My boys and I found ourselves driving past a random gaggle of geese sitting in the parking lot on the approach to Town Center Mall’s JC Penney entrance. Hell if I know why they were there. But my boys and I were there because it was too cold and drizzly to go hiking at Green Meadows Preserve, so I opted for the free pretzel-scented indoor playground offered at the mall.
After about five minutes of removing hats, coats and shoes, the boys embraced the carpeted, kid-friendly scene. I had maybe an uninterrupted five minutes to stare at my phone (as all the other parents did) before some stranger kid came over to me and reported that Gabriel had slapped the shit out of him. Gabriel is two. This boy looked to be about seven. Gabriel is a striker, but definitely not a preemptive one.
“Did you do something to him,” I inquired of the mystery child. His response was a quick dart of the eye and an even quicker departure. I reminded Gabriel to keep his hands to himself while silently thanking my ancestors for gifting my boys with a take-no-bull attitude. Meanwhile Osi Tasmanian deviled his way past the older lady seated to my right to try to negotiate a ride on the mall’s kiddie train.
“Let’s go on the train! Let’s go on the train,” he pleaded as I apologized to the smiling lady.
“Kids will be kids,” she shrugged with a chuckle.
After another 45 minutes of death-defying play, the boys duped me into buying two toy cars from the Disney store. And before they could spot some other way to spend all my damn money, I corralled them down the escalator, past the “new restaurant coming soon” signs, and out the mall doors to the car.
While belting them in and distributing snacks for the ride back home, it struck me how diverse of an experience our mall visit had been. The boy Gabriel had allegedly assaulted looked to be of Persian descent. The sweet old understanding lady Osi had nearly knocked over had been Latinx. The new restaurant was set to feature Pho. While walking through the mall, we’d overheard several languages spoken and had seen a plethora of families of multiple shades and ethnicities. This mall could have easily been mistaken for a shopping center in Houston or Los Angeles or New York or Chicago. Yet it was in Metro Atlanta’s Kennesaw—a little town of about 33,000 (and probably less than that if you don’t count the Kennesaw State University student body).
But Metro Atlanta is like that, and has been a big mix of people and culture and experience for decades in part because of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Since 1998, Hartfield-Jackson has held the title of the busiest and most efficient airport in the world. It is indeed a global gateway that links America’s South to 220 destinations throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. The airport promotes and supports Atlanta’s appeal as a home base to world travelers because of this connectivity.
(More content below photo.)
Now, if I had the time and the bandwidth to go into how cool ATL airport is, I’d do a deep dive into the full Hartsfield-Jackson experience. Like the permanent Zimbabwean Stone Sculpture exhibit (Black people stuff) between Concourse A and Terminal T. Or the Annual Taste of Hartsfield-Jackson Food Festival that features such airport restos as Papi’s East Cuban Cuisine and The Mustard Seed BBQ (more Black people stuff). Or the last conversation I had with fellow passengers on a delayed Spirit flight to New Orleans last November (peak Black people stuff). But the point of this blog post is to talk about the folks for which the damn airport was named.
First, ATL airport exists today because Mayor William B. Hartsfield pushed for Atlanta to be a national aviation center. The longest serving mayor in Atlanta’s history, Hartsfield—a White guy—was no James Reeb. In fact, Hartsfield began his political career as a segregationist. But as he progressed along in his six terms during the birth and the violence of the Civil Rights era, he slowly but surely saw the light and realized that embracing integration would be a smooth (and much less violent) move for Atlanta. He’s the guy that initially promoted Atlanta as the “City Too Busy to Hate” and was bold enough to articulate his wokeness in the news clip here. He also negotiated desegregation of the city’s businesses, had charges dropped against Dr. King, and helped cultivate a biracial coalition for winning municipal elections. (You can read more on all that here.)
As for the Jackson portion of ATL airport’s name, well that comes from Mayor Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. In addition to being the first Black mayor of Atlanta and of any city in the South for that matter, Jackson was the second longest serving mayor after Hartsfield. As far as the airport itself is concerned, Jackson expanded the airport and is responsible for the existence of the international terminal. (FYI, if your ass is constantly tardy for domestic flights out of ATL, it is faster to go through TSA at the international terminal and then catch the plane train over to the domestic terminal. You’re welcome.)
Take a look at Jackson’s pedigree and you’ll see that he was all but destined to be Atlanta leadership. His daddy was the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church which was established in 1862 (the year after the Civil War began) and became Atlanta’s first black Baptist autonomous congregation. His mama was a French professor at Spelman College, an HBCU for women of African descent founded in 1881. And his granddaddy was friggin OG activist John Wesley Dobbs, you know (or maybe not), one of the founders of the Atlanta Negro Voters League and the unofficial mayor of Auburn Avenue (which I will definitely blog about later this month). I have to laugh because John Wesley Dobbs grew up on a farm near Kennesaw. Full circle, People. Full circle.
This video here does a much deeper dive into Jackson and his legacy. In short. the man put in work to help deliver what I experienced earlier today at Kennesaw’s Town Center Mall. Mayor Jackson:
- Boosted African American contracts with the City of Atlanta from less than one percent to 35%.
- Turned the City of Atlanta’s Police Department from a damn Klavern to a force that actually hired African American police officers.
- Founded the American Voters League and the Maynard Jackson Youth Foundation.
- Was a strong supporter of Atlanta’s first female mayor: Mayor Shirley Franklin.
- Held the top position in the National Democratic Party before he died.
Anywho, the next time you happen to be at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and you have some time before a flight, you can check out huge plaques of both Hartsfield and Jackson after passing through TSA (or you can look at the pictures in this blog). You should definitely do yourself a favor and walk through the concourses instead. You’ll get a chance to enjoy some great art (Zimbabwean sculptures, Y’all) as well as an outstanding exhibit of Atlanta’s full history from Cherokees and the Trail of Tears to present day.