Atlanta premier of ‘Maynard’ movie focuses a lens on city’s past

By Maria Saporta

The Atlanta premier of the “Maynard” documentary Saturday night attracted devotees of the late Mayor Maynard Jackson.

The film was a featured presentation of the Atlanta Film Festival, which actually was launched when Jackson was in office.

Before the showing of the “Maynard” movie, Chris Escobar, executive director of the Atlanta Film Festival, actually made a presentation to the Maynard “Buzzy” Jackson III and his wife, Wendy Eley Jackson (who both championed the project) a copy of one of the festival’s programs from the mid-1970s that included a letter from the mayor.

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At the Atlanta premier of Maynard movie: Wendy Eley Jackson, Maynard Jackson III with Atlanta Film Festival’s Chris Escobar at the Plaza Theatre (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The Plaza Theatre actually reopened the balcony in time for the showing of the premier to the theater’s original configuration (the Plaza has had the balcony split off into its own theater so it could show two movies simultaneously.

Escobar also announced that the “Maynard” will have a commercial run at the Plaza starting May 4 and lasting at least two weeks.

If Saturday’s premier is any indication, the “Maynard” movie will be a draw for people interested in knowing about an incredible time in Atlanta’s history – a time when political power shifted from the white business community to a mecca for African-American leaders.

The movie, in the works for a couple of years, portrays Jackson as the larger than life political figure that he was. It does tackle some of Jackson’s struggles and challenges in a forthright way – not necessarily a pure “vanity” film one would expect from a family-driven project.

The documentary also shares deeply personal family stories – the relationship between father and son, the time when Jackson told his eldest daughter he was getting a divorce from her mother – Bunnie Jackson Ransom, a love poem that Jackson had written to his second wife – Valerie Jackson, his difficult third term as mayor, and details about his passing on June 23, 2003.

C.T. Vivian Maynard Jackson

Maynard Jackson III with his wife, Wendy Eley Jackson, and C.T. Vivian, a key Civil Rights leader (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

The documentary is certainly a valiant effort – directed by Sam Pollard – who focused on Jackson’s efforts to integrate the Atlanta business community as well as his influence as a national political leader.

Because Jackson was such large person – in both his presence and his spirit – documenting his life in 90 minutes is bound to leave out some important elements.

The movie focused on how Jackson, being elected as Atlanta’s first black mayor in 1973 at the young age of 35, won because Atlanta’s population was shifted from white to black.

But the documentary left out a major part of that story. Jackson also had the strong support in several intown, mostly white neighborhoods because of his stance against building I-485 and the Stone Mountain Tollway through Morningside, Virginia-Highland, Candler Park and Druid Hills.

Jackson actually had a strong populist streak. During his first term as mayor, he reorganized the city’s governance structure by giving a much greater voice to neighborhoods and planning – creating the Neighborhood Planning Units to ensure that decisions were not top-down but bottom-up.

While Jackson had a big ego, he always cared first and foremost about what was best for Atlanta rather than what was best for him.

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Maynard movie group shot taken before the airing of the documentary (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

A personal story.

During Jackson’s third term, the city needed to meet the federal consent decree on its combined sewer overflow system. A plan had been proposed to build a four-story sewage treatment plant along 10thStreet (next to what is now Park Tavern) and to turn the meadow into “Georgia Lake,” which would have included both sewage and storm water during heavy rains.

My father – I.E. Saporta and an army of champions, including Bill Eisenhauer, gathered 100,000 names on petitions for STOP (Sewage Treatment Out of Park). They went to City Hall to present the petitions to Jackson in his office. The project had already been put out for bid, but my father and Eisenhauer were able to convince Jackson about how bad it would be to put a sewage treatment plan in  Atlanta’s signature park.

While they were in his office, Jackson called his public works commissioner and told him to put the project on hold. Later Jackson told me that my father was the conscience for Atlanta.

I remember the first time I interviewed Jackson when I was doing a summer internship in 1974 at Creative Loafing. A plan had be presented to tear down the Fox Theatre, and I asked him if he was going to fight to save it. He then told me about his bitter memories of the Fox when blacks had to sit in the colored section in the balcony, having to enter from the exterior steps.

