In 2014, what would Martin Luther King Jr. think?

alopez@macon.comJanuary 19, 2014 

Monday’s national holiday celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. Almost every American knows his teachings, and though he died more than 45 years ago, the civil rights leader looms large in the minds of Middle Georgia residents.

Nationwide, more than 730 cities and towns have a street named after King, including Macon, Warner Robins, Milledgeville, Fort Valley, Jeffersonville and Gray.

King would be 85 years old if he were alive today. What would he think of his country? What would he think of the progress Americans have made when it comes to civil rights, peace and racial and economic equality?

The Telegraph visited businesses and spoke to people along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in downtown Macon. Most agreed King would be happy with how far the country has come, but they acknowledged he would want Americans to keep moving forward.

Raffield Tire-Master

As the years pass, fewer and fewer people remain who lived through the civil rights movement and King’s heyday.

Robert Hughes, 74, not only lived through those days, but he also had an important role to play.

He and his wife, Ruby, reminisced at the counter of Raffield Tire-Master, where they drove from their home in Jeffersonville last week to get their car serviced.

Robert Hughes was born in Jeffersonville, but he spent his career with the New York City Police Department. His second day on the job was April 4, 1968, the day King was assassinated.

“Upside down, the whole city flipped,” Robert said. “Rioting, people getting shot, people breaking into windows. They all forgot what King stood for.”

His job was preventing people from acting foolish, he said.

“Trying to prevent,” Ruby Hughes interrupted, laughing. The Hugheses are high school sweethearts and have been married 56 years.

“It was like a bunch of chickens in a hen house when you turn all the chickens out, just flying all over the place with no direction, just doing whatever they felt like doing,” Robert Hughes said, referring to the riots.

He said King would be disappointed in Americans today because education is not as valued as it should be.

Still, Robert Hughes said he can see the results of everything King stood for.

“One man can really make a difference,” he said.

Harrell’s Barber Shop

Monday, cousins Brandon Harris, 28, and Daude Harrell, 29, will remember King by offering free barbecue to friends and patrons at the barbershop they run together.

Their grandfather opened Harrell’s in 1965, and the cousins are now third-generation barbers.

“We are a cornerstone of downtown Macon right here on MLK,” Harris said. “It’s history right here.”

Harris’ chair, the one closest to the entrance, sits in front of a framed illustration of King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Sammy Davis Jr.

At the other end of the shop, Harrell worked on the hair of 25-year-old Jay Barnes.

Barnes said King would disapprove of all the wars the United States has taken part in.

“I believe he would be disgusted,” Barnes said.

Not only would he be critical of the government, Barnes said, but King also would be critical of African-American youths for not fighting harder to better themselves.

Eric Jackson, 45, who is a program director at the Boys & Girls Club of Central Georgia, disagreed with Barnes’ assessment.

“We are progressing,” Jackson said. “If we love each other a little bit more and go back and look at what our ancestors did and what Martin Luther King did, I think we would turn out better.”

Fresh Produce Records

William Dantzler, 25, operates one of the newer businesses along the boulevard. He sells vintage music, mostly vinyl records and cassette tapes. He also trades records with patrons.

“Being on MLK has been a really positive experience for me,” Dantzler said. “We’re right in the middle of downtown. It’s a main thoroughfare. It’s a hub.”

Dantzler keeps a display section exclusively for the music of independent artists, and he also opens the store to host open-mic nights. Supporting independent music is one of the reasons he opened the record store, he said.

“I think Martin Luther King would be proud of a lot of younger folks especially and the way they approach each other with more open mindsets when it comes to skin color and sexual orientation,” Dantzler said.

Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau

Valerie Bradley, 33, is the communications specialist at Macon’s visitors center, where people can find brochures about local attractions and buy T-shirts and other trinkets.

Images and slide shows showcasing local architecture and historical photos decorate the walls. Below Little Richard records, there is a photo of King marching.

He visited Macon to speak at New Zion Baptist Church just 12 days before his death.

“Dr. King would be proud of the progress that we’ve made in our country for equality for everyone, not just African-Americans,” said Bradley, who lives in Warner Robins.

She said the visitors center will be closed Monday.

“I think it’s a day of service, a day of reflection, a day where people should take stock and really appreciate the privileges and rights that we have and how it is a result of people like Dr. King,” Bradley said.

The Tic Toc Room

Caroline Lumley, 23, works as a bartender at the Tic Toc Room, which was known as Miss Ann’s Tic Toc when Little Richard, Otis Redding and James Brown performed there.

She said management has tried to preserve the room as close to what it was during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

Lumley said she doesn’t see racial or economic inequality in the country today.

Peace, however, is harder to come by, she said, because America has enemies that want to make war.

The museum district

The sun set one day last week as Katina Joubert, 39, sat in her office at Service Loans & Tax Services. The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and the recently renovated Terminal Station anchor the plaza outside her window, and adjacent to her office stands the future home of the Tubman African American Museum.

Joubert said she feels honored to work at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Cherry Street, especially because she gets to be closer to downtown events like the Pan-African Festival and the Cherry Blossom Ball Drop.

She said progress has been made in terms of equality at the national level, and she credits the aftermath of Sept. 11 with bringing the country together, but she is critical of the divisiveness in local politics.

“I think Martin Luther King would agree with me in saying there is much more work to be done,” Joubert said.

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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