James Brown turkey tradition lives on in Augusta

Annual James Brown charity can't match demand


James Brown's annual Thanksgiving giveaway put a turkey on more than 1,100 Augusta tables this year, but as the birds ran out, tensions revived between the late soul singer's children and his yet-unsettled estate, which provides no support for the holiday tradition.

Making good on a promise to Brown, the Rev. Al Sharpton returned to Augusta for the giveaway and said trustees over the estate only cared to milk Brown's legacy for financial gain.

"How could they not identify and endorse the philanthropic things (Brown) started, unless their intentions are just to commercially exploit him?" he asked.

The Brown Family Children Foundation, of which Sharpton is a director, has carried on Brown's traditional Thankgiving turkey and holiday toy giveaways since his death on Christmas Day 2006.

"This is something that (Brown) did every year for decades," he said. "What is the motive of the estate to say, 'No, don't put our name on it?' "

Representatives of the estate, which has yet to be disbursed among Brown's heirs, could not be reached for a response, but a settlement previously agreed to by Brown's widow and children designates just one charitable organization as beneficiary -- an educational foundation -- not the annual holiday giveaways.

On Monday morning, thousands formed four lines at Dyess Park.

After about an hour, though, the 1,100 or so tickets for turkeys had been given out, said Brown's daughter Deanna Brown-Thomas, who consoled late arrivals as she sent them away empty-handed, or over to a tent where her husband was handing out fried fish from his restaurant.

"It's a lot more than usual because of the times that we're living in," Brown-Thomas said. "When I look at this it hurts because you can't give to everybody, but it goes to show the need is there."

The elderly and disabled filed through the lines first, accepting turkeys -- donated by Wal-Mart, Comcast, Amerigroup and local donors -- from Brown family members and local politicians.

Eighty-nine-year-old Ethel Williams thanked God for allowing her to get up and stand in line for a turkey.

She also thanked Sharpton for standing in for Brown.

The giveaway "is a nice thing to have, because there are so many people that don't have, and this is a help for them," Williams said.

Before handing out turkeys, Mayor Deke Copenhaver told videographer Jason Brown, "My name is Mayor Deke Copenhaver, and I approve of this event because the Godfather of Soul was my friend."

Jason Brown, 20, said he has attended most of the giveaways since his grandfather started them 20 years ago.

"It's always a blessing," said Brown, a film student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. "In recent years, it's gotten worse, and the worse it gets the longer you have to spread your hand."

Paul Harris, a volunteer from St. James AME Church who helped unload turkeys, recalled that James Brown "was such a giving person. People put him up on a pedestal; he did not put himself up there."

Were you Spotted?

See dozens of photos from the event at spotted.augusta.com.