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Jay’s U.S. Tour, Day 9: Atlanta

Below is Monday’s blog entry from Grainews editor Jay Whetter on his three-week tour of the United States at the invitation of the U.S. Department of State, as part of its International Visitor Leadership Program. Starting today, Jay’s travelogue moves from our Daily News service to the Grainews site, where past and future entries can be seen with a visit to his new permanent blog.

Atlanta, Georgia, Jan. 14 — We had a breakfast meeting this morning at the handsome art-filled residence of the Canadian consul general in Atlanta. Brian Oak is the current consul general. Chris Young, director of international affairs with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, joined us. The key discussion topic was the South East United States (SEUS)-Canada Alliance, a new group that brings together politicians and business leaders to discuss trade opportunities. The alliance just had its first meeting in Montreal in November, and the next one will be in Savannah, Georgia June 15-17 of this year. Young expects several hundred people at the conference, including business leaders from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in both countries. I asked Young whether he thought these trade alliances actually worked to “raise all ships” in an economic sense. He thought I was being negative and cynical with my question, but I wasn’t. For an answer, he described the 31-year-old SEUS-Japan Alliance. As a result of meetings and co-operation established through that alliance, many Japanese companies set up in Georgia. One example is YKK — best known for its zippers, but now producing a wide array of products. Its factory in Macon, Georgia produces mostly window frames and door sidings, and employs about 1,000 people. Back when this factory was first built, the founder of YKK became friends with Georgia Governor at the time, George Busbee. When the founder Mr. Yoshida died, Busbee was invited to speak at his funeral in Japan. And when Busbee died in 2004, the consul general of Japan was one of the first to pay his respects.

“Business is about relationships,” Young says. The SEUS-Canada Alliance gives Canadian companies a chance to establish or re-establish relationships in the SEUS region. “Closest relationships are the ones you take for granted,” Young says. “This alliance will help to make sure the fires stay lit.”

After that meeting, we went to the Martin Luther King Jr. museum. Although the Civil War ended slavery in the south, it certainly did not end oppression. Segregation of blacks was legal for 100 years after the Civil War, and King was part of the movement to bring down these segregation laws. King was born in Atlanta in 1929. His father was a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is right across from the museum. After returning from university in Boston, King joined his father as a pastor, which gave him time to lead the social justice movement. King believed in the power of non-violent protest and was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. “Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it will be our blood,” Gandhi said. He also said, “I am always willing to return to jail.” These words inspired King. He encouraged and participated in non-violent protest of segregation laws, and was arrested 14 times for his causes. I can’t do King justice in a couple of paragraphs, but what I found most striking was the speech he made April 3, 1968 in Memphis. He was facing many threats on his life when he spoke these words: “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

The next day James Earl Ray shot Martin Luther King Jr. in the face. On April 11, two days after King’s funeral, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act that prohibited discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan made Martin Luther King Day a national holiday. (Thanks to Amy Pastan’s biography of Martin Luther King Jr. for background information.)

Supper and blues…

We all wanted some southern cookin’ in Atlanta, so we went to a place called Mary Mac’s. It had it all: fried chicken, catfish, ribs, grits, collard greens, black eyed peas, corn bread and peach cobbler. I had super-greasy fried green tomatoes for an appetizer, and ribs (excellent!), black-eyed peas and cheese grits for the main course. The waiter also brought us baskets of cornbread, cinnamon biscuits and yeast rolls. To top it off I had a mint julep with about three ounces of bourbon mixed with a cup of sugary mint syrup. I would have preferred straight bourbon with a mint leaf thrown in.

After we rolled out of Mary Mac’s, some of us went to a blues club called Blind Willie’s. It’s a spitting image of Times Change(d) on Main Street in Winnipeg. We heard a great local blues duo of Nathan Nelson on guitar and David Roth on upright bass. I particularly liked one song. It was a Bo Carter cover about “barnyard justice,” as Nelson says. Here is my favorite line: “Soo cow, you better not kick or I’ll break your leg with a stick.”

I talked with Nelson after the first act. He asked what I was doing in Atlanta. I told him I was on a tour at the invite of the U.S. Embassy to learn about the U.S. government system and now it works. Nelson says, “When you find out, would you let me know?”

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