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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fond Memories of Michael Jackson

"He seems to be more popular in death, than I ever knew him in life."

The sudden death of the undisputed "King of Pop" was especially poignant for Riverview and Kingsport resident Linus Griffin. His father, legendary writer, reporter and scholar Dr. Junius Griffin, was Motown's Vice President of Public Relations in 1968, when five brothers and their parents from Gary, Indiana strolled into Hitsville, U.S.A which had relocated from Detroit to Hollywood. From those humble beginnings, musical history was made.


"The first memory I had of this kid named Michael Jackson," says Linus, "was that my dad had missed my birthday party in 1968, because he and Diane (Diana) Ross (Diane is her real name) Ross had flown from Hollywood to Gary, Indiana to sign the contract to hire these five brothers, who called themselves "The Jackson Five."

"The Motown family that included Smoky Robinson, Stevie Wonder and the Supremes immediately took the Jackson Five into the fold," says Linus. "The Jacksons were a true family, just like Diane (Diana) Ross and her brother, a musician at Motown, and Stevie Wonder, whose brother worked in the supply room at Motown."

"In those days of the late 60's and early 70's, I knew Michael's brother Jackie better than I knew Michael or the other brothers, " says Linus. "Jackie was the oldest, seven years older than Michael, and he was the quiet one of the group. I would talk to Jackie a lot, maybe Jermaine from time to time. Michael was much younger, and I didn't talk to him much, but he was fascinated by all the pictures that Mr. (Berry) Gordy put up on the walls. Michael used to roam those halls, looking up at the pictures of Motown's great singers and musicians. But you couldn't miss what he was doing.. he was soaking it all in. He was very shy when someone focused on him directly, but always just a little kid when he was around his brothers."

Linus remembers an impish moment he says, was typical of Michael "gotta be startin' something."

"As I did a lot, I was talking to Jackie about music and politics," he says. "My father had this public relations gimmick going on.. he had some gold cigarette lighters on his desk that he would give out to the Hollywood big-wigs that came to his office at Motown a lot. As I was talking to Jackie, Michael and Marlon were snatching lighters off my dad's desk, thinking nobody was seeing 'em do it. They were always getting into something."

As everybody knows, Michael formed a special attachment to Diana Ross, who had just left the Supremes for a musical career of her own.

"It doesn't surprise me that Diane hasn't had too much to say about Michael's passing," says Linus. "If she were still in the Motown family and my dad were still Motown's P.R. person and still handling her, he would have her on ice, just like she is now. There is nothing for her to say publically. If she were to say anything, so many people would take it out of context, and the moment of his death is still a very sensitive subject. She's doing the right thing."

Linus Griffin attended Morehouse College in Atlanta with Ross' brother "T-Bone" Ross, and both got kicked out of the school because he says, "our civil rights attitudes were too radical at the time. But the first house I lived in when I moved to Hollywood to wait on my parents to arrive, was Diane Ross' house. To think about Motown is to think about how much of a family we all were, and how Michael left his real family and the Motown family to start out on his own, just like Diane did."

Linus Griffin says, Michael Jackson will probably stay in the news for quite some time.

"My dad once showed me a book called 'Media in America,' which explains what's going on right now," he says. "Behind the name 'Michael Jackson,' you've got these mega-corporations and far-flung businesses that make a ton of money off his name, his image, his songs and his performances, so you're going to get a lot of dis-information before you get REAL information about what's happening in the Michael Jackson empire. I'm a trained person in public administration and I can tell you it's going to take a long time to get everything straightened out, every aspect of his life, because his life was so big. You and me, it wouldn't take long at all, but for Michael Jackson, we're looking at perhaps, years. It's starting with the autopsy report, which takes 4 to 6 weeks in Los Angeles County."

"Even if he did die of medications, he is still great," says Linus, "he is still an icon. He has more power around the world than Elvis every dreamed of. People talk about how big the Elvis estate is, and Michael's is much bigger. I will give Elvis his due, though.. he was more about American folklore and Michael was more about American culture. They both changed the scope of American music, but I think Michael had more of an influence."

"His music will not be missed," Linus predicted, "because, even now he still has two of the top-selling albums of all time. But keep your eye on 'We Are The World.' That's going to be the one that is going to truly take off. There is a reason why nobody is talking about that particular song right now, but everybody in the music industry is watching to see what it's going to do, and just look at the major backer of the song: Diane Ross."

"I would hope the world remembers Michael for himself, but also as part of a family, the Jacksons. We always considered him part of the Motown family."


Junius Griffin was born January 13, 1929 in Stonega, Virginia, a small coal mining community near Big Stone Gap. At the age of 16 he enrolled at Bluefield College, but he decided he was not ready for an advanced education and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He served for 12 years, and for 4 1/2 of those years he acted as the Taiwan Bureau Chief for Stars and Stripes.

Following his departure from the service c. 1957, Griffin returned to the United States to begin a career with the New York Times, where he remained until 1962. During this time he also was employed as the first African-American reporter for the New York rewrite desk of the Associated Press.

In July 1963, Junius Griffin, Relman Morin, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and six other Associated Press reporters published a 13-part series describing racial prejudice and segregation in the United States. Initiated by Relman Morin and entitled "The Deepening Crisis," the series attempted to illustrate the social, economic, political, and educational inequalities that were experienced by African-Americans. Griffin's two contributions described the new "Negro" militancy that was emerging throughout urban America and depicted the diversities between northern and southern racial prejudices from the perspective of the black American. The series' immense impact eventually lead to its nomination for the 1962 Pulitzer Prize in Journalism.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference asked Junius Griffin in 1965 to work for them writing speeches for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Griffin continued working for the King organization until 1967, when he took a position as vice-president for Motown Records Industries, as Motown owner Berry Gordy, who had purchased the recording rights to Dr. King's speeches, exercised his option to release the recordings.

Suffering from acute ulcers in 1982, Griffin resigned his position at Motown Records and entered Johnson City's Mountain Home Veteran's Hospital. During his stay he became interested in pursuing his college degree and in 1983 enrolled at East Tennessee State University for a bachelors degree in English and mass communications and later a masters degree in English under the direction of Dr. Robert (Jack) Higgs. Griffin received both his bachelors and masters degrees from East Tennessee State University in December 1987. By 1988 he had left Tennessee to become public relations advisor and a board member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia.