In November 2016, on one of my trips to go deep water sailing for the winter in the Caribbean, I had to make a flight connection in Atlanta, Georgia. Rather than just visit Atlanta airport for 4 hours and wait for my flight connection, I decide to make a two-night stopover (I often do this on my travels). Apart from Atlanta being the home of Delta Airlines (I’ve never seen so many aircraft with the same carrier logo in one place!), it is where Martin Luther King was born, lived and is buried.
The street where Martin Luther King lived for most of his live.
In my opinion, no visit to Atlanta would be complete without a visit to the centre which celebrates his life. The ‘museum’ was well-curated. A memorial fountain inside gave me a chance to reflect on the ‘race issue’ and contemplate that there is still a long way to go to resolve these tragic inequities.
The fountain and grounds of the Martin Luther King memorial centre.
The centre is located in the neighbourhood where Dr King was born and is still predominantly ‘black African’. A display panel inside the Martin Luther King memorial centre.
A display panel inside the Martin Luther King memorial centre.
I needed a haircut so after visiting the centre I decided to cross the street and go into a local barber. I pushed the door open and gingerly walked inside Stoney’s barbershop. The ‘shop’ was laid out with about 12 ‘barbers chairs’, equally spaced around the four sides of a square room, and each chair faced an individual mirror on the wall. I was quickly put at ease by the smiling face of a barber who introduced himself to me as Rufus. Once it was established that I hadn’t gone into the shop by mistake (I don’t suppose they get many white, middle-aged customers), and therefore wasn’t lost, my barber then very efficiently sat me down in his chair, gowned me up and set about cutting my hair. The neon colours, bright lights, competing smells ( aftershave, hair gel, deodorant ) and action of the ‘theatre’ of this local barbers shop scene was enhanced by the TV screens flickering high up on the wall tuned to CNN and Fox News. These screens showed Trump arriving for an election rally. This sparked a lively discussion amongst those present, barbers and customers, all talking at once about ‘The Donald’ and his chances of winning the soon to be held presidential election. Rufus kept the conversation tempo high by supporting Trump, so he was mostly getting abuse in return! They spoke in street slang of Southern USA so I couldn’t understand all that was being said, but I was able to follow the gist and sentiment of the conversation. It was LIVELY ! Amid this scene, an older attractive black lady walked into the shop selling charity raffle tickets for a Christmas hamper. Balancing a Christmas hamper on her hips she cajoled and bullied many of the guys into buying raffle tickets with a mixture of humour and menace. Rufus finished cutting my hair, then with a flourish, he applied hair gel, and then we both agreed he’d done ‘a mighty fine job’. What wonderfully new colours, smells and sounds I recall from my time at the barbers in Atlanta. The neighbourhood was full of bars and retail outlets including Edgewood Smoke Shop, Sweet Auburn Curb Market, Fin and Feathers Bar and Restaurant, Foxx Original Jamaican Restaurant, Delightful EATZ, Sweet Equity Fitness and Harold’s Chicken and Ice Bar. It’s also home to Wheat Street Baptist Church and the National Devine Spiritual Church. These different cultural encounters and events get ‘stored’ into my subconscious. I am sure I draw upon them from time to time when I am painting.