“It is humbling that they would ask me to come back.”
When Samuel L. Jackson, who grew up in Chattanooga, first heard about the July 16 shootings that took the lives of five servicemen, he was surprised and saddened that something like that could happen here.
He was in the Mediterranean when he opened a newspaper and read details of the shootings that took the lives of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Sgt. Carson Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire "Skip" Wells and Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith. They were shot by Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who had also grown up here.
If you go
* What: Chattanooga Unite: A Tribute on the River
* When: 2-9 p.m. today. Gates will open at noon.
* Where: Opening parade will travel along Broad Street beginning at M.L. King Boulevard and ending at Ross’s Landing on Riverfront Parkway
* Admission: Free, but donations will be taken
* Phone: 423-756-2211
Armed Forces Parade along Broad Street from M.L. King Boulevard to the riverfront at Ross’s Landing
* Memorial Service and Remembrance
* National anthem and Pledge of Allegiance
* Presentation of military colors
* Tributes from community and military leaders
* Eternal Father” (Navy and Marine funeral song)
* Flags presented to families
* 21-gun salute
* Playing of Taps
* Chattanooga Combined Church Choir
Blue Angel Missing-Man Formation flyover
Harry Connick Jr.
Brantley Gilbert with Trace Adkins, Colt Ford and Aaron Lewis
* Parking: There will be free parking at all CARTA lots and Finley Stadium and free shuttle service originating at Finley from noon to 10 p.m. CARTA shuttles and buses will run regular routes except during the parade when the shuttle will pick up on Market instead of Broad.
* Road closures: The ramp from Veterans Bridge to Riverfront Parkway will be closed until 6 a.m. Thursday. Riverfront Parkway will be closed from Molly Lane to Aquarium Way from 9 a.m. today to 6 a.m. Thursday.
* Security: Gate security will be in place at entry points near the Tennessee Aquarium and will be similar to that used during Riverbend.
Acting with Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson said he is accustomed to fans approaching him in public places and quoting lines from his movies, especially the “Royale with Cheese” line from “Pulp Fiction.” But, he said only about three people have been able to do the whole scene with him. Here it is in case you run into him at a grocery store or bank.
* Vincent (John Travolta): … You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
* Jules (Samuel L. Jackson): They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
* Vincent: No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the —— a Quarter Pounder is.
* Jules: What’d they call it?
* Vincent: Royale with Cheese.
* Jules: Royale with Cheese. What’d they call a Big Mac?
* Vincent: Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it Le Big Mac.
* Jules: What do they call a Whopper?
* Vincent: I dunno, I didn’t go into a Burger King.
"Culturally, in my mind, Chattanooga had two kinds of people — black and white," Jackson said in a phone interview.
"When I was coming up, there was no Chinese laundry and only one synagogue. To realize that the town I grew up in is now multicultural was surprising, and to have that kind of hate and religious fervor there and to have something like that happen there struck me as out of the ordinary."
Jackson has visited his hometown many times over the years to see family and friends and he's noticed change.
"It is very different and has grown immensely socially. It is still very homey and friendly. I don't really feel the economic depression that hit a lot of cities, even though the big factories like Alcoa and U.S. Pipe are not there anymore."
A few days after the shooting, Jackson was asked by event organizers if he would consider serving as emcee for what would become Chattanooga Unite: A Tribute on the River, which is today at Ross's Landing. He accepted the role within a few hours of being contacted.
"I think people are really excited that Sam is a part of this," said Chip Baker, executive director of Friends of the Festival, which is producing the tribute. The event is also a fundraiser for the families of the victims.
"I hope to show some support for the families of the guys who died and produce a reasonable amount of support when we pass the hat," Jackson said. "We want to celebrate their lives and mourn their passing."
The event starts today at 2 p.m. with a parade down Broad Street to the river, a choir, speeches from city and military officials, a Blue Angel jet flyover and concerts by Harry Connick Jr. and Brantley Gilbert, who will be joined by Trace Adkins, Colt Ford and Aaron Lewis. Jackson is expected to say a few words before the public addresses are made. He also will introduce the music portion of the event.
Samuel Leroy Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., in 1948 but he was raised in Chattanooga by his grandparents and aunt. His mother stayed in D.C. to work until joining the family here when Jackson was 10. His father, Roy, whom he'd only met a couple of times, died when Jackson was young.
Jackson attended Riverside High School before graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1972. While at Morehouse, he became active in the Civil Rights movement, in particular, theater productions that dealt with racial inequality. It was through the theater work that he met LaTanya Richardson, a student at Spelman College. The two married in 1980 and have one daughter, Zoe.
Growing up in segregated Chattanooga was tough and not altogether pleasant, he has said in other interviews. That and the fact that he has rarely made public appearances here has led some to believe that he didn't like Chattanooga, or that he rarely returned. In fact, Jackson still has friends and family here. Before his mother died in 2012, he was often seen around town standing in line at the bank or dining in a restaurant.
He said he was here a year or so ago visiting friend Clark "Deacon Bluz" White. His last public appearance here was about 20 years or so ago "for some award." Jackson said he was asked about having a street named in his honor here a few years ago, but that he doesn't worry about such requests.
"That's not me. What am I going to do, call up and ask to be honored? That's not who I am."
He said he is proud and honored, however, to be serving as master of ceremonies for Chattanooga Unite.
"It is great to know that I have achieved something that makes a whole city proud of the fact that I am from there, and that the city helped develop me. It is humbling that they would ask me to come back.
"I'll try not to cuss," he added, acknowledging that many of the movie quotes he is known for are colored with obscenities delivered as only he can.
Fellow actor and Chattanooga native Dennis Haskins said he is thrilled Jackson will be emceeing the event.
"Sam is a good dude, and he has done so much for Chattanooga that people don't know about."
Jackson said that while Chattanooga was, at times, a tough place to grow up, his memories are mostly positive.
"I liked growing up in Chattanooga," he said. "It's always interesting to see what is going on there. I pick up the Times (Free Press) whenever I can.
"[Growing up there] gave me a firm base for who I am and the values that I hold. I learned a lot of life lessons there. It was a working-class town."
Jackson says whenever he sees a fire hydrant in some other city, he always looks to see if it was made by Chattanooga manufacturer Mueller Co.
Jackson's film career was kickstarted by his friendship with Spike Lee, who cast him in several of his early movies. It was Jackson's role as Gator in Lee's "Jungle Fever" that brought him critical praise and launched a movie career that made Jackson the highest-grossing film actor of all time, thanks to roles in films like "Jurassic Park," "Pulp Fiction," "A Time to Kill," "Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones," "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" and "Iron Man 2."
Jackson said he didn't even know the folks at Guinness Book of World Records — which reports that his films have earned more than $7.5 billion — kept up with such things.
"I never knew it was something to aspire to until George Lucas told me. Right before 'Star Wars [Attack of the Clones]' came out, he said, 'You know you are about to pass Harrison [Ford]?'"
It's not likely Jackson, known as the "hardest working actor in Hollywood," will lose that record any time soon, either. He has "Avengers: Age of Ultron," "Barely Lethal" and 'The Hateful Eight" coming out this year alone.
Hard work is part of what he learned growing up in Chattanooga, he said.
"It's what grown people are supposed to do — get up every day and go to work. My wife and daughter like to buy things. Besides, I'm happiest when I'm working."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.