TIME Behind the Photos

Southern Rites: The Heartbreaking Story of Justin Patterson’s Death

In HBO's Southern Rites, photographer Gillian Laub goes to Mount Vernon, Ga., a racially divided town

When Gillian Laub started photographing the racially divided town of Mount Vernon, Ga. — with its segregated homecomings and proms — she stumbled onto the story of Justin Patterson, a 22-year-old black man who was killed, on Jan. 29, 2011, by Norman Neesmith, a 62-year-old white man.

Patterson’s story, which further divided Mount Vernon, is the subject of Southern Rites, a HBO documentary premiering on May 18.

Dedee Clarke, Justin’s mother, spoke to TIME.

Gillian LaubSha’von, Justin and Santa, 2012

“When I got the call, it was around 3.45 in the morning and my youngest son, Sha’von, said that Justin had been shot and he was dead… For a long time, Sha’von wouldn’t talk about it, he would only tell me things in bits and pieces. It wasn’t until 2013 that he told me the whole story. I think that the thing that bothered him the most was that the gun was actually aimed at him. Justin looked back, saw that and pushed Sha’von out of the way and took the shot himself. It’s something I don’t think he’ll really recover from. He just has to learn to live with it. It’s a day-by-day process, but I don’t think anybody can ever be the same.

The first time I met Gillian was in 2010. My youngest son, Sha’von, was attending the prom that year, and she was photographing it. I thought the work she was doing was great. But I didn’t know that much about her, I just knew that the pictures that she was taking were important. I didn’t get to know her on a deeper level until my son, Justin, died.

[When Gillian shifted her focus to what had happened to Justin], I was, at first, a little reluctant. But I could just see her passion and drive as she talked to me and I knew at that point that she really cared. I was more relaxed around her and I began to open up. But I just remember saying that it wasn’t going to be pretty sight because I was just not in the right state of mind, and she understood that.

You have to feel some kind of compassion when you do this. And Gillian had that; she felt it. And because she felt it, I believed that shows in her work.

Of course, it was very difficult to see Norman Neesmith in Gillian’s film. I had always made it a point not to really look directly at him. And to see him up close and personal in the film, it was very hard. It was hard to watch some of the things that he said. It’s just hard to hear that he never really acknowledged that his daughter invited them into his home. I felt that he thought he was a victim. I don’t think he understands that Justin had a life. He had a daughter. And she will never have her father.

Gillian’s work makes me feel that my son’s death was not in vain. That’s the one thing that I can hope for. I’m hoping that it will help someone. It’s too late for my son, but maybe it can help somebody else.

I’m hoping it will help other mothers to see that you can still survive that kind of pain and. I’m a survivor because God says I am. Everything that I believe in is because of God. He’s the reason that I’m here because there’s no way I could have done any of this by myself. I felt like nobody really cared because the story wasn’t out. It was a while before it was even in a paper. To see it now and to know that people really care, it does make me feel supported. It definitely does. I’m thinking that everyone will have an idea of what happened. This is real life. These people are real people; they feel that pain continuously every day.

My goal here is for people to know and understand that there’s still, very much so, a lot of injustice in this world and something has to be done about it.”

Southern Rites by Gillian Laub premieres on HBO on May 18. A book, published by Damiani, will be released in June.

TIME Aviation

4 Dead After Small Plane Crashes on Atlanta Highway

Police look toward the wreckage of a plane crash on Interstate 285 on May 8, 2015, in Doraville, Ga.
David Goldman—AP Police look toward the wreckage of a plane crash on Interstate 285 on May 8, 2015, in Doraville, Ga.

The cause of the crash is unknown

(ATLANTA)—A fire official says all four people onboard a small plane that crashed into a busy Atlanta interstate have been killed.

The plane crashed into Interstate 285 after taking off from an Atlanta-area airport Friday morning.

Spokesman Capt. Eric Jackson of the DeKalb County Fire Department told reporters that four were onboard, and all died. He says the east-west highway is shut down in both directions. He says he doesn’t know any details about where the plane was headed.

The plane was a Piper PA-32. It departed from DeKalb Peachtree Airport.

Names of those onboard have not been released.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

TIME Education

Rally Responding to American Flag Trampling Shuts Down Georgia University

Students walked on a flag last week to protest racism

A Georgia university shut down on Friday in preparation for a huge demonstration after a video of protesters trampling an American flag went viral.

Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress told the Valdosta Daily Times that thousands of people who “just want to come down here and support the American flag” were expected to descend on Valdosta State University Friday afternoon.

The rally is a response to a video of students walking on a flag last Friday to protest racism, reported NBC affiliate WALB.com.

“After further discussions with local law enforcement and in the interest of the safety of our…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Military

Air Force Security No Longer Banned From Saying ‘Have A Blessed Day’

The greeting was briefly changed to "have a nice day"

After a brief hiatus, Air Force security guards at a Georgia Air Force base can once again wish visitors a “blessed day” after a rule change stemming from a complaint was overturned Thursday.

Mikey Weinstein, CEO of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, spoke with officials after receiving comments from 13 service personnel — nine of whom were practicing Christians. He convinced a commander to change the greeting to “have a nice day,” the Air Force Times reports.

News of the rule change at Robins Air Force Base quickly went viral, prompting officials to review the decision and eventually have it reversed.

“The Air Force takes any expressed concern over religious freedom very seriously … ‘have a blessed day’ as a greeting is consistent with Air Force standards and is not in violation of Air Force Instructions,” the Air Force said in a statement.

Weinstein said he plans to consult with lawyers to discern if any of his company’s clients wish to sue over the matter.

TIME Crime

Georgia Postpones 2 Executions Over ‘Cloudy’ Drugs

TIME.com stock photos Health Syringe Needle
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Georgia's supply of lethal injection drug pentobarbital may have gone bad

Georgia indefinitely postponed two executions Tuesday to allow officials to analyze its current batch of lethal injection drugs, which “appeared cloudy” prior to an execution that had been scheduled Monday night.

The execution of Kelly Gissendaner, who would’ve been the first woman put to death in the state in 70 years, was called off by the Georgia Department of Corrections Monday night after the state discovered its supply of pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate, looked murky.

Georgia officials made the decision after consulting with a pharmacist, according to The New York Times, even though state officials said that its pentobarbital supply had been tested and was cleared for use.

MORE: Georgia Convict First to Be Executed After Botched Oklahoma Lethal Injection

The state then announced Tuesday that the executions of both Gissendaner and Brian Keith Terrell, who was set to die by lethal injection on March 10 for the 1992 murder of John Henry Watson, were indefinitely postponed. Gissendaner was convicted of arranging the 1997 murder of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner.

A number of states have had trouble carrying out executions due to problems obtaining drugs. A series of lawsuits from death row inmates who are challenging the constitutionality of states’ lethal injection protocols have also led to stays of execution nationwide.

MORE: Ohio Looks to Shield Lethal Injection Drugmakers

Like many states, Georgia has turned to compounding pharmacies, which are not under federal oversight, for their drug supplies while also passing a secrecy law that keeps participating pharmacies anonymous. Georgia has not released the name of its drug supplier, and it’s unclear when its current batch of pentobarbital was due to expire.

TIME Crime

Georgia Shooting Leaves 3 Dead, 2 Wounded, Questions Unanswered

Joey Terrell
Habersham County Sheriff's Department/AP Sheriff Joey Terrell of Habersham County, Ga.

The gunfight apparently pitted a former sheriff's deputy against the sheriff

Authorities were attempting to piece together Monday the sequence of events in a shooting incident in Georgia over the weekend that left three people dead and a sheriff and his deputy injured.

Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell and deputy William Zigan found a woman dead on Sunday while investigating a domestic disturbance at the Clarkesville home of former deputy Anthony Gianquinta, according to local news reports. The woman was later identified as Gianquinta’s ex-wife.

The officers fled the scene after a suspect, believed to be Gianquinta, shot and wounded both of them. When law enforcement officials returned to the scene later, Gianquinta and a third, unidentified man were both dead on the premises.

Both Terrell and Zigan were hospitalized at Northeast Georgia Medical Center and were said to be improving.

[NBC News]

TIME Infectious Disease

Georgia Gets First Case of Measles in 3 Years

National case numbers reach over 120

Georgia’s Department of Public Health confirmed on Monday that the state has its first case of measles since 2012.

An infant who traveled to Atlanta from outside the country is now being treated for the disease at Egleston Hospital at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA).

State officials, the hospital, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Prevention (CDC) are working together to identify other people who may have been exposed to the disease.

According to the health department, over 98% of incoming kindergarteners in the state have received all their school-mandated shots, including the full two doses of the measles vaccine.

