James Griffin

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James Griffin

James William Griffin, sometimes known as Street James, Hustle Man or The Mayor of First Avenue (born c. 1958 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; died August 17, 2016 in Birmingham) was a homeless man known for washing cars and riding a bicycle in the downtown area, especially around the Loft District.

Griffin came to Birmingham from Pennsylvania. He told people that he settled here after touring with a circus. He quit when he learned he would have to travel overseas and moved in with relatives in the Dolomite community. He found himself uncomfortable with their Jehovah's Witnesses church and took a room at the Bluebird Motel until he took to a life on the streets. Griffin's self-built shelter under an expressway bridge was documented by photographer Melissa Springer in her 1997 book, Important Things.

He befriended and exasperated numerous residents, business owners, and other persons who frequented the downtown area, including Dan Sartain, Steve Gilmer, Melissa Kendrick, Camille Spratling, Charles Walton and Chatham Hellmers. He was known to look out for the safety and property of people who lived and worked in the area, and would generally "hustle" people for money, working odd jobs and selling junk, rather than beg for handouts. When the people he depended on dismissed his appeals, his typical response was, "There goes the neighborhood."

Griffin was found dead from a gunshot wound to the arm near a mattress under the Elton B. Stephens Expressway on the 600 block of Carraway Boulevard. No suspect has been identified. An informal wake and remembrance was held by friends at Urban Standard. His family in Pennsylvania brought his body home for burial.

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