It was early afternoon, and in the heat of the day, the one guy
was starting to get angry at the other.
"Hey, I'm telling you, next one is mine!" James Wright yelled at
James Clemmons. The two Jameses were working Little Street just
south of Olympic Stadium and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium,
trying to lure parking customers onto a vacant house lot. Five
dollars per car.
"Supposed to be I get three, he get two, next time I get two, he
get three," Wright said, growing madder by the moment. He and
Clemmons have lived in this neighborhood, called Summerhill, all
their lives, fortysomething years. Wright thought they had an
understanding. "Now he's gone selfish on me," he said of Clemmons.
Clemmons had his own plan. He's a self-described cocaine addict
and alcoholic--"not ashamed to admit it," he said--and he was
feeling the urge. "Haven't had no cocaine all day," he said.
"Get me some now and I feel light. Set by myself and feel light."
August 2, 1996
He's homeless, toothless, days removed from his last shower.
Still, he follows the Olympics, knows about Michael Johnson, the
Centennial Olympic Park bombing, the crowded subway trains. The
cops moved the dealers out of Summerhill for the Games, he said.
Other than that, the Games are O.K. by him.
Summerhill is an old black neighborhood with small wood-frame
houses, some proud and tidy, others derelict. Many of the houses
are built into hillsides, and many of the porches are held up by
haphazard stacks of cinder blocks. But even with such signs of
decay, this is a real neighborhood. Olympic-ticket holders in
shiny cars glide through the streets of Summerhill. They see a
spot, they take it. Maybe they take in some local color along
the way: a sign, PIT COOKED BAR-B-Q, PA PA JO HOOTIE; a sundress
on a hanger, drying in the hot breeze; an old woman tending her
The houses of Summerhill are brightly colored, almost like those
stucco houses in Caribbean tourist posters. Margaret Epps's
house on Little Street used to be pink, sort of, she said. Then
Operation Clean Brush came charging down her street. She was
offered no choice about color: Get a yellow house, get a free
paint job. She said yes. Before the painters came, the boss man
wrote on the house, YELLOW. The painting took an hour or two, a
spray job. Epps doesn't know yet if the color will hold up
through a good rain.
"I guess they're trying to make the community look good," she
said, standing in the shade of her porch, a cigarette in her
hand. "They want the people to come back."
Summerhill is a good place to be God-fearing. They're not much
for government in Summerhill, but God's doing fine. You've got
your Mount Zion Christian Church (John Hopkins, pastor). You've
got your Church of God Holiness (James C. Taylor, pastor).
You've got your Gateway Baptist Church (Joe D. Norman, pastor).
You've got your Thankful Baptist Church (A.L. Jones, pastor).
The churches are on Martin Street. So is the elementary school,
Ralph Emerson McGill.
Behind a small gray house on Little Street there's a trampoline,
and on the trampoline on a recent weekday morning were three
kids who go to McGill: Ashiao Greenidge, who is 10; his half
brother Wally Clark, who is eight; and their friend Archellian
Bennett, a 10-year-old girl who goes by Shay.
"I want to be a gymnast, but my mom can't outfit me 'cause she
don't got no money," Shay said. She did flips on the trampoline,
forward and backward, one after another.
Ashiao said Shay could become a gymnast. He wishes he were
Shay's cousin, but he's not, so he's content to be her friend
and adviser. He knows she could make it. "Got to get a good
education," he said. "Got to have a good brain. Stay in school.
And practice very, very hard." Wally nodded to all of this.
A Summerhill woman, Sophia Johnson, came by to watch Shay on the
trampoline. Johnson had been trying to find parking customers,
$10 a car, but business was slow. The night before, Johnson had
watched the women gymnasts on TV, and she had not liked what she
saw. "Can't nobody do stops and not move," she said, still upset
that the women were having points deducted for less-than-perfect
dismounts. "They shouldn't be taking off no points for that."
Johnson wandered off. She was looking, she said, for $4. She
said she wanted to buy some food.
Down the street, Clemmons was holding up his parking sign. He
was wearing Nike sneakers, but he was not happy about it.
"I don't really go for the Air Jordans," he said. "I don't go
for all that goop they got on the bottom. I'm more of a Converse
man myself, that's what I came up on, the All-Star. I like the
Puma, too--like the cat. You give me $2 million to wear Nike or
$1 million to wear the Puma, I'm gonna wear the Puma. Nothing
against Nike, now. Just like the Puma."
A truck came down Little Street. Two white men were in the cab,
bound for the Games. "Park here, my man, park right here,"
Clemmons called out to them, but they cruised on by.