"Maynard" director, Sam Pollard, with Judith Service Montier

“Maynard” director, Sam Pollard, with Judith Service Montier of SaportaReport (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Despite those initial feelings, Jackson listened to the “Save the Fox” group and eventually did not approve the demolition permit. Again, what was most important to Jackson was what was best of Atlanta.

Six months after he had completed his second term, I sat down for a long interview with Jackson – talking about his transition from public to private life. Towards the end of the interview, I asked him what he missed most about being mayor.

After a pause to think about his response, Jackson simply answered: “Being in the know.”

Thankfully, the “Maynard” movie is making sure we don’t forget Jackson for who he was and how he helped change Atlanta.

Here are a few stories to read more about Mayor Maynard Jackson and the movie:

Maynard Movie seeking funds so that history will not die

Maynard documentary trailer brings friends, family together

Recent firings by Mayor Reed a contrast to Atlanta City Hall under Maynard Jackson

 

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Maynard Jackson III answers questions on the Red Carpet at the Plaza Theatre (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

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Maynard Jackson III kisses his wife, Wendy Eley Jackson, before the premier Atlanta showing of ” Maynard in front of the Plaza Theatre (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

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Maynard Jackson III with the actor who plays young Maynard in the documentary (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

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Red carpet photo with several of the people who worked on the Maynard movie (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

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Maynard director Sam Pollard chats with a couple of AFF patrons (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

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Crowds gather to see Maynard movie (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

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Maynard Jackson III with Elaine Alexander and Wendy Eley Jackson (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

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A line of folks wait to get in to watch Maynard movie at the Plaza Theatre (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

7 replies
  1. Bob Schreiber says:

    I.E. Saporta and Nora would be rolling their graves if they knew how Maria abandoned their interests in the environment, rule of law, and Atlanta’s combined sewer system – not only in Piedmont Park but also city-wide.

    Making matters worse, Maria will not even reply to my efforts to make contact with her.

    C’mon Maria, it’s time to expose the misdeeds of all parties to Atlanta’s two consent decrees and the attorneys who represent them – even if they are your new BFF’s.Report

    Reply
  2. Chris Johnston says:

    Maynard Jackson master planned and established the political payoff and corruption system that hobbles the City of Atlanta to this day. This system has cost taxpayers $billions.Report

    Reply
  3. Carol B says:

    It was great to be reminded again of how lucky we were to have had Maynard as our Mayor. He set a high bar and to my mind, Shirley Franklin is the only other Mayor who has met it.Report

    Reply
  4. Wallace Quinn Hudson says:

    Maria is right on target about the glaring absence in the movie of any reference to Maynard fighting the Stone Mountain Freeway from the Old Fourth Ward to Inman Park through Druid Hills to Decatur. Not only did he stand up to strong financial and political interests who would benefit from the destructive highway but he created a multi-neighborhood organization, Atlanta Great Park Planning, that stretched across more than a dozen neighborhoods in east Atlanta. His efforts also included the resurrection of Little Five Points. I am convinced that one of the primary reasons he had no large law firm offers after his second term was his unwavering support for neighborhood protection and revitalization. After Maynard left office in 1980, AGPP formed the nucleus of CAUTION, which successfully fought renewed attempts to build the freeway under the false guise of creating the Carter Center after many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars raised in these communities to fight the road. You can thank Maynard for Freedom Park and all the neighborhoods from Old Fourth Ward to Decatur. Without Maynard’s steadfast courage, you would have concrete ribbons and off-ramps where stable neighborhoods, open green space and large oak trees now thrive. And, his political legacy included the first woman member of the Atlanta City Council, Panke Bradley, and other great leaders like Atlanta Councilmember Ester LeFevre and Decatur City Commissioner Lynn Deardorff and Dekalb County Commissioners Sherry Sutton, Gayle Walldorff, Judy Yates and Jackie Scott. They and we all stand on his broad shoulders. Thank you, Maynard.Report

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