As Little Richard’s boyhood home began its move across Interstate 75, Peter Givens and Naomi Johnson watched with pride.
Tuesday morning, the two members of the Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Improvement Association were celebrating the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plans to make the highway safer and enhance their community at the same time.
Both of them lived there more than 50 years ago when the interstate initially divided streets, families and friends.
“It was not good,” Givens said of splitting the neighborhood to make way for the highway. “My parents and other folks in the community were trying to see what they can do about not having it be so invasive in our community.”
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They lacked the political clout to intervene, though, he said.
About a dozen years ago when neighbors learned that the interstate was expanding in a new interchange with Interstate 16, they vowed to be involved.
“Now we are part of the project,” Givens said. “This is what happens when the community can have input and take hold of its own destiny.”
Johnson could hardly contain her excitement as workers prepared for the move.
“I cry easily and I’m doing all I can to hold back the tears now because, at last, we’re on our way,” she said.
Johnson, who has lived in Pleasant Hill nearly all of her 77 years, sees the planned improvements as a step back to where the neighborhood used to be.
State Rep. James Beverly called Tuesday’s trek the “biggest event that’s happened in Middle Georgia in the last 12 years — the day we move Little Richard’s house.”
Beverly, at the urging of the neighbors, lobbied the DOT to relocate Fifth Street houses across the highway to streets near Williams Elementary School. Beverly is chairman of the Macon-Bibb Community Enhancement Authority, which serves as a conduit between the DOT and the community.
Although seven houses were moved and 17 others reconstructed, the repositioning of the Penniman house on Craft Street near a community garden officially kicked off the new beginning for Pleasant Hill, Beverly said.
“Today is the beginning of a renaissance, a redemptive time in our history. Where we say as a collective community, that we will not forget what happened and that we’ll try to make right what was made wrong a long time ago,” Beverly said. “We can’t let this community down again.”
The neighborhood will not be gentrified and price houses out of reach, but revitalized.
“We’re not trying to build the Taj Mahal. We want to make sure the people in the community get to stay in the community get to enjoy the renaissance.”
The yellow, wooden Penniman house will become a resource center for the neighborhood.
“It’s not going to be a Little Richard museum and Richard understands that,” Johnson said of the singer, known for such hits as “Long Tall Sally,” “Tutti-Frutti” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly.”
For the last dozen years, Johnson said they have been collecting family histories, including Penniman’s, which will be on display in the center.
“He was so excited, you could hear him from Tennessee screaming,” Johnson said.
Gary Montgomery of Macon, a music industry professional and personal friend of Little Richard's, spoke to the entertainer by phone on Tuesday.
"He said that he's very grateful to everybody," Montgomery told The Telegraph. "He said to tell everybody that he loves them and that he has fond memories of his childhood home there."
The architect of rock ’n’ roll has been a famous ambassador for his community.
“He tells all these stories from Pleasant Hill,” Johnson said. “If you want to know something about Pleasant Hill, hear it from Richard.”
Macon is expected to have that opportunity.
Beverly said the group has been in touch with Penniman, and he is expected to return for a future dedication ceremony, but details won’t be released until later.