Originally created 12/31/06

Those waiting to say goodbye recall memories



The air was thick with memories and well-wishes outside the James Brown Arena on Saturday.

While the thousands of mourners stood in line to view the Godfather of Soul, they recalled the times they met him, saw him perform, or in the case of one fan, were chased out of his front yard as a child.

"We used to play in his yard, and his daddy used to run us away," said Brenda Young, 39, of North Augusta, who brought her daughter, nieces and nephews along to witness the moment in history.

Early in the morning, the line for the viewing wrapped around the arena several hundred yards with umbrellas poking up to protect people from drizzle. But by mid-morning, the stream of people had been reduced to a single block and the sun warmed the streets.

Many came well-dressed, in traditional black funeral attire. Others showed up in T-shirts and jeans.

The crowds converging on the arena were a rare sight for the entertainment complex, which rarely draws more than a few thousand people to events there.

The 720-space parking lot on Seventh Street was full, and streets usually vacant on weekends were active with mourners marching their way to the arena.

Some fans had stayed overnight on the sidewalk.

Gail Bennett, 47, was apparently the first person to get in line Friday night outside the James Brown Arena. She said she got into the line for both the viewing and the ceremony at 9 p.m. At 1 a.m., she sat in a fold-out chair with a cloak draped over her. About a half dozen people were already sitting behind her, some in chairs, some on the concrete with blankets over them.

"I didn't want anything to get in the way of my honoring the king," Ms. Bennett said.

She said her 15-year-old daughter, her sister and her 18- and 16-year-old nieces were waiting in a car, with food and the heater running.

"My daughter said, 'Was James Brown all of that?'" Ms. Bennett said. "I said, 'All of that and more.'"

Ms. Bennett, of Augusta, said she first met Mr. Brown when she was 8 years old, when he performed at Sunset Homes housing project, now Cherry Tree Crossing. She said she remembers him shaking her hand and smiling.

"He etched a memory in me," she said. "It was like seeing a king. He was very tangible, very personable. He was a people person."

Kenneth Golphin, 40, and Lisa Dye, 43, of the Atlanta area, arrived at 9:30 p.m. Friday and were the first in line to view the body.

Once arena officials opened the doors, many of those waiting rushed forward. After event staff got a handle on the situation, the line trickled in in an organized fashion.

Having viewed Mr. Brown, Paula Curry, 46, of Augusta, said the occasion brought back memories of seeing the music legend around town when she was an 8-year-old.

"I just feel this is where I should be," she said. "He was like family to everyone in this community."

Several fans said they were astonished at the sight of Mr. Brown motionless and quiet in his flashy attire.

But Leah Allbright, 68, said the charitable spirit she will remember him for was enough of a statement.

"The good work he did will speak for him."

Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 and Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113.