E-mail leads to Brown stories

Last week was an off week at City Hall, sort of, so I took the opportunity to do some things I've been wanting to do, such as attend the Academy of Richmond County and Tubman Classmates of the '40s quarterly luncheon.


I also looked up Emma and Leon Austin and went to sit a spell with them and Roosevelt "Sarge" Walker, of the Golden Voices of Augusta, who happened to be there at the time. Stephanie Myers from Washington, D.C., a writer who came to Augusta for James Brown's funeral, had e-mailed, asking if anybody around Augusta remembered Mr. Brown's aunt Handsome Honey Washington who ran a brothel. She said Mr. Brown had lived with her when he was a little boy.

J.R. Riles told me to call Mr. Austin, and that's how I came to know him and his sweet wife.

THE PROCESS KING OF AUGUSTA: Mr. Austin was Mr. Brown's oldest boyhood friend. They met at Silas X. Floyd School in the third grade, and Mr. Brown would go to Mr. Austin's home at 1207 Wrightsboro Road, where there was a piano. Mr. Brown was left-handed, and Mr. Austin taught him to play with his right hand.

Mr. Brown did live for a while with Aunt Honey when his father was trying to eke out a living.

"That was a rough side of town," Mr. Austin said. "As you heard, I guess, she had a scrap iron house."

"Do you know what that is?" Mrs. Austin asked. "Bootleg whiskey. Homemade whiskey. They call it scrap iron. She had a house of ill repute, and she sold scrap iron. That's where he lived, upstairs."

Mr. Austin said he didn't visit Mr. Brown at his house.

"I went by there," he said.

"Leon was the good kid," Mrs. Austin said. "His mom and dad didn't believe in him hanging out in bad areas too much. He was a churchgoing fellow. Mr. Brown called him the Hallelujah Good Boy."

Mr. Austin had bands of his own, including Leon and the Buicks, and opened shows for Mr. Brown all over the world. He also owned Leon's DeSoto Club in the Golden Blocks, a prosperous area around Gwinnett and Ninth streets from 1978 to 1982.

"But before that for many, many years, Leon operated a barber and beauty shop right there in the Golden Blocks," Mrs. Austin said. "And Leon was the process king of Augusta. Anybody that wore the process for their hair in the pompadour or finger wave style, Leon did it. If you wanted it done right, Leon did it. Leon had customers who came from out of state, South Carolina and all over Georgia. He was just the man to come see if you wanted your hair done."

"DIMINISHING BY GOD'S DESIGN": That's what Jinx Duke, backbone of the Classmates of the '40s quarterly meetings, says is happening to the classmates.

About 150 of them held their first meeting of the year at the Clubhouse in downtown Augusta last week, and the group's main emcee, Jimmy Smith, the other half of the Duke-Smith comedy team, said he was glad to be undiminished as yet.

"I tell you it sure feels good to say 2007, because that means another year's gone by and we're here another year," he said.

Those who were not are Earl Wilson, William "Bill" Reiser, Billy Beale and Belle Walker, a longtime teacher at Tubman High School.

And there were special requests for the sick members, such as Betty Dunaway.

He also reported that Catherine Spears, Bob Spears' wife, got bit by a dog but is doing fine now.

"Did the dog live?" Mr. Smith asked and was chided by the crowd.

After prayer requests for Preston Bussey, who fell and broke his hip, and for Jack Poppell, who had a hip replacement, Mr. Smith gave the invocation. Afterward, he said he'd forgotten to mention that Mrs. Duke had broken her shoulder when she fell trying to change a light bulb.

"That's been over three months," Mrs. Duke said.

"That's all right," he said. "You're still complaining about it."

It was Joe Reynolds' birthday, and he had to stand up so they could see if he still could.

Then, Mr. Smith asked who was there for the first time.

Richard Fender raised his hand, but Mr. Smith said he thought he'd been there before.

"He has," said Mrs. Duke, and that was that.

The person who traveled the farthest to attend was Linwood James from Fort Deposit, Ala.

Mrs. Duke asked Mr. Smith to "please, please say a short blessing and don't preach to us," but he did anyway. He talked about America in crisis and the failure of today's politicians, those "preening peacocks" you see on TV praising each other and how we would have lost World War II if we had such leaders today.

He said he was angry, and I guess he was, because he was preaching to the choir the whole time. Afterward, we sang America The Beautiful and God Bless America.

The Greatest Generation.

P.S.: Brian Mulherin reported afterward that his cousin Matthew "Mackie" Mulherin has been in the cardiac care unit at University Hospital since Thanksgiving morning. He went in for heart bypasses, then got pneumonia.

LYNX LOCKOUT AGAIN? Coliseum authority members were talking about closing off the James Brown Arena to its hockey tenant, The Augusta Lynx, after the board's finance manager informed members that the team was behind on about $29,000 in bills. The authority eventually decided to give the team until Monday.

If it sounds familiar, your deja vu is working. The same conflict erupted last year at about the same time in January. The dispute over late bills and rental fees ended with new ownership of the team making nice with the authority in April 2006. Where's the love now?

BORED WITH BOARDS: For all those Augustans who receive appointments - plum or duds - onto the dozens of government advisory boards and authorities and stay home, watch out.

State legislators who get to pick a couple of members on each board plan to comb through their appointment lists to see who participates and who regularly misses meetings.

They have to make some decisions on some of the more active bodies, such as the Augusta Aviation Commission and Augusta Coliseum Authority, that need reappointments before members' terms expire in March.

But others are set to get a review as the county's legislators check to see if their appointees are working or if they even want the posts anymore.

Sen. Ed Tarver, D-Augusta, said he recently got chastised by Frank Lawrence, who initially was excited to be appointed to a board but now wants off.

He realized the Augusta Ports Authority doesn't do much and hasn't met in nearly a year.

"We had no budget," Mr. Lawrence said when we called. "Why have a board that doesn't have a budget? If you don't have any money, you can't do anything."

Anyway, rather than doing the annual rubber stamping of re-appointments from Atlanta, Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, said the delegation wants to do more research.

WELL, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FOR NOTHING? Maybe some boards are effective and some aren't because some get paid and some don't.

For example, of the city's 31 boards, commissions and authorities, only six receive any compensation other than the honor, of course. At the top is the Tax Assessor's Board, whose members are paid $300 a month. Next is the Planning Commission whose members receive $150 a month; the chairman $250. Zoning Appeals Board members get $100 per meeting; Board of Elections members get $65 per meeting, the chairman, $75, and they all get $200 on election days. Board of Health members receive $25 per meeting, and the Personnel Board, $20 per hearing.

City Ink thanks Staff Writers Vicky Eckenrode and Justin Boron for their contributions to this week's column.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.



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