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ATLANTA IS IT
On Sept. 18 the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1996 Summer Games to Atlanta, prompting residents of that city to launch fireworks, hug strangers, dance in the subway aisles and, by day's end, lease $4.5 million worth of seats in the yet-to-be-completed Georgia Dome.
Atlanta won the right to stage the centennial Games over five other finalists, including sentimental favorite Athens, Greece, the host city of the first modern Olympics, in 1896, because its telephones work, its time zone suits U.S. television, its athletic facilities are superb, its coffers are primed and its economic future is dynamic. Led by its president, Billy Payne, and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, the city's Olympic organizing committee portrayed a racially harmonious metropolis in which Olympic profit is inevitable because failure is intolerable.
While Atlanta is not without the social problems that afflict many large U.S. cities, its civic leaders are to be commended for the decades of accomplishment that contributed to the victory over Athens and the other Olympic hopefuls.
Of course, staging a successful Atlanta Olympics will be far more difficult than charming the IOC was. In her 1936 novel, Gone with the Wind, Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell wrote, "The people who settled the town called successively Terminus, Marthasville and Atlanta...were proud of the place, proud of its growth, proud of themselves for making it grow." The hope here is that come July 1996, once again Atlanta will do itself proud.
Thirty-two years ago Bill Russell, then the center for the Boston Celtics, moved into a house in suburban Reading, Mass., making his the only black family in the neighborhood. Russell complained about persistent police harassment, which he deemed racially motivated, but he chose to stay in Reading.
A month ago the Celtics' top choice in last June's college draft, Jacksonville University guard Dee Brown, who is black, decided to purchase a house in the affluent, mostly white Boston suburb of Wellesley. Now he is having second thoughts. Last Friday, Brown was reading his mail outside the Wellesley Hills post office when he was confronted by a throng of Wellesley police officers with their guns drawn. Brown and his fianc�e, Jill Edmondson, who is white, say he was forced to kneel and then lie facedown on the pavement. Edmondson says it was 10 minutes before the officers concluded that the 21-year-old Brown was not the 25- to 30-year-old black armed robber the cameras in the Wellesley Hills branch of South Shore Bank had filmed making off with $1,691 three days before.
"I look nothing like that guy," Brown said of the robbery suspect. He added, "You look around and you see a gun barrel. You see things go past you, all the goals you set—there goes my career...." Brown also said he is considering filing a civil suit against the police, and that he plans to live elsewhere.
Russell wrote in his autobiography, Second Wind, that in many cases of police harassment his name saved him from protracted experiences. Perhaps Brown's mistake was in not establishing a bigger reputation for himself before venturing into Wellesley. As it is, it's only because he's a pro athlete that his distressing 10 minutes became publicized. Even more unsettling is what happens to less prominent blacks in similar situations.