My girlfriend and I went to see the movie “Get On Up” on the opening day August 1, 2014. The movie is a good snapshot of the life of Mr. James Brown. This was the first time I have gone to the movies in nearly two decades and I am very pleased that I chose “Get on Up” as the movie to get me into a theater. The entire cast gave a stellar performance, which probably would have earned the approval of Mr. Brown.
The movie brought back many wonderful memories of both my childhood and young adulthood. I grew up as an avid fan of Mr. Brown and I had memorable flashbacks of standing in line at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia anxiously waiting to get inside to see “Mr. Dynamite.”
When I began my monthly drives from Philadelphia to Augusta to visit my family in the 70s, I played many of Mr. Brown’s songs on my cassette player during the twelve-hour drive each way. During my initial trips, Mr. Brown had a radio station, which I stayed tuned in while in Augusta. I was surprised that many of my family and friends did not share my excitement of being in the hometown of the Godfather of Soul.
While watching the movie I reflected on my professional interactions with Mr. Brown during his incarceration in the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC). I was the Social Worker Supervisor at the “Lower Savannah Work Release Center” in Aiken, South Carolina during his incarceration there and I placed him on my caseload.
Mr. Brown told me during our initial sessions that some White Deputies from both the Augusta, Ga. and the North Augusta, South Carolina law enforcement were intent on killing him by firing numerous shots into his pickup truck. Because of this, he said he did not feel that it was safe for him to end the high-speed chase any sooner than he did.
In reviewing his arrest record, including looking at the photos of both him and his pickup truck at the time of his arrest, I was in total agreement with Mr. Brown’s assessment. His truck had many holes that appeared to be the results of gunshots. In addition, the photos revealed that there were bruises on both wrists, caused by the handcuffs being too tight.
Mr. Brown talked about the ups and downs of his career and how his incarceration was a “Godsend.” He felt his incarceration enabled him to get much needed rest. He said, on several occasions that his arrest was the best thing that could have happened to him, because once released, he would skyrocket back to the top – which he did. Throughout our sessions, Mr. Brown remained Regal, yet humble. He was both articulate and intelligent in a worldly way. In other words, Mr. Brown was very wise and he shared some of his wisdom with me.
The one thing that will always remain at the forefront of my thoughts in regards to Mr. James Brown was the negative treatment he received from the state of South Carolina regarding his offense. Fortunately, for both Mr. Brown and myself, I held the position of Social Worker Supervisor at that correctional institution and I was able to intervene on his behalf. The Warden (White male) instructed me to put in my report that before Mr. Brown would be eligible for parole he would have to participate in both Alcohol & Drug Education and Treatment groups, which I emphatically refused to do.
During the time of Mr. Brown’s incarceration, the SCDC policy stipulated that all inmates who were under the influence of any legal or illegal substance at the time of the commission of their offense “must” participate in the two above-mentioned groups. I steadfastly refused to place in Mr. Brown’s record an order for him to participate in either of these groups because at the time of Mr. Brown’s arrest, his blood test indicated that he did not have any legal or illegal drugs in his system.
The Warden and several members of his staff repeatedly tried to convince me that since Mr. Brown was a “known drug user,” (which I had no knowledge of, nor did I have access to any records attesting to this), he needed to complete both of these groups prior to his parole. Instead, I wrote in Mr. Brown’s official record that he had successfully completed all psychosocial requirements for parole and I was not recommending that he participate in Alcohol & Drug Education or treatment groups. It goes without saying, the warden was livid, yet, there was nothing that he could do because I was the “professional expert” in this matter and he could not override my recommendations because they were in compliance with the SCDC policy.
In watching the movie, the inference was that Mr. Brown was under the influence of some drug when he confronted the White woman for using his bathroom, which again was untrue. However, this scene did point out the real reason they targeted Mr. Brown to be murdered; he reportedly threatened a White woman in Augusta, Georgia. Historically and traditionally, nothing drives southern White men into an insane rage quicker than the thought that a Black man posed a threat to their precious White women. The law enforcement in both Georgia and South Carolina decided to have an old-fashioned lynching using legal mobs wearing badges and guns instead of illegal mobs carrying ropes and torches.
What struck me, as being a very sad commentary regarding the movie about “Soul Brother #1” was the fact that all of the producers of this movie were White men, including Mick Jagger. In the movie, they forced Mr. Brown to yield to the Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger a member of the group) at the start of his career because the promoters wanted them to be the closing act and Mick Jagger is still the closing act on Mr. Brown’s career by producing the movie. Where were all of our wealthy Black people when we needed them to produce the life story of Mr. James Brown?
Finally, to add insult to injury the producers decided to film this movie in Natchez and Jackson Mississippi, which is two states away from Mr. Brown’s beloved hometown – Augusta, Ga.
My brother-in-law, Mr. J.R. Riles was instrumental in renaming the street running through the neighborhood where Mr. Brown grew up to “James Brown Blvd.” He was also instrumental in getting the city officials to rename Augusta Civic Center to the “James Brown Arena,” where Mr. Brown’s funeral was held. In addition, there is a life-size statue of Mr. Brown on Broad Street, downtown Augusta. All of these honors took place during Mr. Brown’s lifetime. These name-sake honors should have been included in the movie.