Maynard Eaton, the Man, the Myth, the Legend, Laid to Rest in A Robust Memorial Service

June 18, 2023 Off By Michael

At Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church

Maynard Eaton, a life lived fully, as evidenced by his signature smile. File Photo

Back in the days when Jim Crow and de facto segregation ruled the land, a baby named Maynard Eaton was born. He grew into manhood reading newspapers on his morning paper route. He played football and baseball. He was affectionately known by the neighborhood kids of Orange, New Jersey, as “Jelly.”

This speck of life, born in the middle of the 20th century, grew into a man with a broad infectious smile. He spoke with a rustic baritone voice, and although he did not wear a cane and derby hat, he was an impeccable dresser, an undisputed legend in his own time.

Maynard Eaton was the epitome of a “Man in Full,” the quintessential “every man.” He represented the perfect example of human existence in all its fragilities. While Eaton did not wear his religion on his sleeves, he kept in close contact with the leading pastors of Atlanta, talking with them daily. He could pick up the telephone and get Rev. Darryl Winston, Rev. Jasper Williams, or Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley on the phone. They talked to Eaton about their projects, hopes, and dreams for a better Atlanta and the world while fulfilling Eaton’s spiritual needs.

Eaton, like this writer, and others, failed often. Each time he had a setback, he picked himself up, flashed his broad smile, and returned to the fray. He was a good journalist, an excellent storyteller, and a master at framing an interview for the camera.

Maynard Eaton and Harold Michael Harvey comparing notes August 18, 2018, before a news conference by Rev. Jasper Williams, who had come under fire for his candid eulogy for Aretha Franklin. Photo by Cascade Publishing House

If you had ought with Eaton, it didn’t last long; it’s something about his smile, that bellowing laughter. It would pull you into the spirit of his heart. His heart was for his people, dismantling Jim Crow and de facto segregation. Eaton wanted to obtain a journalism degree from Columbia University to prepare himself for his heart’s work, but Columbia did not offer a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Columbia prefers their journalism majors to enter their master’s program with another discipline under their belt.

Disappointed he had failed at enrolling into Columbia, Eaton picked himself up and enrolled at the historic Hampton Institute, where Booker T. Washington matriculated before becoming the first Principal of Tuskegee Institute. Within weeks, his laughter and smile earned him a campus full of friends. He played catcher on Hampton’s baseball team and gained his teammates’ trust; they named him team captain.

After graduating from Hampton, lady luck smiled at Eaton; he applied for the master’s program in journalism at Columbia and was admitted. When he appeared at his first journalism class at Columbia, the male professor asked:

“What are you doing here? Aren’t you in the wrong place?”

“What do you mean,” Eaton replied.

“Your people were here last week. I thought they had already left campus,” the professor screeched.

Then he offered, “Your people come during the summer break, but I have never had a Black student enrolled in my class.”

The professor referenced a practice conducted at Columbia, Harvard, and other Ivy League schools that offered a diverse group of professionals certificates of completion in a course of study. Usually, Blacks would come to Columbia during the summer break, take a few classes, and leave with certification that they had received instruction from the prestigious Columbia University. The university could applaud itself for having Black students on campus.

Eaton, most likely, if not the first Black journalism student at Columbia, was one of the early ones.

A journalist-journalist, Maynard Eaton, chatting with legendary broadcaster and civil rights activist Ralph Houck at an Atlanta Press Club Mixer, circa 2015. Photo by Harold Michael Harvey

After Columbia, Eaton accepted a job covering sports at a television station in Miami, Florida. For Eaton, a jock, the sports beat was an excellent place to land. The sports beat was a safe place for the media outlet to digest having a Black man on board, as this was when Whites perceived every Black man as suffering from the angry Black Man Syndrome. The legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Colts, Don Shula, was unsettled by Eaton’s presence in the locker room in Miami.

At Baltimore, Shula had coached the great running back Lenny Moore from Morgan State College, an original member of the collection of post-secondary schools known as Historical Black Colleges and Universities. Moore was not trained in communication like Eaton, and Shula was not accustomed to an articulate Black man asking questions about his football field decisions.

