Augustans who showed up to the ninth annual James Brown Turkey Giveaway on Tuesday morning were in for a big surprise.
The famed singer, who usually attends the Thanksgiving event, was out of the country. But in his place at Dyess Park was the Rev. Al Sharpton, a Democratic candidate for president.
"At the Apollo, he asked me to come and stand in for him. I said I'd do it," said the Rev. Sharpton, who first attended the giveaway two years ago. "He's like my father."
After posing for a few photos and shaking hands with event organizers, the Rev. Sharpton made his way outside, where almost 1,000 people stood in two lines from the doors of the park's recreation building to the back of the parking lot.
The Swanee Quintet, a hometown musical group, played Gospel tunes while a small group of attendees formed a semicircle around the stage area, clapping and singing along.
The Rev. Sharpton joined the quintet, tapping his foot to the beat, and band members asked the crowd to "raise the roof for the Rev. all the way to the White House."
"I'm here today not for politics," the Rev. Sharpton said over the microphone, noting that Mr. Brown told him to drop whatever he was doing to be at the giveaway. "(James Brown) never forgot where he came from and he never forgot the days when he never had a turkey."
Then the featured guest led everyone in a prayer before the giveaway began at about 10 a.m. As people filed inside, the Rev. Sharpton and other volunteers handed out bags of food.
For the first time Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits assisted in the event, providing 650 turkeys and packages of cajun rice and biscuits. Robb Conner, regional marketing manager for Popeye's, said in the past the Augusta-based franchise has held a similar Thanksgiving giveaway locally, but they have not been well attended recently.
"We realized it was because everyone was coming here," Mr. Conner said. "So we decided to join up and have one big event."
Elif Hogan, Mr. Brown's personal assistant of six years, said the annual giveaway is important to citizens and to Mr. Brown.
"It's a lot of work but not when you know what you're doing," she said.
Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org