Last Friday, I attended a convocation ceremony marking Mercer Universitys 50th anniversary of integration. Civil rights activist and former U.S. Congressman, Atlanta Mayor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young delivered the keynote speech.
But it was a video tribute that played prior to his delivery, featuring Mercer alumni who were on campus 50 years ago, that took me back to a Macon I never will know. Talk about a time of real change, tough transition and opinions absolutely everywhere? Consolidated government has nothing on 50 years ago.
Among the Mercer students was Samaria Cookie Bailey, a talented singer whose parents made her finish college instead of pursuing a music career. As she reflected on this time of integration, she recalled what the music of James Brown and Otis Redding was already achieving. Without violent protest or an act of Congress, the rhythm and blues rising from Macon was bringing audiences together.
In fact, already on the Mercer campus, the Phi Delta Thetas, whose fraternity president so happened to be Phil Walden, were already redefining the mixer when they traded in all-white, bow-tie combos for music that cut its teeth on the choir robes of the local black churches. Macon music, blazed by Little Richard, Brown and Redding, spurred something in common for both the black kids and the white kids, who were now spending their same-stamped quarters for 45s, jukebox slots and the dance floor.
Today, music still remains Macons greatest unifier. Want to experience it still in action? Save the date for 6-8 p.m. Oct. 13 for College Hills Second Sunday concert in Washington Park. Closing out the free music series will be Percy Sledge and his band the Bluesmasters.
When When a Man Loves a Woman became one of the fastest-rising rhythm and blues singles of all time, there was still a South that didnt believe people were equal based on the color of their skin. But Sledges ballad of a man tryin to hold on to what he needs leveled the playing field of true love and heartache. As did Dark End of the Street, Take Time to Know Her, Warm and Tender Love and others.
In a few short weeks, youll find Washington Park full of every age, denomination, ethnicity and iPod playlists. And none of that will matter. What really matters is were all in the audience together.
When we support Macon music, we check our labels at the door. The opinions page is yesterdays news on the dance floor. If were side to side at a local concert or an outdoor street festival, that ballot choice is far from center stage.
And so, just over a week after the election and a week into the run-off campaign, where the tension of indecision and division is palpable, the music -- and its legacy -- will always play louder. Lets all just sing along.
Jessica Walden is the director of communications for the College Hill Alliance and co-owner of Rock Candy Tours. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.