, organizing peaceful demonstrations against segregated public facilities, and being promptly arrested and convicted for the crimes of organizing and making trouble. Now “MLK, Jr.,” Dr. King was barely two years into his return to Atlanta, co-pastoring Ebenezer, meeting with President Kennedy at the White House shortly after being released from jail in Albany, Georgia. There was little time in the junior King’s schedule to deal with this “Race Buffer” in his hometown. Actually, there were two buffers, eventually steel I-beam-enforced wooden barriers across two streets south of Gordon Road, blocking access to Peyton Forest. Public swimming pools and parks and eateries were one thing, Allen thought. But these were residential streets, with private homes, where the neighbors wished to associate and do as they saw fit. Black protestors would arrive to rip up the wooden barricades and toss them in the creek. White allies had them replaced with trees and boulders. Then the trees got burned down, leading to the I-beams Allen ordered, embedded into deep concrete. True to form, Klansmen arrived to serve as watchmen, bearing signs that declared, “Whites Have Rights, too.” The right to exclude, the right to evade, the right to judge, to discriminate, to threaten, to harm. But what were the underlying moralities of these “rights” being so selectively and unevenly applied? The courts weren’t as bothered about moralities as they were about legalities. But Atlanta wasn’t short of citizens willing to share with Allen the moral effect of his barricades. While King, Jr. didn’t have the capacity, in terms of time, to tackle this emerging issue head-on, “Daddy King” certainly did. King, Sr. and a successor to his presidency at the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, were among local leaders issuing a joint statement calling on Allen to end, “one of Atlanta’s gravest mistakes, and a slap at our national creed of democracy and justice.” Black journals were more to the point, proliferating depictions of the obstructions isolating Peyton Forest as, “Atlanta’s Berlin Wall.” That struck at the heart of Mayor Allen’s hypocritical action, intended to quell division but instead sowing the seeds of a more “divided city.” The court system didn’t need to have its heartstrings pulled on the matter. Once a Fulton Superior Court judge deemed the barricades, “unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious,” thereby unconstitutional, Allen had the steel and wooden beams removed within minutes, forgoing any further appeals and challenges. This particular 72-day affair drawing undue international attention to the city Allen, Jr., MLK, Jr. and Dr. Warner, called home, was over. Their individual roles in the winding road of advancing civil rights at a grander scale would continue. While the legal challenge by the civil rights movement proved successful, compelling the Mayor to continue looking inward at his underlying morality bore dividends. Allen was already shedding segregationist skin on matters of public affairs. White and Colored signs came down at City Hall. Black policemen, for the first time under Allen’s tenure, could apprehend and detain White suspects. And he was brokering mutual agreements with downtown businesses to allow Black citizens to shop in their establishments. How much farther, pondered Allen, can citizens extend walls and fences, discerning who can and cannot gain entry, beyond their own property lines? Within these lines, can we continue to use race to assess who is welcome to attend our private schools, or in our commercial establishments? Should government be in the business of enforcing these restrictive behaviors? If so, what are the legal and moral bases for these actions? At the start of 1963, Allen and his administration were justifying the “right” of a White community to isolate itself from its neighbors, on the basis of race. By the summer, at the behest of President Kennedy, Atlanta’s mayor sat before Congress, delivering testimony. Allen was adding his perspective, uniquely as a White, southern mayor, on the urgent need to pass legislation protecting America’s Black citizens, not on the narrow basis of race, but on the constitutional grounds of interstate commerce. “I submit that it is not right to allow an American’s citizenship to be changed merely as a matter of convenience,” Allen testified. “We cannot dodge this issue. We cannot look back over our shoulders, or turn the clock back to the 1860s,” an era, Allen could be sure, where many of his colleagues and neighbors considered America to be “Great.” “Now the elimination of segregation, which is slavery’s stepchild, is a challenge to all of us to make every American free in fact, as well as theory.” Allen did not know, yet, that his testimony was the “One” of a one-two peaceful punch by Atlantans to drive momentum toward the United States passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The “Two,” would land the next month, as Dr. King would stand from the Lincoln Memorial around the corner in Washington, D.C., sharing one haymaker of a Dream he had with the world. Allen’s expanded alliance with Atlanta’s Black leaders had him in the type of situation as precarious as Dr. Warner faced when moving into Peyton Forest, or Dr. King faced when appearing virtually anywhere while demonstrating in the South. He and family members were subject to slings and arrows, and the pervading threat of more efficiently violent weaponry. Further, well-to-do associates of Allen no longer spoke to him, and ceased doing business with his company. The rebellion in Georgia extended beyond Allen’s City Hall. It began before his tenure, as stoked fears of desegregation and “race-mixing” in the aftermath of Brown v. Board (1954) drove the establishment of restrictive private academies and academic policies in and around Buckhead, like Westminster and Pace Academy. Down the road in 1963, The Lovett School rejected the applications of several young pupils, including Martin Luther King III, on racial grounds, creating a schism within their affiliated Episcopal Diocese. For White shoppers disinterested in sharing space with Black ones, there was a new market, literally. Buckhead’s posh Lenox Square (1959), with its concourse featuring Uncle Remus characters, ushered in an era of catering to clientele far from the Atlanta city center. Downtown dollars, retailers, and traditions like the holiday Great Tree, would find their way to the Lenox area, with suburban mall options soon to follow their lead. America’s largest trolleybus fleet was in Atlanta, as late as 1951, as the rubber-tired vehicles replaced the rail-guided streetcars. The extensive trolley network extended from downtown across most neighborhoods of 1940s Atlanta, including its first ring of pre-annexation suburbs. As desegregation of transit services, and neighborhoods, were becoming the order of the day, it was no coincidence that the electric service was privatized, then shut down completely, by 1963, replaced with diesel-motor buses. Fixed train routes extending beyond downtown to Atlanta residential neighborhoods would not be in operation for another 16 years. As for the neighborhoods these trolleys once connected, it didn’t matter whether it was public housing, segregated in Atlanta until 1968, or private – wholesale White flight in this and countless other cities were underway. As rapper Chuck D eloquently queried in 1990, “Why, when Black moves in, Jack moves out? Come to stay, Jack moves away?” Unable to legally resist integration of public places and spaces in urban areas, White citizens withdrew to areas perceived to require less, well, public. Walls and barriers would go up, just not in ways so visible to the naked eye. Gated communities, and cul-de-sacs distanced from existing streets with layouts far more serpentine than Peyton Forest, became the predominant feature of new housing construction. Atlanta’s ability to expand its borders via annexation, like its growing urban peers, was constrained for decades by Georgia lawmakers sensitive to White exurbia’s pleas. All of ten feet wide along Atlanta’s main river, the former Cobb County “city” of Chattahoochee Plantation was but one example of how bulwarks got “built.” The two-tone geographic effect within American city limits was stark. By the 1980s in Milwaukee, home to the world champion Bucks that we can only hope will graciously bow in defeat to our Atlanta Hawks today (6 PM Eastern, TNT), the colloquialism among locals of the 16th Street Viaduct, due to suggested references of continental origin, was as notorious as the adopted acronym non-transit riders in Atlanta had for MARTA, neither of which will be repeated here. Once settled in their legislatively reinforced zones, great pains are made to engage in “opportunity hoarding,” that is, withdrawing or withholding most everything of decent and beneficial quality, from public school instruction to medical care, to environmental protection, to fresh market foods. The other activity involves raising the incidence of public policies unduly, be it in matters of surveillance, housing, code enforcement, transportation, policing, imprisonment, “no-tolerance” policies, or, as you’ll hear much about these days, voting rights. Broad-brushing citizens as derelict, perpetual suspects worthy of isolation and heightened scrutiny deodorizes the nature of the policymaking. How does it all come together in neighborhoods like Peyton Forest, 60 years