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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.

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