Atlanta and the American Dream

Henry Louis Gates. Jr

This month, the Oxford African American Studies Center will begin publishing a series of Community Spotlights designed to enhance our coverage of the cities and regions that have added to the diversity of the black experience in America. Each update will feature new articles, essays, primary source documents, and other material that will help scholars explore these communities and their contributions. It is fitting that the first city on our list is Atlanta, Georgia: cradle of the modern Civil Rights Movement, incubator for black political leaders, and a creative setting for entrepreneurs and artists.

Given the prominence of the black community in Atlanta, the city has been a testing ground for the American Dream. Following the Civil War, a wave of newly freed black immigrants transformed the city, establishing universities, public schools, newspapers, libraries, and businesses. Among these entrepreneurs was the former slave Alonzo Herndon, whose barber shop empire and insurance company were successful enough to get him profiled in Fortune Magazine, among other national publications. But the rise of this budding community bred resentment among the entrenched white elites of the city. A generation's worth of segregation policies set the stage for a devastating race riot in 1906, a bitter nadir of the Jim Crow era. It would not be until after the Second World War when black leaders, emboldened by a growing population and a repeal of racist voting laws, were finally in a position to challenge the institutional obstacles to equality. Over the ensuing decades, Atlanta led the way for the rest of the South, serving as a headquarters for Martin Luther King, Jr. and his partners in the struggle, many of whom held late-night planning sessions at the legendary Paschal's Restaurant on West Hunter Street. Within a few years, Atlanta would be the first major Southern city with a black man as mayor, Maynard Jackson. Soon after, Shirley Franklin would become the first black woman to serve in that position. By the time Jesse Jackson delivered a stirring speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta, the city boasted an unprecedented number of black businesses, non-profits, and institutions of higher learning. This progress has led directly to Atlanta's role as a diverse, rapidly growing, 21st century metropolis.

But, along with the story of the struggle for equality, Atlanta has also played an integral role in the development of Black Studies as an academic discipline. W. E. B. Du Bois, who guarded his home with a shotgun during the 1906 riots, organized a yearly conference in the city to discuss aspects of the African American experience. These conferences became the epicenter of the debate between Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, and helped to formulate the arguments in The Souls of Black Folk and other groundbreaking research. Local black colleges such as Spelman and Atlanta University also contributed to the field, while publications such as Phylon (founded by Du Bois) provided an outlet for black intellectuals and artists. In the 21st century, the Atlanta-based Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change has continued to expand Dr. King's philosophy of nonviolence into a global effort for social justice.

To serve as a guest editor on this project, we invited Tomiko Brown-Nagin a Professor of Law at Harvard University and author of Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement. Our series will continue in the next year with Community Spotlights on Baltimore (edited by Prudence Cumberbatch, Brooklyn College), Houston (edited by Bernadette Pruitt, Sam Houston State University), and the Carolinas (edited by Jackie Booker, Benedict College). Ideally, we would like to expand our coverage of communities by reaching out to local experts. So, if you think that AASC could benefit from more material on a given region or city, we encourage you to contact us. This site continues to be a venue for scholars to share their research with a wider audience, and I hope that this latest effort can contribute to the rediscovery of the often hidden history of black America.

Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Editor in Chief
Oxford African American Studies Center
The Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
September 2013

New Biographies

King, Lonnie C., Jr.
Mathews, Ethel Mae
Moore, Howard Jr.

New Subject Articles

Guest Editorial: Dirty South Hip Hop
Atlanta Project of the SNCC
Paschal's Restaurant

New Primary Source Documents

A Litany of Atlanta (1906)
A.F. Herndon Profiled in the Atlanta Constitution (1912)
Address Delivered by Shirley Sherrod at the Georgia NAACP 20th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet (2010)
Advertisement for Herndon's Barber Shops, Atlanta (1913)
Booker T. Washington on the Atlanta Riots (1906)
Dirty South (1995)
I Want to Die While You Love Me (1928)
Letter from a Georgia Planter to the Freedman's Bureau (1866)
Letter from Jesse Max Barber Concerning the Atlanta Race Riot (1906)
Negro Insulter Heavily Fined (1906)
Report from Colonel Thomas W. Higginson Concerning a Raid Along the St. Mary's River (1863)
Requiem Dirge for Atlanta's Slain (1906)
Shall the Press Be Free? (1906)
Sharecropping Contract, Newtown County, Georgia (1865)
Speech Delivered by Coretta Scott King at the Atlanta Gay Pride Festival (1996)
Speech Delivered by Jefferson Franklin Long before the U.S. House of Representatives (1871)
Speech Delivered by Jesse Jackson at the Democratic Convention in Atlanta (1988)
Testimony of Aury Jeter, a Georgia Teacher (1871)
The Problem Solver Much in Evidence (1906)
The South Since the War (1866)

Archived Material

Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta Exposition Address
Atlanta Exposition Address (Atlanta Compromise)
Atlanta Life Insurance Company
Atlanta Riot
Atlanta Riot of 1906
Clark Atlanta University
Great Migration
New South
Address Delivered by Shirley Sherrod at the Georgia NAACP 20th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet (2010)
Excerpts from the Georgia Black Codes (1866)

Governor Carter's Georgia Inaugural Address (1971)
Testimony of Maria Carter before the Joint Congressional Committee on the Ku Klux Klan (1871)