later? Gordon Road, the east-west thoroughfare reaching from west Atlanta through downtown, was renamed, posthumously, after MLK, Jr. South of the boulevard, the neighborhood that fought so vehemently against Dr. Warner, and all neighborhoods around it in south and west Atlanta, were predominantly abandoned by the White populace the homes, schools, retail centers and places of worship were built to accommodate. Among the citizens that have replaced them, just picking up the pieces to restore and sustain the community is fraught with roadblocks, few of their own making. Since 1979, the MARTA rail station has been within a short walking or biking distance. But because of Cobb and metro-area resistance to expansion, decent access to new and better jobs have been thwarted, as the station remains, seemingly in permanence, as the western terminus of the rail line. The victories gained from the fights over desegregation, and from expanding voting rights and political representation, have been made deliberately bittersweet with each passing year. In 2022, Peyton Forest citizens will turn on the television to be bombarded with allusions to crime, by persons who look like them and their children, being out of control. The solution, the context-free 30-second ads will blurt out over their heads, is to allow Buckhead, home to the clearly desegregated Lenox Square, to exclusively opt itself out of Atlanta, de-annexing and incorporating its own city to guide its own opportunity-hoarding and citizen-surveilling practices in earnest. The lesson we have learned, with the direction of local leaders like the juniors King and Allen, is that we know a wall being erected when we see one. The fortresses, security towers and drawbridges don’t have to be visible to recognize it for what it is. The question we should face, as a beloved community, is what are the moralities that underlie their proposed construction? Over a quarter-century before the Berlin Wall finally fell to global pressure, it took courageous leaders, like Dr. King’s admired namesake, to stand up to the powers that be and declare, “Tear Down This Wall!” But absent a moral basis, it is difficult to bring down barriers solely on practical grounds. Particularly, as Mayor Allen would come to assess, the barriers constructed within our own hearts and minds. Whether it involves a name we use to self-identify, or a perspective on how we identify our neighbors, it’s never too late in life to make a big change. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “HEY, PAL! RESPECT THE FLAG!” In the Capitol building in our District of Columbia, a United States Senator laid on the floor of the Senate chamber, unsure if this day would be his final one alive. He was swiftly losing consciousness, and his eyesight. He was being blinded by his own blood. The perpetrator of his assault: one Democratic congressman from the great state of South Carolina, armed with a thick, gold-tipped cane. Amidst an iconic, nearly 60-year-old Federal building constructed with incomparably cheap and skilled slave labor, in a new cameral wing built much the same, the Massachusetts Republican suffered blows from both the wood and the gold, all of which splintered onto the hallowed floor in a race with gobs of partisan bloodshed. Even as the cane broke apart across his head and body, he was unable to see from whence the next blows were coming. Stunned onlookers, members from both Houses of our Congress, rushed to intervene, only to be blocked by a Congressional ally of the assailant, one with a willfully violent reputation in the halls of Congress himself, and another Senator brandishing a cane… and a pistol… who demanded, “Let them be! Let them alone!” What unfurled here was no gentlemanly duel. The assailing Congressman, feeling publicly insulted by the Senator’s words towards a family member, sought to hunt down this man, in the Capitol, and deliver a taste of the irrepressible, irredeemable suffering felt through generations by untold numbers of slaves, individuals the colleague, ironically, hoped to one day free. Both inside and at all points south of the nation’s capital, there were Big Fans of the carnage Preston Brooks wrought upon Charles Sumner on that fine spring day in 1856. A Richmond newspaper editorial suggested Sen. Sumner, a self-styled “Radical” for advocating the end of slavery, should be “caned every morning.” “These vulgar abolitionists in the Senate,” the typography went on to insist, “have been suffered too long to run without collars. They must be lashed into submission.” Many non-witnesses believed Sumner and his fellow abolitionists were overselling the extent of his injuries in hopes of buying political sympathy. The golden splinters from Rep. Brooks’ cane were not collected as evidence in a trial. Rather, Southern lawmakers salvaged them, fashioned them into rings, and wore what Brooks would later describe as his “sacred relics” on neck chains, as a display of solidarity. Replacement canes from throughout the South arrived at his door, one in which was inscribed: “Hit him again.” When Sumner’s Massachusetts colleague dared to call Brooks’ brazen act, “brutal, murderous, and cowardly,” Brooks was again offended, this time challenging that Republican Senator to a duel (with pistols, not canes) that, thankfully, never materialized. He did face repercussions, eventually, for his actions. Arrested and brought to trial in a D.C. Court, Brooks was convicted, fined the equivalent of $8,500 for his assault on a fellow elected official, and was free to go without incarceration. In mid-July, mere months after the attack, he resigned from his post, thwarting House attempts at expulsion. By the first day of August, he was re-elected by South Carolinians in a special election, and deemed such a hero that a city in Florida, and a new county in neighboring Georgia, were quickly named that year in his honor (to this day, they still are). Brooks was back in the Capitol building by November. But he would live for only a couple months, done in by a nasty case of croup. The poor fellow. In his final days, he would see an empty Senate chair, left deliberately open by the Massachusetts delegation as a reminder of the effects of Southern American barbarism. One must note, his pistol-packing partner-in-crime, also from South Carolina, would not make it to the end of the Civil War, mortally wounded in battle on behalf of the Confederacy. But before his demise, two years after the cane assault, Lawrence Kiett would try to put hands on a colleague himself, in the Capitol. A Pennsylvania Republican was jeered by Kiett when he attempted to cross the aisle in the House of Representatives amid intense late-night debate in 1858. Kiett called his (White) political rival a “Black Republican puppy.” The gentleman from the Keystone State retorted: “No Negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Oh, NOW you’ve gone too far, sir. Mr. Kiett’s honor has been impugned! Kiett lunging at his fellow Congressman’s throat sparked a massive brawl of reportedly about 50 elected officials, ending only when a Mississippi rep’s hairpiece went flying as he dodged a punch, errantly placing it back upon his head upside down to uproarious laughter. Talk about flipping your wig! The Boys are back in town. Following Brooks’ lead, Kiett “resigned”, ran for his seat again as ratification for his conduct, and won re-election in South Carolina overwhelmingly. Back to Senator Sumner. What inexcusable, cane-invoking sin did he commit? African-Americans, and women of all races, lacked much of anything we would recognize as human rights today. But they were certainly easy fodder when politicos sought to rhetorically blast each other. Sumner and other abolitionists were mocked, particularly by Andrew Butler and Stephen Douglas (of Lincoln-Douglas Debates fame) with allusions that they found the Black woman alluring, thereby worthy of their heroism and, perish the thought, the prospect of interracial marriage. The slaveholder class were taking figurative jabs on the chin, too, as abolition advocates suggested their foes needed female slaves around to have someone around to satisfy their urge for non-consensual sex. Sumner was not so direct. As he argued fiercely on the Senate floor against permissible slaveholding in the bloody Kansas territories, Sumner invoked the invisible mistress of Don Quixote, the fictional hero who believed, as the tale goes, that he needed (the notion of) a female by his side, to be respected by his fellow male peers as one of chivalrous virtue. “Of course [Sen. Butler] has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him… I mean, the harlot, slavery.” Oh, snap! Rep. Brooks, Sen. Butler’s first cousin once removed and perhaps not as up on literary references as a distinguished gentleman might expect, indeed snapped. With some egging from Kiett, he set his plan for tilting at Sumner in motion. But for this heinous, bloody act, the Party of Lincoln might have become the Party of Sumner first. The Massachusetts senator suffered lingering effects from his injuries throughout the rest of his days, including what we now call PTSD. But he did see Messrs. Brooks and Kiett to their graves, as he returned, years later, to the Senate and became one of President Abraham Lincoln’s closest confidantes while their nation veered into internal war. Sumner specialized not merely on matters of abolition, but foreign affairs. He aided the President in negotiating tactics to keep the Brits and the French from meddling on behalf of what was by now the Confederate armed and naval forces. From the White House, Lincoln leaned on his Senatorial visitor, who he would come to describe as, “my idea of a bishop.” But Abe’s Congressional consultant would make clear that, for military and moral reasons, the POTUS could no longer cast illusions that emancipation for the slaves in states and territories, was not the central aim of the Union. But for Sen. Sumner, 1863’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the ensuing conclusion of civil conflict in 1865, might have been longer in coming, and to the credit of someone not rocking a beard and a top hat. A beneficiary of Sumner’s radical political activism (and survival), up to and over one century later, John Lewis wasn’t any more immune from a wooden stick. Or, a wooden crate. Beaten by random bone-breaking bigots as one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961 in Rock Hill, South Carolina, imprisoned in Mississippi’s notorious penitentiary for over a month, bashed with objects of wood, lead, steel, and stone throughout Alabama, law “enforcement” stood back and stood by, reluctant to intervene and eager to assist, not arrest, his and his party’s assailants. The spirit of Congressman Brooks lived on. There was nothing to suggest that a day might come where Lewis could enter the U.S. Capitol, not as an interloper making “trouble” for the forces of “order” of the day, but as a duly elected Congressperson, a United States Representative from the fine state of Georgia. It took a lot of slander and spite from his opposition to get there. But before any of that, Lewis had to personally overcome acts, and the omnipresent threat, of violence upon his person. The threats didn’t end once he reached the Capitol, either. But Rep. Lewis was inspired, propelled forward from his impressionable teens to his elderly grave, by something greater than the evil that men do. A fan of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. since he first heard him on the radio at age 15, Lewis would come to meet Rosa Parks and King in short order. After writing a letter to King about his being denied attendance at Alabama’s Troy University, Lewis’ hometown public college, he was invited to Montgomery to meet with King, warmly received as “The Boy from Troy.” Rather than risk the young man’s family coming under attack by suing the university system for discrimination (imagine weighing this public act at age 18), Lewis was advised by King to go to a Tennessee HBCU, to pursue his education, pursue his dreams of ministry, and bring forth King’s ideals of Non-violent Direct Action into being. Well before adopting his pastor father’s new Lutheran-inspired name in his twenties, a youthful Michael King spent his days hooping in a lot behind Fire Station No. 6 on Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue. Perfecting his set shot, the chances young Michael could grow up to make a living as a professional basketball player was up in the air. One thing that was out of the question – he could never aspire to work as a firefighter, not in this segregated station that sits mere yards down the street from his birth home. King would go on to change that narrative, not for himself, but for the new kids and young men like Lewis who looked up to him for guidance. What he came to espouse was the way of Non-violent Direct Action. But he would always urge his followers that a lot needs to occur, first, before conducting the sit-ins and boycotts that would seize the consciousness of this nation. The essential first step: by educating yourself, and questioning your sources of information, ensure that there is a legitimate issue worth addressing. Step 2: educate others about the issue at hand. Step 3: petition and negotiate with those likely to oppose you on the issue, seeking cooperation before making them out as arch enemies of your cause. Step 4: if those steps do not bring forth meaningful change, pursue Non-violent Direct Action. Our problem, learned through history and not just this month, is not just the preference to engage in Direct Action through violent means, but to simply hop right on over Step 1. What we love to do is to fanfic, LARP, and cosplay our way into crafting concerns out of thin air. Dressing up as the aggrieved and ingesting downside-up rhetoric (e.g., “George Wallace? David Duke? Pshh. John Lewis is The Real Racist!”), subversionary tactics trivialize the appeals by generations of people for whom “liberty”, “freedom”, and “justice” rarely apply equally. A full-throated industry today thrives by applying those patriotish labels to any manner of advocacy and defenses for policies and practices that objectively harm the disadvantaged, and against any measures remotely aiming to remedy them. For the privileged, the invocation and perpetuation of moral panic, futhering justification of violence, is a perfectly exhilarating way to pass the time. ‘Tis but a hobby, like macrame or cornhole, that one can share with their family and friends, only with symbols of intended intimidation and subjugation, rifles, ammo, bombs, and flowery shirts for a touch of fun. Onward, Boogaloo Soldiers! To “Freedom”! We will drive right past the re-purposed dead Walmart, with cages of adolescents cloaked under the guard of paid Federal agents and contractors, to insist that the real and present danger to the livelihood of children could be lurking in the new Super Walmart’s ladies room. Or, in a pizzeria basement in DC. Or, in a box from Wayfair that might’ve been disguised online as a $12,000 cabinet. Before we don our tricorne hats and shout through the bullhorn, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”, Step 1, people. “School choice!” we exclaim, while stripping publicly funded schools of the resources they need to be viable choices, while curling our lips when students who look like Anthony Edwards and De’Andre Hunter are offered seats in the private and charter schools we promoted after desegregation and conveniently “chose”. “Religious Freedom!”, we’ll insist, until a religious leader outside of the “Moral Majority” preaching about equality makes us fear conceding the fruits of privilege. “Respect the flag!”, until someone not fond of remedial busing policies (above) elects to use one to tenderize a Black passerby in the streets. “Honor the Troops! Back the Blue!”, we demand, until it’s time to back a retired military member and police officer up the Capitol steps in the hunt for politicians we’ve been told we must despise, until it’s time to bash an officer with a Back The Blue flag for standing in the way while we play our racist reindeer games. “Stop the Thugs!” we declare when it’s the shattered glass and looted property at the College Football Hall of Fame gift shop that gives us pause. Not so much when the shards fall from the many doors and windows of the nation’s legislative branch. Those thugs, we are assured, are instead divinely empowered patriots. The Subversive Word of the Month is “Unity”. After the failed Capitol coup ten days ago, the individuals who Capitol-ized their careers on fabrications over America’s voting and election processes, items never their concern when gerrymandering and “How Many Jelly Beans Are In The Jar?” was on the table, now want “unity” with colleagues targeted, by those the individuals ginned up by leaping over Step 1. “Hey, you election fraudster you, sorry we were within minutes of possibly getting zip-tied and hanged by folks wrapping their bigotry in red, white, and blue while reeking of AXE Body Spray and Skoal. Let’s come together and put this anger and division behind us!” If you brought anger and division to, and through, the front door, you don’t get to stand inside the house pleading for unity. Our Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves play this afternoon (2:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP, NBA TV) on what is billed as the first of four “Unity Nights”. Unlike those who would deem votes cast at State Farm Arena and throughout the Peach State as suspicious and illegal because they didn’t get the result they enjoyed four years before, these calls for “unity” are sincere and founded in facts, not fan fiction. “A Call for Unity” was exactly what ministers in Birmingham were pleading of Dr. King and civil rights leaders in a 1963 newspaper editorial, after boycotts, marches and picketing were well underway in the city center. Unity wasn’t sought to correct the systemic denial of employment and fair wages to Black citizens, not when the desegregation of a middle-class neighborhood led to bombings so frequent the place was nicknamed, “Dynamite Hill,” not when leaders responded to desegregation orders by closing parks and public facilities outright, not when leaders complaining of the violence would find their homes, businesses and houses of worship bombed in turn. Dr. King could not pick up a paper on the day of the editorial, because he was locked away in a Birmingham jail. It was here, from his cell, where he responded with, “Why We Can’t Wait,” a letter that began on the margins of the newspaper he was handed. Responding to claims of being the impatient outsider and agitator of the movement, King asserted that, in stepping to him but not their oppressive local leaders, the ministers had glossed over Step 1. His presence, as an American citizen invited to help the disenfranchised peacefully pursue purported ideals of justice and equality, in the face of decidedly non-peaceful government-endorsed and extra-judicial violence, was not the problem. Agitators convinced these ministers to errantly believe that King, and civil rights leaders, were The Real Agitators. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” “Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds,” and “justice too long delayed is justice denied,” were among King’s scribbled responses that struck at the heart of the true matter. Another of his Greatest Hits: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Having spent decades studying the issues on religious, academic, political and social grounds, King stood firmly on Step 1. He educated others on the issue, and he and his followers advocated through peaceful pleas. No shortcuts allowed. No one of sound mind and heart in Birmingham budged, not until after King, Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph David Abernathy and others had reached Step 4. By 1963, the Civil Rights Movement had ample reason to Stand Their Ground, employing Non-Violent Direct Action to foster the “tension,” among the otherwise comfortable, needed to bring meaningful negotiation to the fore. 58 years later, a Texas leader who took cover just hours before returning to the Capitol grounds, in the wee small hours of the morning, had come across a new issue worth literally fighting for: the folks we cast as fraudsters stealing our election our calling us out as liars! Oh, snap! How dare they? It was fitting that as he charged at his accuser, he was stopped cold in his tracks by a former NFL player named Colin. This African-American footballer decided long ago he could not simply, “Stick to Sports!”, and ran successfully for Congress. From Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Jim Brown, to the athletic heroes of the present day, sportsmen have long been entwined, sometimes wittingly, usually not, in the aspirations of politicians. Sometimes as the lightning rod, other times as the chastening rod. The very night before Election Day, on a bitter cold night in a swing state, the Commander-in-Chief was out of ideas to energize the crowd and boost his deflating poll numbers. With no prompting, no rationale, he thought he had his finger on the problem. A no-good, do-gooder athlete from the swing state next door. “How about basketball? How about LeBron? I felt very bad for LeBron, very badly, down 71 percent,” espoused dear leader, assuming his shivering crowd was as up to speed on Nielsen ratings as his own approval ratings. “I didn’t watch one shot… you know why? When they don’t respect our country, when they don’t respect our flag, nobody wants to watch!” This was his best effort at a closing argument to keep his job. He got the “LeBron James Sucks!” balloon inflated among the rally-goers. But he lost the swing state, and lost the election. Mr. President slipped past Step 1, on many fronts; now, he cannot fathom stepping aside, especially to a political rival he tormented, and to the African-American who will serve next in line. He pivoted quickly to Pied Piper-ing his followers to the next “issue”: people who look more like LeBron than him, casting the decisive ballots in that state and others, like Georgia. On the eve of runoff Senate elections this month, he made his last stand alongside a gubernatorially-handpicked Senator who alienated her WNBA employees by publicly criticizing their demonstrations over police brutality in hopes of political gain. She lost, too. “How about basketball?” We will lean on, and prop up the likes of Jim Bunning, Herschel Walker, Reggie White, David Tyree, John Rocker, Curt Schilling, Josh Hader, and stand for their First Amendment rights if they espouse views we wholeheartedly agree with. Otherwise, the rest are ordered to Shut Up and Dribble, unless we absolutely need them to quell unrest or further our own political aims. We’re told votes for folks like Colin Allred, the former Tennessee Titan who upended a 22-year congressman in Texas, might be illegal and must be investigated with the highest of scrutiny. The system wasn’t designed or jiggered for folks like him to be our representatives; clearly, there’s some “issue” here! There is an issue, it’s just not the ones we craft to make our bigotry comfortable. In the early hours of January 7th, Rep. Allred’s most pressing issue was the exposed colleague from the other side of the aisle who, rather than deal with his own exposure, tried in vain to pull a Rep. Brooks on the Pennsylvania colleague who impugned his character. At least this time, unlike 1856, a duly elected Black citizen could stand in the way, rather than being castigated to the margins of society, as privileged noblesse dueled over his family’s fates. “Haven’t you had enough violence today?”, Allred asked of the would-be assailant. Indeed. Amid the cane-rattling, Rep. Brooks likely didn’t care to notice how the Capitol of his day was under expansion. Above him and his victimized subject, Sen. Sumner, with the assistance of slave labor, a new ellipsoidal dome was underway. The iconic structure would soon be topped by The Statue of Freedom. One highly skilled slave, Philip Reid, was paid $1.25 per day over the course of nearly a year to cast and plan the transport of the statue. Reid would be emancipated in 1862, shortly before the statue that stands tall today was placed in its permanent spot. Under that statue-topped dome, a man who John Lewis gave his first internship as a teenager will soon be checking in for work. Georgia’s first Jewish senator will be joined on that day by a reverend who would come to caretake the Ebenezer Baptist congregation the late Rev. Dr. King left behind. Their pending introductions as United States Senators will be more than poetic. She was one of 15 protestors rousted up and zip-tied under Georgia’s state capitol rotunda in 2018, back when voter suppression was simply the way to play the game, and when “Every Vote Counts!” chants while standing peacefully in the building was an illegal obstruction worthy of detention. Then a Georgia state senator, Nikema Williams will be awaiting Jon Ossoff’s and Raphael Warnock’s arrival from the other chamber of Congress, having won the late Rep. Lewis’ House seat. Those who will propel our society and this nation forward, and not into a descension of interpersonal violence and brooding despair, are those who don’t sit idly by, those who speak truth to power, but who are also are well-versed on true issues, not scare tactics, misinformation, nor threats and acts of violence for the sake of sustaining imbalanced order in one’s own favor. When you’re armed with truth, no canes, gallows, flag poles or fists are necessary. Like Sen. Sumner, Dr. King and Congressman Lewis, some of Georgia’s newest entrants headed to work beneath our Statue of Freedom understood that to reach solid ground, and to stand genuinely and heroically for us all, you must first work your way through Step 1. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. The Pause That Refreshes. (2:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL, SportsNet One in TOR) “You all need to decide...” 55 years ago this month, one of Atlanta’s greatest citizens had turned 36 years of age. One month prior, he was in Norway, with the Nobel Prize for Peace being bestowed upon him. What had become, during the 20th century, the world’s most renowned accolade, was granted to this unelected, non-politician, non-official young adult. The 14th American, the second African-American, and the youngest human to that point, ever to be a singular Laureate. “First person in the Western world,” noted the Norwegian Nobel Committee of the soon-to-be 36-year-old minister, writer, orator and activist, “to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence.” That’s deep. He was the first Georgian, and the first Atlantan to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In the ensuing weeks, the prosperous members of his native city’s civic, religious and political community needed to decide how it wanted to collectively honor him. More specifically, Atlanta needed to decide IF it wanted to collectively honor him. Like, at all. Since the resurrection of the city in the aftermath of the Civil War, Atlanta has long prided itself by its civic boosterism, its ability to build business, to sustain business, to excel in business, its prominent leaders in academic, social, political, and religious life geared to promote prosperous local commerce, like no other city in the New South could. Economic competition, above all else, propelled the movers and shakers of Atlanta into fervent daily action. How remarkable it was, then, as 1964 was turning into 1965, that the white-collar movers and shakers of the city that surged from the ashes like a phoenix, found themselves shaken to the point of inertia. By the daunting prospect of hosting and attending the city’s first-ever multiracial formal dinner. You wouldn’t know it, today, by the drab parking deck and Dunkin’ Donuts that sits in its place along Forsyth Street, in the Fairlie-Poplar neighborhood that sits a stone throw away from State Farm Arena. But the center of Atlanta prestige at that time was the Dinkler Plaza Hotel, formerly the Hotel Ansley before a prominent family-run hotel chain took over in the 1950s. Since its opening in 1913, proclaiming itself proudly as open to “every Southerner,” as a “home to all Georgians visiting