New film examines an historic, local legacy

Mayor Maynard Jackson shakes the hand of IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch after winning the Olympic bid, on Sept. 18, 1990. Seated at right is Atlanta Organizing Committee President Billy Payne. AJC File / W.A. Bridges Jr.
Caption
Mayor Maynard Jackson shakes the hand of IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch after winning the Olympic bid, on Sept. 18, 1990. Seated at right is Atlanta Organizing Committee President Billy Payne. AJC File / W.A. Bridges Jr.

Credit: W.A. Bridges Jr

Credit: W.A. Bridges Jr

The photographs, which were projected on a screen, clicked by one by one, illuminating and documenting Atlanta’s history during an era dominated by one of the city’s great political figures.

  • Maynard Jackson at his inauguration, when he became the first African-American mayor of Atlanta.
  • Jackson in Tokyo with Billy Payne during the city's bid for the 1996 Olympics.
  • Jackson at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium on the night Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record.
  • Jackson at a press conference during the notorious Atlanta child murders as he offered reward money for clues to solve the crimes.

  • Jackson with Nelson Mandela. With Muhammad Ali. With Jimmy Carter.

The list could go on and on, as Jackson occupies a singularly significant place in Atlanta’s history.

When he was elected mayor, Maynard Jackson became the first African-American mayor not just of Atlanta, but of any major Southern city. He would serve two terms, and then come back after Andrew Young to serve one more.

The airport is named after him, and among his most significant achievements was growing opportunity for African-Americans in Atlanta.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “As mayor, one of Jackson’s main priorities was to ensure that minority businesses received more municipal contracts, and he succeeded in raising the proportion from less than 1 percent to more than 35 percent. His crowning achievement as mayor was building the massive new terminal at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport with significant minority participation, and in his own words, ‘ahead of schedule and under budget.’ ”

So what prompted spending this time clicking through historic pictures in a conference room at the AJC?

Well, first, it was interesting and informative. A group of the newspaper’s editors was joined by Jackson’s son, Maynard Jackson III, and daughter-in-law, Wendy Eley Jackson.

Caption
Feb. 1, 1977: Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson pays a call on President Jimmy Carter in Washington. They are pictured in the Oval Office.

Credit: ap

Feb. 1, 1977: Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson pays a call on President Jimmy Carter in Washington. They are pictured in the Oval Office.
Caption
Feb. 1, 1977: Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson pays a call on President Jimmy Carter in Washington. They are pictured in the Oval Office.

Credit: ap

Credit: ap

They are among the producers of a new documentary about the former Atlanta mayor, titled “Maynard.” As is obvious from that title, Jackson enjoys the notable status that permits use of just his first name.

We’d agreed to help them identify photographs from the AJC’s archives for use in the film. It also gave us the opportunity to review some Atlanta history, and get updated on how things are going with the film.

The documentary is in post-production stage, although there are still a few key people the filmmakers would like to interview, the Jacksons said. Those include former mayor Sam Massell and current Mayor Kasim Reed.

The film is being directed by Sam Pollard, an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning director. He’s worked on “Slavery by Another Name” and “Eyes on the Prize.”

As Pollard told our Jennifer Brett: “This country had a revolutionary change when Barack Obama was elected president. In many ways, what happened to Maynard Jackson in this city in 1973 and ’74 was a precursor to what happened to Obama.”

The hope is that the movie can be entered in the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. And Georgia Public Broadcasting has committed to airing the film as part of its “Georgia Greats” series.

(You can find more information about the film at maynardmovie.com)

It won’t be easy to cram Jackson’s remarkable life and career into 90 minutes.

Just the story of his staged boxing match with Ali could take up half the time — even before you got to all of the serious stuff.

The most enjoyable part of our conversation was hearing Maynard III and Wendy, an award-winning film producer, talk about personal moments the film may reveal.

Wendy emphasized that much of the film will deal with Jackson’s political career, and his commitment to service of others. But it will also show some other sides of her father-in-law.

“There was a part of him that was lonely,” she said.

“I could see he bore the weight of the city,” said Maynard III. “He wanted to make changes.”

Both emphasized the film will depict difficult situations Jackson faced, both political and personal.

For example, he struggled with his weight.

“His health was put on hold,” said Wendy. “Everyone has a vice. His was food.”

She noted that he had six heart bypass surgeries before his fatal 2003 heart attack.

The film will also portray difficult political moments, including his relationship with Reginald Eaves, the city’s public safety commissioner who resigned in a scandal involving promotions.

Wendy also expects the film to examine the Atlanta child murders, which occurred from 1979 to 1981 and represent a dark period in the city’s history.

“It’s not going to be all peaches and cream,” Maynard III said of the film.

If all goes as planned, we’ll be presented with the honest history of Atlanta as one of its towering figures lived it.

Jackson’s leadership and tremendous record will no doubt impress those new to his story and remind longtime friends and fans of his substantial legacy.

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