Between Shula and the fast party life in Miami, Eaton fell out of the South Beach scene. He landed on his feet in Atlanta, Georgia, covering hard news for television station WXIA-TV. At the time, Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, was touting the city as the next great American city. Jackson lived several doors down from Eaton in the same condominium complex the two trailblazers shared. The two often ran into each other, exchanging barbs about their first names. Eaton often chided Jackson over his intentions for Valerie Richardson until Jackson popped the question, and Ms. Richardson became Mrs. Jackson.

Maynard Eaton and Martin Luther King, III, captured in this photo outside of the SCLC Headquarters building. Photo by renowned photographer. Clyde Bradley

 During Eaton’s early years in Atlanta, a wave of disappearing young people, primarily Black boys, began.

What was happening to Black kids in Atlanta?

Rumors abound, but no clear answers; no one seemed to know, and dread was in the air.

The missing and murdered children crisis was the moment that Eaton had been training for all his life. He began to cover the Atlanta Missing and Murdered Children cases, thereby putting a face on the crisis tearing apart Atlanta’s Black community in ways White journalists could not do. He told the stories with empathy; these were not, as the White media had portrayed, mere “Street Smart Kids.” These boys and girls were sons and daughters of decent, hard-working mothers whom their families and neighborhoods loved. When Eaton started to show the humanity of the young people caught up in this diabolical plot, his White colleagues followed suit, and suddenly the tide began to turn to end this tragic nightmare.

Then as life would have it, Eaton failed again. Although to look at him the next day, you would not know it. He picked himself up and took his considerable journalistic skills to the Black Press. At the Atlanta Voice, where I had worked as a young journalist when Eaton was the darling of WXIA, he brought the news to the Black community, holding Black elected officials in Atlanta accountable for serving the people.

Maynard Eaton is looking over the shoulder of SCLC President and CEO Dr. Charles Steele during a press conference over voter suppression in Georgia. Photo by Harold Michael Harvey

Falling from grace yet again, Eaton emerged as the National Communication Director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was delighted to tell the stories of the preeminent civil rights organization founded by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957. In this role, Eaton had found his zenith. He had his hands on the pulse of people who made the powerful accountable to all Americans. He thrived in this post, bringing a cadre of the finest unknown writers in America to tell the stories of civil rights in the 21st century through the pages of the SCLC Magazine.

Eaton, enjoying his work at SCLC, branched out and returned to the classroom — this time not as a student but a journalism professor. First, at Clark-Atlanta University, where he had this writer and other journalists appear as guest lecturers, then he returned to his alma mater, Hampton University as an endowed professor at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism & Communications.

He lived a riveting life full of ups and downs, ups and downs, ups and downs. He left us on the upside, first giving his life to Christ the night of his transition in a telephone call with Rev. Jasper Williams, who asked Eaton, “Do you want to accept Christ in your heart right now.”

“Maynard replied, “Yes, I want to accept Christ in my heart right now.”

Then, Eaton had his wife, Robin to, call his good friend Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley. According to Durley, the call went this way:

“Dr. Durley, can I ask you a question,” Eaton asked.

“Yes, you can ask me a question,” Durley replied.

“How do you check out,” Eaton, the consummate journalist, queried.

Durley did not have an answer for the man in full who knew he was ready to check out.

In my last conversation with Maynard in December 2022, we both mused how we would be perceived when we checked out. I’m not sure how this subject got into our conversation. Maynard would not learn of his illness until two months later. I am happy to report you didn’t fare badly; good, buddy. While the local media outlets did not report on your transition like they did Jackson, Lowery, Lewis, and Vivian, your community turned out to shower you with love and praise you for a life lived with honor, simplicity, and robustness. Far de well.

Harold Michael Harvey, JD, is the Living Now 2020 Bronze Medal winner for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He authored a book on Negro Leagues Baseball, The Duke of 18th & Vine: Bob Kendrick Pitches Negro Leagues Baseball. He writes feature stories for Black College Nines. Com. Harvey is a member of the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, HBCU and PRO Sports Media Association, and the Legends Committee for the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Harvey is an engaging speaker. Contact Harvey at