We had just marched across the stage to get our master’s degrees from Jackson State University. It was the summer of 1978, and I was moving to Atlanta, Georgia and my friend helped me drive there. We had left a bland, serious academic setting, but when we arrived in Hot ‘Lanta, we stepped onto a Live Stage! Things were popping!
Maynard Jackson was the first black mayor of Atlanta, then known as the Black Mecca. Blacks from all over the country converged there to hopefully get at least a slithering of the American pie. Fortunately, I had a network of former Chicago teachers who had already moved there, and I stayed with one for a couple of weeks until I could get my bearings.
We took my friend to the airport to say a painstaking goodbye, but my tears soon dried. There was too much to do to stay sad for long. As fate would have it, my cousin, his wife and their three young daughters had also moved there from Memphis and lived close by. His wife used her connections to help me get my own apartment in Cedarwoods which was in College Park, a southern subdivision of Atlanta.
It was a beauty and a gift from the gods to me for having passed the last test. The complex was a wooden-like structure, and I was upstairs. I had a large balcony which overlooked a small lake. It had ducks and I soon discovered that their leader’s name was Charlie. If we called him, the others obeyed him, and followed his moves. My furniture soon arrived and with it came a host of visitors. Everybody wanted to come to Atlanta! It was like running a hotel as many came from Chicago, Memphis and Jackson.
My sister and her two children came down from Chicago and stayed a month. Cedarwoods had a huge children’s pool and a large adult pool. When I came home each day from my harrowing job as the boss lady at a journalism program, they hugged me, still wet from being in the children’s pool all day. Cousins came, friends came, and my mother came. The biggest challenge was keeping toilet tissue for my continual guests.
When my mother came, I went out with co-workers and danced in her glass-like slippers until my feet were swollen. I was so happy that she was there, and I knew that she also needed a break from the Chicago scene. I found friends and I attracted foes, as life goes. I met people from all over the United States who shared their stories.
The apartment complexes had both unique names and characteristics. One friend, also a former Chicago teacher, lived across the lake in Nu Dimensions. My cousins lived in Candlewood and another teacher-friend lived in Windjammer. Most had beautiful, stretched pools which were sorely needed in the humid heat and as stated earlier, mine had two!
I could write a novella about that summer, but here is an overview. We lived close to the airport and often teased that we could wave at the passengers as they landed. Here are some things that brought us joy. My little cousins could beg to go to Piedmont Park in a such a way that melted our hearts, and we often found a way to get them there. It is a huge, beautiful park up in central Atlanta. We partied hardy at nightspots such as Cisco’s or Mr. V’s. We preferred Cisco’s and we danced to tunes like Shame by Evelyn Champayne King, Boogie Oogie, Oogie by Taste of Honey or Bustin’ Loose by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, to name a few.
We shopped at Greenbriar Mall and often scrambled to find money to have breakfast at McDonald’s off Camp Creek Parkway. It was like eating on the French Riviera to us because money was quite scarce. We were used to Chicago’s abundance but being broke in Georgia heightened my spirituality. We had to lean on a Higher Power to simply cope and we often made it to one of three Sunday services at Hillside Chapel to help us remain steadfast.
We also searched for the illusive celebrities who lived nearby. We looked for the singer Peabo Bryson who supposedly lived in Cedarwoods. We looked for the famed writer Toni Cade Bambara and we drove quite a distance to try to see Yolanda King (MLK’s daughter) at an acting workshop. All were in vain, but I did see Toni Cade Bambara years later in another city.
Our quests kept us on the move because in Atlanta, one can easily drive for over an hour to get from Point A to Point B. That summer is forever etched and my friend who lived across the lake is still in my life. We often relive those times in Hot ‘Lanta during the summer of 1978. Push play and enjoy the music from back in the day!
June 18, 2022