People in the News

Published on September 11th, 2017 |


Biography of Sam Massell tells Buckhead leader’s story of his 4 lives

By John Schaffner

“Play It Again, Sam: the Notable Life of Sam Massell, Atlanta’s First Minority Mayor,” which tells his life from birth as a downtown Piedmont baby through Druid Hills childhood, college life, World War II service, and four careers—including as Atlanta’s first minority mayor—debuted with a book signing Sept. 9 at the Decatur Book Festival. 

In 2014, writer Charles McNair met Sam Massell on an assignment for Georgia State University Magazine. Soon after, he and the president of the Buckhead Coalition and honorary mayor of Buckhead, began work on a history of Massell’s diverse and colorful life. A book resulted.

“Sam’s generous gifts of time, contacts and candor deserve all the credit for this work,” McNair wrote in a note about the book. “As writer, I only hope to have captured enough of Sam’s remarkable spirit and chronicled enough of his enduring achievements to do him justice.”

The author recites Massell’s mischief as a self-described “dead-end kid”; accompanies him in young adulthood when he struggles between pride and prejudice for being Jewish, and shares today’s philosophical differences between conservative Republican colleagues and his liberal civic service history as a Democrat.

“Play It Again Sam” reports on Massell’s personal and political life, identifying warts as well as winnings.  Still working full-time at age 90, in the nonprofit arena, Massell reflects with relief and reward on the legacy of his “mayorship”–that of peacefully steering Atlanta through the transformation from an all-white power structure to a predominantly black city government.

Separate chapters provide insight to his work ethic, describing successes with 20 years in commercial real estate; 22 years in elected offices; 13 years in the tourism industry and now into his 13 year as president of the Buckhead Coalition.

After being president of Atlanta’s city council for eight years he was elected mayor of the city, during which time his political and civic successes included the formation of MARTA (the mass transit system); development of the Omni Coliseum and the Five Points Central City Woodruff Park, all with no added ad valorem taxes.

Mayor Massell also pioneered minority opportunities appointing the first female to the City Council and the first blacks as department heads in over 125 years.

Massell explains that the present chapter itemizing some of his role as founding president of the Buckhead Coalition “is on-going, and points to the community’s explosive skyline built during his stewardship.”

The branding of Buckhead nationally as “The Address of Choice” has not been by accident, and continues as his mission.  He has been inducted into the “Halls of Fame” in the fields of business, government, civil rights, hospitality, and influence.

“Play It Again, Sam”, authored by Charles McNair, with Foreword by Amb. Andrew Young, is published by Mercer University Press (9/1/17, hardcover, 6” x 9”, 304 pp, 98 pictures, $29) is available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

In addition to the Labor Day autograph session at the Decatur book Festival, Massell and McNair will be autographing Oct. 12 at the Buckhead Barnes & Noble store, Nov. 9 at the Marcus Community Center, and Nov. 28 at Atlanta History Center in Buckhead.

(Commentary: I have reported on and personally known Sam Massell for a couple of decades as editor of two Buckhead community newspapers and the BuckheadView online news service. Massell has been a consistent source of news as he continues his dedication to public service through his work with the Buckhead Coalition and has been a great resource of personal counsel to me. I consider Sam Massell a friend. A book signing of “Play It Again Sam” at the Atlanta History Center is so very fitting for this man. –John Schaffner)

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One Response to Biography of Sam Massell tells Buckhead leader’s story of his 4 lives

  1. A wonderful man. Atlanta’s shiniest jewel.

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