Atlanta”, the only thing allowed to be black at Hotel Ansley were the tie events. Persons of color were barred from the hotel, including the first African-American to receive the Nobel Prize. He was a diplomat and delegate who helped the United States mediate between Egypt and Israel and form the United Nations in the 1940s. But for Ralph Bunche, seeking a quality room in 1962, Atlanta’s Dinkler Plaza was always too booked to serve him, or anyone remotely looking like him. Less than two years after spurning Bunche, and one year after proudly hosting a White Citizens’ Council meeting featuring segregationist governors George Wallace and Marvin Griffin, the Dinkler was approached by Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, Archbishop of Atlanta Paul Hallinan, and Mayor Ivan Allen to host a gala in their city’s largest banquet hall for Atlanta’s own, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What to do? What to do? Some of that kind of “decision-making” was suddenly being taken out of businessmen’s hands, here and elsewhere. Just three days after Dr. King’s Nobel Lecture in Oslo, “The Quest for Peace and Justice,” the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling against a downtown motor lodge around the corner from Dinkler Plaza. A motel that humorously branded itself the “Heart of Atlanta” needed white men in black robes to confirm for them the Commerce Clause of the Constitution was not overstepped by Congress’ passage of 1964’s landmark Civil Rights Act. Proudly welcoming “every Southerner,” it turns out, means you’re willing to engage in and profit from interstate commerce, so Federal laws apply. Yes, black citizens and visitors could finally stay in Atlanta hotels and motels, in America’s hotels and motels, without reservation, with a mere reservation. That didn’t mean the hotel owners had to like it. Now, this town’s prestigious Dinkler Plaza was being asked to host a celebration for one of the Civil Rights Act’s most noteworthy advocates? And a black citizen, at that? What was happening in this era, forged by King and a growing array of civil and human rights leaders, was the decoupling of “peace” from “order,” establishing through law and spirit a linkage instead between “peace” and “justice.” Maintaining “order” requires instilling a centuries-long culture of fear and violence, a world where cruelty, whips, lynching, rocks, nightsticks, bullets, fire and bombs buttress societal subjugation and dominance. In that culture of fear, all of that is necessary for some to feel “at peace.” It becomes a matter of convenience to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself, when you are empowered, through “order,” to assess and enforce who your neighbor can and cannot be. Promoting “justice” requires a basis of unconditional love and nonviolence, a world where handshakes, thoughtful words, selflessness, fairness, critical thinking and sincere hearts open infinitely more doors than they close. In that culture of love, a world of just deeds is engendered where the pen is, indeed, mightier than any sword could ever hope to be. For their roles in helping oversee and encourage the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, Rev. King’s and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy’s home were firebombed, along with several black Baptist churches, by the actors of “order.” King took great pains to remind his anguished supporters not to seek retaliation, compelling and inspiring with the application of Biblical scripture. “We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us,” Rev. King pleaded. “We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.’… We must meet hate with love. Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement.” In a culture of fear reinforcing “order”, not looking like intended subjugates is insufficient to shield a supporter of the suppressed. Unnerved by racial injustice in Alabama and elsewhere, Rothschild convened in the 1950s with Christian clergy and prominent black leaders, like Morehouse University president Benjamin Mays, to broker a peaceful path as the city of Atlanta faced the realities of court-compelled desegregation. While the resultant “Ministers’ Manifesto,” calling for peaceful interracial negotiation and obedience to the law, could not be signed by him due to its heavy Christian language, the rabbi published his own endorsement of the ministers’ appeal in the local newspapers and Congressional record. Those words made Rothschild, like King and Abernathy, a target for the actors of “order,” as a series of death threats, and then 50 sticks of dynamite in his Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple, would make clear in 1958. Actors in the culture of fear take solace in the thought that, no matter their circumstances in life, someone different than them, by way of how, where, or in what circumstances they were born, is and shall always be beneath them. Many draw their inspiration from those of their past who resorted to organized violence and callousness to seize whatever exclusive graces the bequeathed enjoy in their present day. Sharing any such graces is the relinquishing of what makes such actors feel special, predestined, a cut above. As the projected fear of getting usurped by outside forces binds the actors of “order,” they resort to tools of violence and intimidation. Their targets are the “agitators” of their sense of order, be it a fellow like King, or one like Rothschild. Those actors of ill-intent hoped to incite fear, but the 1958 explosion instead furthered a bond of love that spanned faiths and skin colors. Steeled by his principled stances, members of Rothschild’s congregation at The Temple took local leadership positions easing, for example, the peaceful integration of Atlanta’s public schools, which began in 1961. He would not yet know he would be delivering Dr. King’s eulogy less than four years later, but in late 1964, Rothschild, working with Mays and Hallinan, would be chief organizer and master of ceremony on behalf of the Nobel Prize winner. If only he and Mayor Allen could encourage Atlanta’s movers and shakers to host and attend the proposed event. Facing legal pressure, Dinkler Plaza relented, and the date and time were set. But no one was RSVP’ing, least of all the city’s business leaders. To them, the “agitators” in town were not people sneaking around bombing things, menacing people at public swimming pools, chasing people off luncheonette counters. No, the “troublemakers” were people like Dr. King himself, getting arrested at Rich’s Department Store, picketing alongside striking workers at Scripto Pen Company. They thought: Can’t that man just stick to schools, drinking fountains, and bus terminals? What’s next? Where will it end? When King spoke of “Injustice anywhere…”, he meant it. It was certainly not lost on him about the ongoing struggles for fair labor practices and conditions throughout the country. Including in January 1964, when the fledgling National Basketball Association, minutes away from presenting their All-Star Game on national television for the first time, faced the threat of all 20 players, black and white, striking if the owners did not acquiesce to recognizing the newly formed, pension-fighting players’ union. Whether you were Bill Russell, or Tom Heinsohn, it didn’t matter in Dr. King’s mind, if your injustices were being willfully ignored. Whether you were a high-achieving professional athlete in Boston, a soldier following questionable directives in Vietnam, or a striking sanitation worker in Memphis, chances are good you were inspired by Dr. King. Even if you weren’t, Dr. King, his family and his followers would be inspired by you. His all-encompassing advocacy was roiling the business community, who worried about the effect of bad press – more on that in a minute – on business relations well beyond Atlanta. Whether they were segregationists at heart or not, whether they understood it or not, the culture of fear still enveloped The City Too Busy To Hate. The culture of fear strikes at not only the hearts of subordinates, their advocates, and the perpetrators, but the perpetuators as well. Attendance by prominent white locals at the upcoming banquet was feared as a tacit acquiescence of Dr. King’s activism. No matter the feelings or misgivings about the Court rulings favoring civil rights over the prior ten years, it wasn’t the men in the *black* robes giving them pause. Especially in the aftermath of The Temple bombing, many white business leaders feared what smoldering might await them if they were so much as perceived to align with King. Facing the very culture of fear meant for them to thrive in, the prevailing view was that it was wise to decline any invitation requests, staying silent on the matter if at all possible, in hopes it would all blow over, in hopes of what they believed was “peace,” for the sake of good “order.” As we say in modern parlance, they didn’t want none of that smoke. Among the most prominent civic leaders was Robert Woodruff, who took over The Coca-Cola Company in 1926 and transformed its signature beverage product, its packaging, and the company itself into items of global renown. Writing a letter, banquet organizers hoped Woodruff, Atlanta’s most successful former chief executive, would help spur local leaders to abdicate their reluctant positions. There was no response from his office. Not a peep. Not much until after, “Tribute to Dr. King Disputed in