These are the outlines of Macon’s greatest contemporary love story. But for decades, Mrs. Redding has also had to deal with another love affair, this one involving her husband and Macon himself. Assailed by poverty and tormented by the ghosts of segregation, Mr. Redding’s hometown, a former cotton hub 85 miles southeast of Atlanta, has long seen the soul singer as a symbol of unity, presenting his African-American success story as the best of what the city could be. For years, a portrait of the musician has stood prominently at the town hall of Macon, as if the interpreter of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” was a founding father.
Today, Mrs. Redding is preparing what will probably be the crowning achievement of her life: a 9,000 square foot educational complex that the non-profit family association, the Otis Redding Foundation, plans to build downtown. Ms. Redding donated $1 million to buy the property. The new home of the Otis Redding Center for the Arts will be a place for children to learn, practice and perform, with scholarships for poor students – a machine, if such a thing is even possible, to produce more Otis Reddings.
After her husband’s death in December 1967, Mrs. Redding finds herself, aged 25, terrified and grieving, without a high school diploma and tasked with raising the couple’s three young children. These days, the locals call her the queen. The honorary title suits him in many ways – not least because of his calculation, over the decades, that the Redding family should be deeply involved in Macon’s civic life while floating above his politics and petty grievances. , in keeping with the music of her husband, who was both apolitical and universally beloved.
In a recent interview, Ms. Redding, a small, quick-witted and sometimes salty-tongued woman, proudly noted that the new arts center would be on Cotton Avenue, in the heart of the city’s historic black business district. . A bronze statue of Mr. Redding in the center will stand three blocks from a towering Confederate statue.
If Mrs. Redding sees her husband’s statue as a replica of the Confederate monument, she doesn’t say so. She can also be evasive when asked what it’s like to miss her. To keep the grief at bay, she said, she keeps his memory close with a sea of memories — at the couple’s former ranch and in the offices of the Otis Redding Foundation — though sometimes she imagines him alive. and growing old with it.