Last week a homeless camp appeared beneath the bridge carrying Freedom Parkway over Atlanta, Georgia’s, BeltLine trail. The camp sprouted in corridor that has become world-renowned for its public art installations and its more vernacular graffiti tags and ephemeral performance art.
PART I: Setting the Scene
Four decades after Thomas Brady went into the livestock business on Atlanta, Georgia’s Central Avenue, he became embroiled in litigation to prevent the construction of a viaduct near his property there. Brady’s lawsuits were among a handful of legal moves by downtown property owners who opposed the city’s plans to construct viaducts carrying Central Ave. and Pryor Street over railroad tracks in Atlanta’s congested business district. His legal battle over property rights and the validity of the city’s bond referendum funding viaduct construction was the final chapter in a career that helped change Atlanta’s economic and cultural landscape at the turn of the 20th century. Construction of the two viaducts, in turn, opened up downtown streets and made possible Underground Atlanta.
Thomas B. Brady (1837-1929) was born on a Greene County, Ga., farm. He moved to Atlanta in c. 1881 and went into the livestock business with John A. Miller. After more than a decade as partners in sales and feed stables on Loyd Street (Central Ave.) and Marietta Street, the pair dissolved their firm. Brady moved to Cobb County where he owned a stock farm and where he became president of the People’s Ice Company. He is best known in Atlanta history for returning to the city in 1902 and founding Atlanta’s first union stockyards west of Marietta Street.
On the morning of August 9, 1926, photographer Walton Reeves photographed streetscapes near Atlanta’s old railroad depots. Attorneys representing a litigant in a case challenging the construction of the Pryor Street and Central Avenue viaducts hired Reeves to document the area around their client’s property.
Reeves stated in the affidavit attached to his photos that he is,”a photographer by profession and makes a practice of taking out-door scenes.” The statement submitting the photos into evidence described where and when they were taken:
The pictures hereto attached are true and correct photographs on either side of Pryor Street and Central Avenue crossings in the City of Atlanta and the same correctly depicts the conditions existing at said crossings between 8:00 and 9:00 A.M. on August 9th, 1926.
The photos show the old railroad train shed and surrounding commercial buildings; none was individually captioned.
A tornado ripped through downtown Atlanta, Ga., the evening of March 14, 2008. It damaged and destroyed buildings and urban landscapes as it swept through the city. Historic Oakland Cemetery and the former Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill (undergoing rehabilitation as lofts) were among the damaged properties. Several buildings in Atlanta’s twentieth century African American neighborhood, Sweet Auburn, also were damaged.
Robert L. “Bob” Moore was the president and CEO of Washington, D.C.’s Development Corporation of Columbia Heights. He died earlier this week at age 74. Moore was a New Jersey native who did his undergraduate work at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.
Moore first encountered Jim Crow segregation when he travelled from to college by train. When the train stopped in Washington, D.C., he was forced to move to the “colored car.” Continue reading
Thanks to a Facebook post on Ann Peters’ new book, House Hold: A Memoir of Place, Elizabeth Jacox (one of the proprietors of TAG Historical Research) turned me onto a remarkable essay by Walt Whitman. “Tear Down and Build Over Again” was published in the November 1845 issue of The American Review.
The Whitman essay is an incredibly early exploration of place attachment and urban redevelopment in New York City. The work is new to me so I can’t definitively say if what the poet was describing qualifies as gentrification. I need to learn more about the neighborhood(s) and the rebuilding Whitman described. On first glance, it certainly does appear to meet many definitions of gentrification. Whitman’s essay has neighborhood upgrading (through reinvestment in a neighborhood that appears to have suffered from disinvestment), displacement, and all of the hallmarks of new build gentrification. Whitman wrote,
Fridays are tour days for folks who attend the Society for Industrial Archeology’s annual conferences. This year’s conference was in Portland, Me., and I signed up for the urban tour: Portland. Stops included a high-tech chicken processing plant and a manufacturer that produces specialized generated rotor (gerotor) parts for pumps. The Portland Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum located in the historic Portland Company complex in the city’s Eastern Waterfront district was another stop. The most memorable site for me wasn’t on the itinerary, though.
After a ride along the 19th-century rail corridor, I slipped away from the other SIAers who spent an hour in the railroad museum. I set out to get some photos of an urban landscape in transition via gentrification and redevelopment. On my way back to the museum, I detoured to a side area in the Portland Company complex where I saw a sign for The Portland Forge. A couple of hundred feet down a narrow alley formed by the brick Portland Company buildings on one side and Portland’s 19th-century seawall on the other I met blacksmith Sam Smith, The Portland Forge’s proprietor and a business owner facing possible displacement by encroaching gentrification.
I’m a troll, so say residents of Decatur, Georgia’s Oakhurst neighborhood.
Why? Because I spoke and wrote on taboo topics: gentrification and racism in their neighborhood while I lived there.
Whether folks see the redevelopment taking place in Oakhurst as destructive gentrification or beneficial neighborhood upgrading, most people on both sides agree that the neighborhood is changing, taxes are rising, and residents are being displaced. If you’re on the neighborhood conservation and social justice side of the table, it’s bad. If you’re on the other side and a property rights defender or work in the real estate/construction business, it’s good. The commentary from both sides may be found in local blogs, community listservs, and in testimony before the city commission.
Too frequently historic preservationists have failed to appreciate the entire urban landscape … Parking, as part of urban history, should not be rejected out of hand by any history aficionado — John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle, Lots of Parking: Land Use in a Car Culture
The National Council on Public History has published a new article on History@Work titled Blacktop History: The case for preserving parking lots. It examines the suburban parking lot as an unloveable yet important historic resource type.
Isn’t that In the Heat of the Night? Wasn’t that in one of them old movies? This is 2014. Racism is alive and well. — Joel Drew, statement to the Decatur City Commission, April 21, 2014.
The evening of April 21, 2014, a handful of Decatur residents presented testimony before the Decatur City Commission on racial profiling by the city’s police department. Local journalists ignored the appearances (e.g., the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Creative Loafing). One local blogger glossed over the specific allegations of racism in Decatur. Even the Decatur City Commission minutes from the April 21 meeting failed to capture the remarkable narratives from the evening.
This post contains verbatim transcripts made from the April 21, 2014 meeting. The source audio and video used is archived on the City of Decatur website. Each entry below begins with the city’s official synopsis of the comments entered into the meeting’s official record (meeting minutes) followed by the verbatim transcript. The entries are presented in the order in which people appeared.
For more on racial profiling in Decatur, read A Lesson in Racial Profiling and Historical Relevance (National Council on Public History, History@Work, April 10, 2014). Continue reading