The Legacy of Phillis Habersham Malone

Phillis Habersham Malone poses for a portrait at The Habersham Cds Record & Tape Shop on April 8th, 2024. Phillis Habersham Malone is the 73-year-old store owner who has worked at the shop every day for 40 years. Photo provided by Alisha Mitchell
Phillis Habersham Malone poses for a portrait at The Habersham Cd’s Record & Tape Shop on April 8th, 2024. Phillis Habersham Malone is the 73-year-old store owner who has worked at the shop every day for 40 years. Photo provided by Alisha Mitchell

Located in District 3 of Georgia, Macon-Bibb County has a rich history of music, blues, and rhythm. Macon is the birthplace of some of music’s biggest stars, including Otis Redding, Little Richard, and The Allman Brothers. In the heart of the city on Montpelier Ave, there is a record store that has been owned by the same family for 53 years. The store’s owner, Phillis Habersham Malone, has been a pillar of the Macon community for most of her life. While her story is intertwined with the record store, her greatest story is her life itself.

Malone’s story began in Macon, where she grew up with her family during the era of segregation. Her father, a well-known preacher, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, highlighting the family’s commitment to Black liberation. Habersham attended Ballard Hudson High School, one of the few Black high schools in Macon. She experienced the failed attempt of desegregation of Macon schools, which led to the implementation of a “freedom of choice” plan by the school board. This plan allowed students to transfer to any school of their choice to comply with desegregation laws. However, as Malone explains, this plan had little impact.

“We choose not to go,” she said. “The Black teachers stayed at the Black school and all the white teachers stayed at the white school, students and teachers except for a few.”

Malone described how many students didn’t want to stray from what they knew.

“You know, we had our friends there. We just felt comfortable where we were. They didn’t want us to go with them. We didn’t want to go with them. I’m just gonna keep it real. We wanted to stay with each other,” she said. 

Malone said staying in the same school felt normal. It was safer. She did admit that the white schools had more resources like better books. She explained that a lot of the time the Black schools were given books that were passed down to them. But to her, the most important thing at the time was culture. She felt that being with people who looked like you made it safe to stay at a school even if students did not receive new books.

 “I’ve got to give the Black teachers their accolades. I want it to be known that we had some real smart, dedicated Black teachers and they made sure we learned when we were coming up,” she said.

Segregation was an inevitable part of life in Macon in the 1960s. As Malone explained, everything was segregated – schools, bathrooms, train stations, and restaurants.

“You would have to go to the back door to get your food,” she explained. “If there was a courtyard, you were not allowed to sit down and eat.”

Malone and a few friends even boycotted different businesses to protest this treatment.

One way that she took action, was to be intentional about where she spent her money. She said, “We went to the Black businesses in the community to spend our money and we didn’t go to the white businesses, to let them know we didn’t agree with what they were doing to us, by keeping our money in your pockets.” 

After high school, Malone continued her journey at Mercer University, the first all-white institute in Georgia to voluntarily integrate in 1963. Despite initial resistance, Black students, including Malone, began to enroll at Mercer. During her time at Mercer from 1971 to 1975, Malone felt safe and found the university to be welcoming. Black students found various outlets to stick together and celebrate Black culture. For example, Habersham Malone became a charter member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated at Mercer University.

She explained that there were no fraternal organizations at Mercer before they started Delta Sigma Theta on campus. 

“It felt good,” she said, “I loved it because we had our own thing.” She said it felt similar to how it feels to own your own Black business, “It felt good to have your own Black sorority. I was very excited about that.” 

After graduating from Mercer, Malone moved to South Carolina. At the time her brother, Alex Habersham, ran the family’s record store in Macon and wanted to sell it. Her father traveled to visit her and asked her to buy the store and run it instead so that they could keep it in the family. Phillis Habersham Malone’s  love for her family, especially her father, motivated her to take over the business. She said that she did it for her father. She took over the store in 1986 and since then, has worked hard to keep the store despite some challenges. 

“It’s rough and it’s tough,” she said. “I don’t want to paint a rosy picture because it isn’t a rosy picture you know, there are ups and downs.”

Malone said that running a business is not for the faint of heart. For 40 years, she’s worked 12-hour days six days a week, only taking two vacations in those four decades. It’s her customers that keep her going.

“I love my customers; you know I have some real sweet people that come in here; white and Black and asian, all nationalities. People are generally good. That’s the main thing that keeps me going is such nice people in the world,” she said. 

Helping the community through the record store has filled her with drive and left her fulfilled. When asked her legacy, Malone stated that she wanted to be remembered as someone who did right by God, her community, and her family.

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    Patricia Duncan RNMay 19, 2024 at 8:53 am

    What an awesome and True story Mrs. Pat!!! Yes people see the glory but doesn’t know your story!!! Thanks for staying on the battlefield for your community!!! I pray that you take a vacation soon

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    Natasha MitchellMay 17, 2024 at 9:41 pm

    This was an awesome story! Great job by writer!Love this story!