Atlanta,” published shortly before New Year’s Eve by the New York Times. In this nation’s paper of record, the article cited the cool reception for the Nobel Peace Prize winner from so-called progressive business leaders, and it reported on an unnamed bank executive working behind the scenes in hopes of undermining the event. In Atlanta, we love to profess not seeing color. But anytime a bad look from the press threatens to cut off the city’s pipeline of green, this town’s boosters see red. Mayor Allen sought out the Coca-Cola patriarch at his remote Newton, Georgia plantation to plead for his assistance. Woodruff dispatched his new Coke CEO, Paul Austin, to be the heavy on his behalf at a hastily convened meeting at the Piedmont Driving Club, the private common ground for the elite among Atlanta’s white elite. As Andrew Young noted, Austin was a Georgia native, but spending over a decade in South Africa before returning to Coca-Cola made it clear to him how the ways of “order”, in the form of apartheid, were (not) working for them. At the Piedmont meeting, Young recalled that Austin looked Atlanta’s leaders in the eyes and made it plain, in term$ they could understand: “It is embarrassing for Coca-Cola to be located in a city that refuses to honor its Nobel Prize winner. We are an international business. The Coca-Cola Company does not need Atlanta. You all need to decide whether Atlanta needs the Coca-Cola Company.” Within hours of Austin’s reported ultimatum on behalf of Woodruff, the honorary event had its sponsors aligned, and its tickets sold. 55 years ago next week, the gala went off with hardly a hitch. Black and white citizens enjoying a celebratory feast together, in 1965? Peacefully? Who knew such a thing was possible? /s Things go better with Coke. Also around this town, things have gone better with Delta Airlines. That Southern-based company had already moved from Monroe, Louisiana to Atlanta in the 1940s, flying the corporation directly over Public “Safety” commissioner Bull Connor’s Birmingham along the way. But when the time came in the 1950s to establish an international hub to reach South and Central American destinations, Alabama’s largest city, virtually equivalent in size to Atlanta and the “Pittsburgh of the South” due to its dominant iron, steel, and manufacturing industries, and its airport was back in play. Birmingham and its host state could not woo Delta’s hub from Atlanta mayor William Hartsfield’s grasp. Not while Alabama cities were gaining negative reputations outside the state under the grip of Governor Wallace, hardening their segregationist stances in the face of Brown v. Board. Atlanta leaders presented a more welcoming, tolerant face, and being in the same time zone as New York and D.C. didn’t hurt, either. Desegregation in Atlanta was happening, if not happily and swiftly, with less government-sanctioned violent resistance, and that positively impacted reputations, and commerce. By 1963, to accommodate a new black senator and his pages, newly elected Georgia governor Carl Sanders ordered the “White” and “Colored” signs above fountains and restrooms to come down. Sanders did the principled thing without fanfare, simply recalling later that he “went ahead and did what I knew what the law said to do.” Meanwhile, he boasted, “George Wallace was over in Alabama, standing in the schoolhouse door.” If you’re looking to grow your business interests, climate can be a huge deal, and not just the temperature and rainfall. Repercussions of the paths “A City Too Busy To Hate” and the city that became known as “Bombingham” chose with their respective social climates are clearer over fifty years later. That goes far beyond Delta’s decision to help grow the World’s Busiest Airport here, or Coke’s decision to keep its roots here, or United Parcel Service’s decision to move to our sprawling metropolis in the 1990s. When the nation’s largest professional sports leagues decided to expand and relocate into the South in the 1960s and 1970s, Atlanta made itself the obvious choice. When America’s Olympic Committee wanted to pursue a Centennial Games that showcased the growth of the New South, the locale decision was made easy. When we want to fly to Peru, or Peoria, when we want to catch a MLB, NFL, or NBA game, we don’t have to haul it over to Alabama. It’s not just the dominant economic foothold that a landlocked Atlanta metro gained ahead of its Southern peers, with its Top-20 global economy (based on GDP) today hosting 16 Fortune 500 company headquarters (including Coke), 4th-most in the country. It’s the reputation of Atlanta’s enterprises that stands out as well. Last week, the AJC reported a survey finding that among the top-ten most trusted brands, three are right here in the ATL (Chick-fil-A, UPS, and The Home Depot). Our local leaders in business, faith and governance are far from perfect. But when they stub their toes on matters of civil and human rights, be it the police department or CFA or Atlanta Spirit Group, you can bet Atlantans will give them earfuls, in an assertive but nonviolent way, until they decide to evolve. It’s the culture we chose long ago, one that happens to keep us relatively prosperous and economically competitive, a culture prompted by Dr. King and propagated by our civil rights leaders. (photos via Jameelah Johnson, @JameelahJNBA on Twitter) It is not lost on Coach Lloyd Pierce and the Atlanta Hawks organization that we should offer our local legends their roses while they are here. The scars from John Lewis forehead remain visible from a skull fracture he sustained as a 25-year-old in Selma on during the 1965 March to Montgomery, one of many injuries he sustained as a young Freedom Rider and marcher for justice. Co-founder with King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Reverend Joe Lowery was crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge as well. In Florida, St. Augustine was the scene when Andrew Young was leading demonstrators downtown and to a still-segregated motor lodge swimming pool (the one where the motel owner infamously poured acid into the pool in hopes of scaring off the protestors, and a cop jumped in to arrest the swimmers), when he was attacked by angry, racist mobsters. As was the case in Selma, Young was jailed in St. Augustine, where the police allowed members of the mob to come into the jail to assail the demonstrators further. They protested, suffered, and proceeded, undaunted. When presented the choice to succumb to the wills of the actors of fear, with their livelihoods and those of their loved ones under persistent threat, with much more to personally lose than just Coca-Cola, they flatly declined. These heroes and many others continued to push Dr. King’s ideals of The Beloved Community, both alongside him through the end of King’s life, and beyond, here in Georgia and throughout America and the world. “Our goal is to create a Beloved Community,” Dr. King wrote, “and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” Atlanta and the world beyond benefits both qualitatively and quantitatively by the rippling effects of our civil rights leaders’ resolve. “We have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence, or violent co-annihilation,” King would later state as America lurched yet again toward international conflict. “This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.” Every day, in many ways, our local, national, and global society is presented with a similar choice. Atlanta’s prize-winning peace advocate, Dr. King, offered us a means to choose wisely, to choose better, for everyone’s benefit. A culture of love, nonviolence and justice, or a culture of fear, violence and loathing? We all have to decide. Happy MLK Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  5. “MIIIIIILES PLUMLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” Arriving in the mid-1990s, my first place of residence in Atlanta had no sunlight coming through the front windows. The rear windows allowed a picturesque view of the late John Portman’s stylized downtown skyline, almost exactly the one popularized in postcards and on TV shows. But by the time the sun’s light creeped through those windows, after work, it was already setting in the west behind those hulking skyscrapers. For the first year of my life in Atlanta, the imposing multi-story structure across the street shadowed my humble, 60-year-old studio apartment, the factory’s broad windows and former entrances solidly boarded. One fading word on that building gave a hint of its past glories: “Scripto”. The world-famous writing pen and butane lighter company was an Atlanta institution, with nearly a thousand workers at this plant for over four decades before moving to the OTP ‘burbs in 1977. Not long after the factory and office buildings were shuttered, the daylight was about the best thing anyone could hope for while living in that area. Here was the makeup of the block around this defunct building: a probably-unlicensed taxi company; a five-dollar barber shop; maybe the Northern Hemisphere’s last speakeasy; a tire repair company and storage lot; a pool hall; and a “dance” club, where there was more standing around and posturing than legit dancing. Surrounding this block: weathered, poorly-managed apartments; trap houses whose tales would soon make rappers famous; and Fulton County’s drug and alcohol treatment center, a package store within view of its front windows. The area around the Scripto building slept