New numbers released by the CDC on Monday show there are currently 121 cases of measles from 17 states, an outbreak which reportedly began at a Disneyland resort in southern California.

“We don’t need to be alarmists. We need to be aware,” said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of Health Protection at the Georgia Department of Public Health said in a statement. “What happened in Disneyland is an alert that we live in a world now in which international travel is very common and frequent, and diseases are only hours away.”

 

TIME celebrity

‘Inconsolable’ Bobby Brown Praying for Daughter to Regain Consciousness

56th GRAMMY Awards - Solstice Sunglasses and Safilo USA At GRAMMY Gift Lounge - Day 3
Tiffany Rose—Wire Image/Getty Bobbi Kristina Brown wearing Carrera by Jimmy Choo sunglasses with the Solstice Sunglasses and Safilo USA display at the Grammy Gift Lounge during the 56th Grammy Awards at Staples Center on Jan. 25, 2014, in Los Angeles

Bobbi Kristina Brown has been unconscious since Saturday

Family members of Bobbi Kristina Brown, the 21-year-old daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, are waiting for a “miracle” as she remains on a respirator with scant brain activity. Brown was found unconscious Saturday in her bathtub at her home in Roswell, Ga., reports a PEOPLE exclusive.

“This is [Bobby’s] worst nightmare,” a family source told PEOPLE. “Losing Whitney [Houston] was hard, but this is a million times worse, and to lose her in the same way would devastate him.”

Read PEOPLE’s coverage here.

TIME

Man Cited for Eating a Cheeseburger While Driving

87992980
Getty Images Double cheeseburger

Put out an APB on a royale with cheese

Drive-thru enthusiasts, let this be a warning. A man got a ticket in an Atlanta suburb last week, after a police officer observed him driving for two miles while eating a cheeseburger — specifically, a double quarter pounder with cheese.

“[The officer] said specifically three times, you can’t just go down the road eating a hamburger,” Madison Tuner told WSB-TV. “Maybe I was enjoying the burger too much I needed to tone it down. I was certainly willing to do so but I didn’t expect to be fined or punished.”

Turner, from Alabama, was cited by Cobb County authorities for violating Georgia distracted driving laws, and will have his day in court on Feb. 3. The amount that Turner will have to pay was unclear.

A 2012 study from out of the University of Leeds found that drivers have a 44% slower reaction time than usual. That’s more significant than using a phone (which decreases reaction time by 37.4%) and alcohol at the legal limit (which slows things by 12.5%).

And for those who have beef with the food in question — “Maybe if you had a giant pizza in both hands and you weren’t holding the wheel or maybe if you had a watermelon, half watermelon and you were just diving into it holding it with both hands, maybe that would be something,” a traffic attorney told WSB-TV — a 2009 study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 80% of all car accidents involved drivers who were eating. The biggest food culprit was burgers.

[WSB-TV]

TIME Civil Rights

The Atlanta World of Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. King Addresses Meeting
Robert W. Kelley—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a protest meeting in Atlanta in 1957

Growing up, King’s middle-class background offered some insulation from brutalities of the Jim Crow system — but there were no guarantees

The Auburn Avenue neighborhood where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in January 1929 was both a spatial and human embodiment of Atlanta’s paradoxical reputation for both strict racial segregation and black economic success. Noted journalist and renowned apostle of the “New South,” Henry W. Grady, may have strained the credulity of his New York audience in 1886 when he insisted that he bore no resentment toward his beloved Atlanta’s arch-nemesis, General William Tecumseh Sherman, but Grady’s claim that “from the ashes he left us … we have raised a brave and beautiful city” was more than the idle boast of a shameless booster. Atlanta’s speedily restored railroad connections and postbellum emergence as the Southeast’s principal trade and transportation hub all but assured its magnetic allure. By 1900 it was home to 90,000 people, more than a third of whom were black. A bloody race riot in 1906 left at least a dozen and quite likely more black Atlantans dead, yet — with the city’s “Forward Atlanta,” crusade for economic growth proceeding apace — the city’s black population nonetheless continued to swell. It stood at 90,000 by the time King was born into a well-established black middle class of merchants, lawyers, educators (the city boasted six private black colleges well before 1900) and ministers, concentrated in the city’s West Side on and around Auburn Avenue, which a prominent resident once called “the richest Negro street in the world.”

