Thousands of Augustans who packed into James Brown Arena for James Brown's funeral service on Dec. 30, 2006, saw one of Michael Jackson's last public appearances when he made his final tribute to his show business friend and mentor.
The King of Pop had idolized the King of Soul Music ever since he was a child performing with the Jackson 5 and incorporated some of Mr. Brown's signature dance movements into his own electrifying performances.
If he had any qualms about how Augustans felt about his recent child molestation charges or other strange behavior, they vanished when he entered James Brown arena.
Pandemonium broke out when the audience of more than 8,000 spotted Mr. Jackson entering from the backstage end of the building ushered by Nation of Islam guards in red bow ties and crisp starched shirts. Mr. Jackson himself had long, straightened hair and was dressed casually in a black leather jacket, black slacks, a white shirt and a thin black tie with dark sunglasses.
He took his seat on the front row with the Rev. Jesse Jackson sitting on his left side and the Rev. Al Sharpton on his right. They at one point led Mr. Jackson up to the open white-satin-lined, gold casket where Mr. Brown lied in state dressed in a black suit with sequined lapels, red shirt, black gloves, black bow tie that had the monogrammed initials JB and rhinestone-studded boots.
After grieving quietly for a few moments, Mr. Jackson leaned over and kissed Mr. Brown's face in a final goodbye.
At one point during the lengthy service that included many entertainers performing spiritual music and other songs, Mr. Jackson took the stage for a few remarks. Many in the crowded arena called out for Mr. Jackson to sing, but he only wanted to just express some heart-felt comments.
He was introduced by the Rev. Sharpton who said, "I don't care what the media says tonight, James Brown wanted Michael Jackson with him here today."
Mr. Jackson then took the microphone and said in his usual soft-spoken voice, "What I'm going to say is brief but to the point. James Brown is my greatest inspiration. Ever since I was a small child, no more than like six years old, my mother would wake me no matter what time it was when I was sleeping --- or no matter what I was doing --- to watch the television to see the master at work. And when I saw him move, I was mesmerized. I've never seen a performer perform like James Brown, and right then and there I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because of James Brown."
He then concluded, "James Brown, I shall miss you, and I love you so much. Thank you for everything. God bless you."
Most everyone in James Brown Arena thought that Mr. Jackson had just arrived in town that morning for the funeral and was seeing Mr. Brown's coffin for the first time, but the truth is that he had arrived the night before.
Augusta funeral home owner Charlie Reid Jr., who arranged all three of Mr. Brown's funerals in New York City, North Augusta and the final one in Augusta got a call about 10:30 p.m. asking "if it would be permissible" for Mr. Jackson to have a private viewing.
"He came by our funeral home (on Laney-Walker Boulevard) the first time about 11 p.m. with about 12 or 13 of his Nation of Islam bodyguards and stayed about 45 minutes to an hour, and then he left," Mr. Reid said. "Apparently, they had landed in Atlanta and had come straight here from off the road. I think they were staying at the Partridge Inn. Then we got another call that he wanted to come back. So he came back about 1:30 and stayed until about 3:30 or 4 that morning. Then we got Mr. Brown ready (dressing him for the third time) and put him in the civic center (James Brown Arena) about 5:30 that morning."
When asked about Mr. Jackson's demeanor during the two visitations, Mr. Reid said, "The first time he just stood and watched Mr. Brown for God knows how long, and the next time he came he did basically the same thing and asked a few questions about the coffin. He just talked in general basically and said that he (J.B.) was his idol. He was very emotional about it."
Mr. Jackson may never have performed in Augusta, but his Augusta fans long will remember his appearance and emotional words in James Brown Arena.