during the day, but the streets and their inhabitants came “alive” at night, especially on Friday and Saturday nights in the ‘80s and ‘90s. If, by, “alive,” you could count beat-heavy music bumping from cars, and ladies-of-the-evening, a few of them actual ladies, negotiating with suspiciously slow passers-by through their car windows. Bitter, boisterous, bullet-riddled arguments over lost wagers and bargained wages, were de rigeur on weekends under the moonlight. This scene wasn’t all that unfamiliar, I suppose fortunately, to Atlanta’s newest arrival from Philadelphia. Still, my one place of solace lied just two blocks south, at a tomb, surrounded by a reflecting pool, containing the remains of Atlanta’s, and America’s, most prominent civil and human rights advocate, situated between the church he and his father once led, and his birth home. This area was not always this way. It would not be for much longer. In December 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Oslo, Norway, accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace. The day after flying home from Scandinavia, the Nobel Laureate joined members of his Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, marching in the Sweet Auburn streets with striking workers from the nearby Scripto Pen Company plant, demanding equal pay for both its skilled and nonskilled laborers. The year of ’64 was a pretty big one in the City Too Busy To Hate. Just days before King marched with the Scripto picketers, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the owner of a hotel just across the freeway from the plant. In a landmark case, the Court found that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution allowed Congress to compel private businesses like his to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, enacted earlier that summer. Many downtown businesses, notably Rich’s Department Store, were already taking the hint by then, thanks to student sit-in protests like the one in 1960 at Rich’s, where King was arrested. Atlanta’s public schools, like the all-black high school right down the street from Scripto that was celebrating multi-sport star and recent graduate Walt Frazier, were in their third year of wrangling over the federally-mandated demands to desegregate in earnest. Atlanta civic leaders, led by mayor Ivan Allen, were also pushing to become a major-league sports town in the early 1960s, but America’s pro sports associations were dealing with the stark realities of newly integrated teams needing to travel, lodge, and eat together. To facilitate the relocation of baseball star Hank Aaron’s Milwaukee Braves to The South, the city turned to a pair of local Jewish immigrant brothers turned hotel magnates, who constructed the Americana Motor Hotel downtown. Its opening years were marked by Klan demonstrations, and the resistant racists setting a fire in one hotel owner’s driveway, a scene similar to the cross-burning in King’s lawn a couple years before. But Dr. King and civil rights leaders, unintimidated, convened meetings and stayed at the Americana, even before it officially opened in 1962. The hotel deliberately featured no water fountains, since the city’s ordinance still required those amenities to remain segregated. By the spring of 1964, construction of Atlanta Stadium was underway, and the hospitality at the Americana would help convince MLB to move the Braves south. It wouldn’t be much longer before a pro basketball team from St. Louis would come east. In January of 1964, King was named Time’s Man of the Year. That same month, a collection of NBA All-Stars, including St. Louis Hawks draftees Bill Russell and Wayne Embry, threatened to strike and not participate in the game, if owners continued not to recognize the players’ union and its demands for worker accommodations like pensions. Facing the prospect of national embarrassment as minutes ticked by on their first nationally-televised event, the struggling league’s owners and commissioner relented. King may very well have been inspired by the bold 1964 NBA players’ boycott, as by the year’s end, he was touting the need for civil rights to expand its scope beyond public accommodations to issues of collective bargaining with local governments and private industry. In a TV interview discussing the Scripto strike that December, King declared: “We have decided that now is the time to identify our movement very closely with labor,” adding, “There will be many more to follow.” The Scripto strike and the national boycott of its products, promoted by King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, proved successful within a matter of weeks. All employees were granted Christmas bonuses and wage increases, and Scripto’s CEO and other business leaders begrudgingly attended the city’s formal celebration of their newest Nobel Laureate. But the advancement of the Civil Rights Movement, under King, into matters of labor, industry and, soon, war-making, unnerved people across the sociopolitical spectrum. An array of “Stay In Yo Lane”-style warnings from Malcolm X to J. Edgar Hoover flooded into King, some cautions more threatening than others. Hoover’s malicious missive to King, masqueraded under the guise of an angry Black citizen, was typed shortly after King was announced as a Nobel Prize winner, yet King returned from Oslo to support the picketers anyway. An AP photographer who followed MLK during that time, and snapped a picture of him with the Scripto strikers, was forewarned by her mother. “Honey, be careful. I’m afraid, someday, someone’s going to try to kill that man.” The mother’s concerns proved prescient. Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, 50 years ago this April, while in town convening with striking sanitation workers. Near coincidentally, just a month later, Atlanta developer Thomas Cousins and former Georgia governor Carl Sanders announced the St. Louis Hawks would come to play in King’s grieving city in the fall of 1968. Until a new arena could be built, the Hawks would hoop it up at a coliseum at Georgia Tech, the Deep South’s first higher-education institution to peacefully integrate without a court order. The wild-west-meets-dirty-south nature of the neighborhood I moved to in 1995 would change drastically within a few years, thanks to an oft-tempestuous but eventually productive relationship between divergent King Family members and the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) to expand the King National Historic Site from Auburn Avenue to Freedom Parkway. The Scripto factory and surrounding buildings were cleared by the time of the Olympic Games, and the roughneck street became the tranquil parking entryway for the historic site, with its new museum, Gandhi statue, civil rights walk of fame, and Ebenezer church building. The King Center eventually became the nation’s most-visited site under NPS management. Signing a bill by Congressman John Lewis, the former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader, the President formally designated the memorial site an upgraded National Historical Park, the first in the state of Georgia, just days ago. What’s in the area now? The Freedom Parkway trail connecting downtown with east-side neighborhoods and the Carter Presidential Library. Gentrified (yet integrated) apartment and condo towers, including one replacing my old building, with fountains, porches, salons, a popular local drip-coffee shop, and far superior downtown vistas. While the surrounding area continues to have its share of struggles, the only drugs publicly sold these days now come from behind a CVS counter. Our Hawks are fortunate to play in an American city with such a rich history of advancing, however arduously, the principles of equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. As Atlanta’s foremost citizen, Dr. King serves as not just an annual inspiration, but a daily one, that we should not feel shackled to the accomplishments and setbacks of the past, to the shortcomings of our present-day, or to the constraining expectations of others around us. A lot of things had to go right, and a lot of tugging in the direction of justice had to happen, before a kid would take the risk of reversing his once-enslaved family’s century-long migration north of the Mason-Dixon line, much less become a supporter and long-winded thread-writer for a local team where fans can, today, come together from all corners of life to cheer. While sleep was often a chore as a new resident, I was fortunate to be able to rest nightly within a stone’s throw of where Dr. King, and later his equally-advocating wife, Coretta, are laid to rest for eternity. The depth of our NBA team’s recent, deliberate downturn in on-court success pales, by comparison, to the unjust hills and valleys our citizens around the globe strive to overcome. Hawks fans might not get to enjoy victory today at The Highlight Factory, as Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs (3:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Southwest in SA, NBATV everywhere else) pay his disciple Mike Budenholzer a visit. The wins for the home team will continue to be few and far between for the foreseeable future. But we know things around here were not always this way. And they won’t be, not for much longer. Sunnier days, dreamier nights, and grander victories, will eventually come if Hawks players, fans, staff and owners commit to thinking smartly, endeavoring patiently, and celebrating our advance toward the NBA mountaintop, together. How long? Not long! Happy MLK Day! And Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  6. “…one day, on the red hills of Georgia…” It’s “A Day On, Not a Day Off” for millions completing service projects around the country and, particularly, in the hometown of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many volunteers will then choose to sit back and relax at Philips Arena, getting serenaded by Regina Belle-Battle, and hoping their Atlanta Hawks won’t take a day off against the Orlando Magic (5:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Florida, NBATV). If They Could, Orlando fans would Make It Like It Was back in December, when the Magicians went 10-5 (after starting out with what was already an impressive 9-8 record) and earned Scott Skiles an Eastern Conference Coach of the Month nod. Going 13-5 between Thanksgiving Eve and New Years’ Eve, the best mark in the East during that span, had the O-Town faithful feeling they’d entered A Whole New World, at least one different than the seasons after the Stan Van Gundy era came to a close. That was before a 1-6 skid this month, interrupted only by a road win versus Atlanta’s last vanquished foes, the Brooklyn Nets. On the whole, the 20-15 start has the Magic all set to eclipse their 25-57 record from last season, the high-water mark of the prior three seasons. But fans who recall the abbreviated success of James Borrego last season know that things can de-escalate quickly. Over the past six calendar years, Orlando has overcome the Hawks just once in 11 road trips to the ATL. Without a road win over a team with a current winning record, the Magic would love a victory against their division-champ rivals to start turning things back around. But they would have to do it while dealing with a lot of moving parts in the backcourt. The Magic offense has gone “poof!” ever since point guard Elfrid Payton (5.8 APG, 8th in the East), hobbling since mid-December, was shelved a couple weeks ago to heal an ankle bone bruise. Victor Oladipo slid into Payton’s spot and has shot the ball well lately (70.1 TS% last five games). But ball movement has not quite been to Skiles’ liking, as if there’s anything that Skiles likes. Only the Nets (94.7 points per 100 possessions) have a lower offensive efficiency in January than Orlando (95.2 O-Rating in January; 104.9 O-Rating in December, 1st in East; 19.3 January O-Reb%, last in NBA). Just as concerning for the Magic has been the lack of transition-scoring opportunities since Payton starting having issues with his ankle. Steals per game have gone down from 9.3 in December to 5.7 this month, while opponent turnovers declined from 15.3 last month to 11.3 in January. Payton returned and played briefly in the Magic’s loss in London versus Toronto, but Oladipo sprained a knee taking a charge during that game and is now out indefinitely. It was Oladipo’s fourth-quarter heroics that allowed the Magic to nearly pull a big win out of their hat against the Raptors in London last Thursday, before falling short in overtime. Sidelined since November, guard C.J. Watson had a setback in his plans to return from a sore calf and is also out indefinitely. Shabazz Napier has been under the weather as well, prompting Orlando to nab D-League star Keith Appling over the weekend. Despite the intercontinental flights, Payton’s ankle should be well-rested following a four-day layoff that allowed the Magic to scout two Hawks games. Elf’s return allows Skiles to field his December starting lineup again, but expect to see a lot of rookie Mario Hezonja backing up both Payton and Evan “Never Google” Fournier. In Orlando back on December 20, the Magic shot just 4-for-12 from deep against the Hawks and proved to be no match for the Alabaster Blaster. In perhaps his last successful long-range shooting display, Kyle Korver went off in the second half and finished with 6-for-8 three-point shooting for a team-high 19 points, including the game-winner with 44 seconds left, as Atlanta seized back the lead to edge the Magic in a 103-100 victory. Korver was joined off the bench by Mike Scott (3-for-5 3FGs, 15 points vs. ORL Dec. 20), who can be can’t-miss so long as he isn’t, like, dunking or anything. Orlando will try to counter with Fournier, Hezonja, and a suddenly-struggling Channing Frye (42.2 3FG%, 7th in East; 15.4 January 3FG%). But Skiles must also encourage his array of supporting-cast bigs (including Aaron Gordon, habitual Hawk Killer Jason Smith, and Andrew Nicholson) to get out on the perimeter defensively and keep Atlanta from figuring out which Hawks have a hot hand. Aside from Oladipo, the Magic shot just 4-for-16 on threes in London on Thursday, and despite out-shooting Atlanta over the course of the season, their January swoon of 31.1 team 3FG% ranks just 25th in the league. The last time Skiles’ team needed a sharp-shooting mid-season boost, his Bucks shipped a hardly-used Tobias Harris to Orlando in exchange for a half-year rental of J.J. Redick (you, too, Gustavo Ayón and Ish Smith). It’s safe to assume Skiles won’t let Harris get away so easily again. Now the highest-paid Magician on the payroll, Harris has been a delight for those trying to forget the last guy who wore #12 in the Magic Kingdom. His scoring is down to 13.6 PPG from 17.1 PPG last year, but that’s in part because Skiles implores Harris to de-emphasize scoring and model the versatility of stretch-forwards like Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh. Tobias’ interior shooting is at a career-best 51.9 2FG%, while he is also posting career marks with 7.2 RPG and 2.1 APG. Fan voting for the All-Star Game in Toronto concludes at the stroke of midnight tonight, ushering in the coaches’ voting phase. Coaches, like the fans, vote in two guards and three frontcourt players, but they also elect two wild cards from each conference. Isaiah Thomas has argued his case since the season started, and John Wall has been carrying the Wizards through adversity all year. Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving are locks whether they start alongside Dwyane Wade or not, and you can’t leave Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan out in the cold. Thus, the coaches will be inclined to grant both wild card spots to guards, leaving guys like Atlanta’s Millsap (2nd in East in PER, 3rd in per-48 Win Shares and Box Plus/Minus, 4th in VORP) and Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (4th in East in FG%, 9th in PER) in a squeeze play for three precious frontcourt slots. Despite the surge by Carmelo Anthony to the third starting spot in the East, Andre Drummond is too tough a case to snub. There’s plenty of love for his fellow yung’uns Kristaps Porzingis and Hassan Whiteside, while Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh get their Lifetime Achievement sentiments. LeBron James has a lot of pull to get His Guys in, so it will be hard to keep Kevin Love out, especially since then-first-place Atlanta got four All-Stars last year. Then, there’s the dismissive You Had Your Turns Already attitude toward mid-market semi-stars. That means for guys like Sap (career-highs of 18.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 BPG) and Vooch (career-best 2.8 APG; 20 points and 11 boards vs. ATL on Dec. 20), the only way to keep NBA coaches’ rapt attention during the voting period is to play well in a winning effort. The Hawks’ powerful forward is the team’s only entry deserving consideration, but Do it All Paul will fall quickly into injury-replacement territory if Atlanta keeps dropping games to the Knicks, Hornets, Bucks, and Magic of the world. We’re at the midway mark of the season. If, back before Halloween, someone were to tell you the Hawks would not be firing on all cylinders, struggled hitting threes and keeping opponents below triple-digits, had several returning All-Stars either regressing or playing inconsistently, and had not yet worked any newcomers into prominent roles in the rotation while on pace for “just” 48 wins… yet still would be sitting on top of the Southeast Division (ahead of perpetually-hyped Miami and Washington) and 1.5 games out of second in the East, you would begrudgingly take that scenario, especially given a roster that has reached the midway point relatively healthy. Now the fun begins. Can Al Horford (one rebound, offensive, in 23 minutes vs. BKN on Saturday) string together a couple productive weeks of basketball in a row, or at least a couple games? Can Jeff Teague (7 assists, 1 TO vs. BKN; 37.3 2FG% in January) and Korver (1-for-6 FGs vs. BKN) slip out of their respective cocoons, especially defensively in Teague’s case? If not, will Coach Bud turn even more toward bench options like Dennis Schröder (15-and-10 plus 1 TO vs. BKN, first double-double of the season), Tiago Splitter and, dare we say it, Tim Hardaway, Jr.? And would that necessarily be a bad thing? As the February trade deadline approaches, does GM Bud have any tricks up his sleeves? Might continually underwhelming play shake him out of “We Like Our Group” mode? Winning 60 or even 50 games isn’t as important as building positive momentum toward the springtime. But an impressive home win over a team like the Magic, ahead of a modest four-games-in-six-nights West Coast swing, would signal to Hawks fans that there is, indeed, something good on the other side of that mountaintop. Happy MLK Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record