At age 90, Sam Massell has served the city of Atlanta as a distinguished realtor; as the city’s vice-mayor for eight years and mayor for four more; as a path-breaking travel advisor for 12 years; and for the last 30 years as president of Buckhead Coalition, a business development organization.

Known informally as the "Mayor of Buckhead," Massell has successfully branded the Atlanta suburb somewhere high on the international luxe scale alongside Beverly Hills and midtown Manhattan.

In 1969, Massell was elected the first minority mayor of Atlanta (he's Jewish). Since leaving office, he has been inducted into numerous “Halls of Fame” for service in fields of business, government, civil rights, hospitality and influence.

Massell’s rise to prominence started on a weedy corner lot in Druid Hills, the Atlanta neighborhood where he grew up. There, the future mayor set up a portable Coca-Cola stand and sold Depression-era customers ice-cold bottles of Coke for a buffalo nickel each. He discovered he had a knack for business and for public dealings.

My new book, Play It Again, Sam: The Notable Life of Sam Massell, Atlanta’s First Minority Mayor (Mercer University Press), launched on Labor Day weekend at the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta. The history came to light after 40 hours of interviews with the charming, brilliant Massell, plus talks with 40 more friends, associates and rivals.

His legacy? More than any other public figure, Massell championed the creation of MARTA, Atlanta’s mass transit system. And his political service as vice mayor and mayor laid a groundwork for change during the turbulent days of the Civil Rights Movement.

“Mayor Massell doesn’t get nearly the credit he earned and deserves for steering us through the transformation of Atlanta from an all-white government to black control,” Ambassador Andrew Young, also a former Atlanta mayor, writes in the book’s foreword. “I don’t know of any other city in America that experienced such a magnitude of change in such a short period of time… and that accomplished it peacefully and to the benefit of the greater good.”

The following excerpt from Play It Again, Sam presents Massell in knee-pants starting out as a businessman. He launched his public life with a Coke stand and a good corner… and on that corner he learned something about how wild success can hold a bittersweet lesson. 

Charles McNair vertical
Click here to read Chapter 2 of Play It Again, Sam.

Charles McNair is a novelist and business writer based in Bogotá, Colombia. His communication company, MAS, creates narrative, purpose, and communication strategies for top United States and international companies.