By Maria Saporta
The official ribbon-cutting for the new Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal on Thursday evening spanned the generations of Atlanta leadership — with the city’s first African-American mayor as the central figure.
Jackson was literally a larger-than-life human being. As the youngest person to have ever been elected mayor of Atlanta in 1973, Jackson also represented a pivotal shift in power and influence in the city.
All of a sudden, the business community was no longer alone in the driver’s seat. Jackson’s election as mayor had given rise to black leadership and neighborhood prowess in the decision-making arena.
It was Jackson, more than any other person in Atlanta’s history, who was responsible for integrating the seats of power in the city — an effort that created great friction between him and the business community for his two first terms as mayor.
But Jackson stood strong. In fact, it was in his second term that Jackson headed the effort to build a new airport for the city. He rehired George Berry, formerly the city’s chief administrative officer under former Mayor Sam Massell who had left to join Cousins Properties, to be general manager of the airport and oversee the construction of what was then called Hartsfield International Airport.
So it was particularly fitting Thursday night for Berry to be in attendance for the VIP opening of the Jackson International Terminal (I still think we need to officially name what will soon be the domestic terminal in honor of former Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield, who was the visionary who made the city a worldwide hub of aviation).
Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines, paid tribute to what Jackson and Berry had built more than 30 years ago.
“This is an unbelievable airport,” Anderson said. “It’s the biggest, most efficient airport in the world. Maynard Jackson had the vision a long time ago, and this is now the most sought-after, most envied airport in the world.”
And Anderson could not have been more excited about the new international terminal, saying it would be the best in the world. “It is awesome,” Anderson said.
After the ribbon-cutting, Anderson and Berry met for the first time — a bridging of a generation of leaders who have made the Atlanta airport what it is today.
Several other key players were also present. Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin really pushed Delta and other airlines to build the new international terminal during a shaky financial period.
Anderson said he gained so much respect for her during that process that he wanted to name her to Delta’s board after she the mayor’s office.
Another pivotal person in the building of the new international terminal was former Hartsfield-Jackson aviation commissioner — Ben DeCosta — who also was on hand for the ceremonies.
Now Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who was accompanied by Gov. Nathan Deal, are the latest stewards of Atlanta’s emergence as an international city.
As Deal said, the new terminal will help Atlanta continue being the crossroads of the world.
And for Franklin, who had worked with Jackson during his first administration, the moment was particularly poignant.
“Maynard Jackson would be pleased because we are people from all walks of life — black, white, young and old, Latino, business leaders and politicians,” Franklin said while looking over the crowds of hundreds of people who had come for the festivities. “Maynard would be proud.”