If Atlanta had established a reputation as a relative mecca of upward mobility for black Georgians looking to better themselves materially, it had proved no less a font of opportunity for those of a more spiritual bent, including the infant King’s father and maternal grandfather, both of whom had been born into sharecropping families in nearby rural counties. Martin (né Michael) Luther King Sr. had arrived in Atlanta as an aspiring, though scarcely literate, young minister in 1918. His determined efforts to improve himself and his circumstances did not suffer in the least from his fortuitous marriage to Alberta Williams, whose own father’s meager rural origins had not prevented him from building his small congregation into the powerful Ebenezer Baptist Church, where, upon his death in 1931, he would be succeeded in the pulpit by his son-in-law. Growing up, the younger Martin’s solidly middle-class background offered some insulation from brutalities of the Jim Crow system, but there were no guarantees. Scarcely a year after King was born, Dennis Hubert, a sophomore at Morehouse College and also the son of a prominent black minister, was brutally murdered for allegedly insulting two young white women. For all this atrocity said about the limitations of middle-class standing for the city’s blacks, the young man’s white killers were arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison, an outcome highly unlikely, to say the least, in any rural county anywhere in the state at that point.

It was not surprising that a historian of that era found Atlanta “quite evidently not proud of Georgia” or that, across the state, all but a very few whites heartily reciprocated the sentiment. Indeed, this was the primary reason that Georgia’s overwhelming rural legislative majority had taken formal action in 1917 to quarantine the capital city’s insidious racial and political moderation. This was accomplished through the brazenly anti-urban artifice of the “county-unit” electoral system, which effectively guaranteed that the preferences of voters in Atlanta, population 270,000 in 1930, could be neutralized completely by those of voters in the state’s three smallest counties, which had a combined population of scarcely 10,000.

This was a situation tailor-made for a rustic, race-baiting demagogue like Eugene Talmadge. Peppering his speeches with the N word, stonewalling efforts to improve the schools, and reveling in the impotent rebukes of “them lying Atlanta newspapers,” Talmadge claimed the governorship for the first of four times in 1932.

For all he might have done to impede progress across the state as a whole, however, Talmadge’s impact on Atlanta itself was notably less severe. Despite the economic reversals of the Great Depression, the infusions of cash from a variety of New Deal programs had already paid off for Atlantans by the end of the 1930s, with a greatly expanded and modernized infrastructure and dramatic improvement in schools, hospitals and other public institutions. The overpowering urge to show the world that Atlanta was back and better than ever was more than apparent in December 1939 when the film version of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind premiered at the Loew’s Grand Theater. In keeping with the city’s now well-known penchant for self-promotion, PR-savvy Mayor William B. Hartsfield spared no exertion to assure a glittery Hollywood presence for the event including, of course, Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh and the film’s other white actors. Fearing repercussions from local whites, however, he extended no such hospitality to Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen or other black cast members. In the end, the only black participants of note in the entire affair were the members of the choir at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, including the son of its pastor. Just shy of his 10th birthday, Martin King sang along as, in keeping with the film’s blatant racial stereotyping, the group, dressed as slaves, performed spirituals for an all-white audience at a Junior League charity gala.

King and Hartsfield would cross paths frequently in the years to come. Under Hartsfield’s leadership, Atlanta would leave a racially fraught Birmingham, Ala., in its dust as it rode the crest of World War II economic expansion to undisputed pre-eminence as the South’s most dynamic city. Steadily changing with the times, the popular and uber-connected Hartsfield would draw on his gift for orchestration again and again as he presided over the desegregation of downtown businesses and the city’s tiny but notably uneventful first steps toward integrating its public schools. Meanwhile, returned to share Ebenezer’s bully pulpit with his father, the younger Rev. King began to cast doubt on the mayor’s vaunted claim that his city was “too busy to hate” by consistently pushing the envelope of social change further and faster than Hartsfield had envisioned. Though Atlanta had provided a unique environment in which King could become the man he was, the city still had a ways to go.

Atlanta had found its breezy, boosterist persona in the artful and charming Hartsfield. It would be slower, however, to acknowledge its conscience — the 1964 Nobel laureate who, the day after returning from Oslo amid global acclaim, forfeited the acclaim of the local business establishment by venturing scarcely two blocks from his church to join workers picketing for better wages at the city’s Scripto Pen Company. Ironically, but surely fittingly as well, some 30 years later, the plant’s remains would be bulldozed in order to provide parking for visitors to the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District.

James C. Cobb is Spalding Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Georgia and a former president of the Southern Historical Association.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com