Get on up and over to Augusta for James Brown history tour

The street where James Brown spent many of his childhood years is about a mile away from the Augusta Museum of History, which now houses an extensive collection of James Brown memorabilia.

And yet, what an enormous distance it represents.

Brown, who died in Atlanta on Christmas Day 2006, was born in Barnwell, S.C., but grew up mostly on the Georgia side of the Savannah River. The Godfather stands in perpetuity on Broad Street, immortalized with a statue where tourists love to stop for selfies, and the city’s major music venue is named in his honor. The huge public memorial ceremony after his death was held at the James Brown Arena.

Now the James Brown Family Foundation has launched the James Brown Family Historical Tour to give fans even greater insight into the global entertainer’s humble beginnings. Brown’s daughter Deanna Brown-Thomas, who still lives in the area, is president of the foundation. Her sister Dr. Yamma Brown, who lives in Atlanta, serves as vice president.

Thomas said organizing the tour was a walk down memory lane.

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“I had no idea I had so much history inside of my head until I had to start pulling it out,” she said. “This is not just a history lesson but it’s also entertaining.”

The tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. on Saturdays year-round, leaving from and ending at the museum that houses the James Brown exhibit. Museum admission is included with $15 tour price.

Stops include the address on Twiggs Street where Brown lived as a youngster. It was a brothel at the time, run by Brown’s great aunt. Also on the tour are the building where his elementary school was housed (now a Head Start program), the house he and his family lived in during his adult years, area businesses he owned, the statue and arena. In the future, Thomas hopes to expand the tour to add the Beech Island, S.C., mansion her father called home at the time of his death.

“Most of his history is in Georgia,” she said. “His home is just something extra. He always wanted his home to be set up like a museum. We look forward to that.”

“Get On Up,” the 2014 biopic that starred Chadwick Boseman as Brown, indirectly led to the tour. The movie wasn’t filmed in Augusta, but Boseman and director Tate Taylor visited to get a sense of the man whose life story they set out to portray.

“They’re just regular people, which let me know he was a regular person as well,” Boseman said about his visit with Brown and Thomas. “I just appreciate his individual experience. I understand it more looking at his childhood and his background.”

Prepping Taylor and Boseman to bring James Brown to life on-screen inspired his daughters to launch the tour.

“When Tate Taylor and Chadwick Boseman came to town to talk to the family we took them on this little tour — where Dad lived, where he went to school,” Thomas said. “We had to get a little script together. When I was getting it together I was like, ‘Wow. There’s some real great history people would want to know.’ After much prayer we decided to move forward.”

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