In the 2004 movie Ray, Ray Charles is seen at the end being honoured by the State of Georgia, in a ceremony which took place in 1979, when Georgia On My Mind was, appropriately, made that State’s official song. In the movie the occasion implied the righting of a great wrong, that being the alleged banning of Ray in 1961 for refusing to play to segregated audiences. That the ban is a fiction seemed unimportant to the film’s writers and director, such is the Hollywood way.
However, what is not in serious contention is the way that Georgia and much of the US south treated its black citizens. That 1979 ceremony is not fiction and was included, one must assume, because, firstly, it being Hollywood, it provided a suitably emotional ending to what was, lets be honest, a very average bio-pic of a truly great American composer and musician; and secondly as an indication that Georgia as a state had reached some point of reconciliation and put the racism of its past behind itself.
Then we come to this, in Monday’s Washington Post.
FBI agents are known for targeting godfathers. But when it comes to the Godfather of Soul, it turns out they can be a bit more understanding.
That revelation comes courtesy of a secret FBI file on soul legend James Brown, who died in December at age 73. The FBI released the file to The Washington Post last week under the Freedom of Information Act.
In 1988 James Brown, with Charles, one of the most important American artists of his generation, and indeed, one of the most influential Americans of his age – and a black man – was, after a very much publicised police chase, arrested and, using his mug shots, humiliated globally.
He was, we were repeatedly told, a man off the rails and a danger not only to himself but those around him. Now we read:
“A North Augusta [S.C.] policeman then shot and hit Brown’s truck at least eight times and another North Augusta policeman shot approximately nine times at the tires and hood. Other shots were also fired. Brown later counted the bullet holes in his truck and these totalled twenty three. Two of these shots hit the gas tank and the tires were flat.
“Brown became very afraid.
“Because of this fear Brown started up his vehicle and drove away on the flat tires. He was followed by numerous police vehicles.… The truck became disabled. At this time approximately twenty policemen arrived on the scene. Brown was pulled from his vehicle by the policeman an[d] slammed against the side of his truck causing injury to his face and body.…
“While sitting handcuffed at the jail awaiting the booking process, a white male, 5’4” tall, stocky, in plain clothes walked up to Brown while he was still handcuffed and hit him on the left side of his jaw. This blow was totally unprovoked. The blow knocked loose a denture post of Brown’s teeth implant and caused much pain to him.”
If this is true, and the FBI seems to give it some credence, it seems those ropes are not that far from the tree branches, still, and the crosses are still smouldering.
It implies so much more than it says, and it says one hell of a lot.
What horrifies me is that this happened in 1988 to one of the most imminent and respected black men in America, and there was nothing he could do.
And despite the FBI investigation, nothing was done by anyone else. I know this is one man’s word against the system, but the piece ends:
After its jailhouse interview of the soul man, the FBI referred its report to an assistant U.S. attorney in Georgia. He concluded the allegations had “no apparent prosecutive merit.”
James Brown served three years in Georgia.