I find myself telling stories about things that happened “back in the day.” I have been told by many people whom I meet that I have a history lesson of Atlanta’s Black people stuck in my head. The situations and people whom I did not personally witness, I have heard about though many conversations between the people whom I know or met during my fifty years of doing business in Atlanta – or/and sitting among Atlanta’s political scene when I was the “First Lady.” I have to stop telling stories so as not to bore folks with the “I remember when” exchange. So, what I plan to do with my information is to write my stories down into this blog and talk about Atlanta’s History Makers.
Acknowledging where we came from and contemplating that our heritage was built from blood, sweat, and tears – on the backs of our forefathers an foremothers – this series of blogs will try to focus on what our history is and to provide information about who and what we are. We aim to inform and educate our people on the legacy that has been inherited from our elders, those who have gone on before us – right here in Atlanta.
I truly hope my social media friends find this informative, motivating, and encouraging. Maybe you will find some of these facts that I intend to write about entertaining. Please let me know what you think.
Looking back at our Atlanta’s Black history from my point of view, you can count this as one woman’s opinion. – Where did the heritage come from?
Atlanta’s Black (African American) heritage, where did it come from? Who are those who made it possible? Is it alive and well, and growing up like Topsy (from Uncle Tom Cabin)? Or is it drying up like a dream deferred? Better still . . . What is it?
Who’s to declare when the heritage of Black folks living in Atlanta began to take shape? Was it when Sherman burned Atlanta down in 1864 during the civil war? But knowing the determination of Black people to be free, it is reasonable to assume that some of the more than 178,000 free black people and “freedmen” who served in the civil war were the heroes and “sheroes” that inspired their off-springs – and hence the legacy began. Most likely, it was an African who survived the horrendous slave ship crossing, served on some Georgia plantation, and our roots date back to this determined soul.
In 1867, African Americans in Atlanta were allowed to serve on juries. The first group of reconstruction-era African American elected officials in Georgia included three state senators, Aaron A. Bradley, George Wallace and Tunis G. Campbell Sr., and thirty state representatives who were elected to serve in the Georgia legislature in 1868. The men were expelled approximately two months after they were elected, because they were Black; the State Supreme Court reinstated the legislators the following year.
The 15th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote without regard to race, color, or servitude, was ratified by the state of Georgia in 1870. The African American population in Atlanta was approximately 46 percent of the total population of 21,700 residents during this period (1). Two African Americans were on the Atlanta City Council – William Finch and George Graham.
“Friendship Baptist Church, sharing a (train) box car with the Atlanta University, was founded in 1862,” said Billye Suber Aaron. “I don’t want to be partial, but Friendship could be called the birthplace of Atlanta’s modern-day heritage when one recognizes the amazing history of the church. Morehouse College, founded in 1867 in Augusta, move to Atlanta in 1879 and into the basement of Friendship. Spelman College was founded in the basement of the church in 1881,” she added.
In 1869, the Methodist Episcopal Church’s Freedman Aid Society founded a coeducational school for African Americans that would later become Clark College. Morris Brown College was founded by the AME Church in 1881, the only school in the AU Center founded by former slaves for the education of Black youth.
The heritage of Black people was visible and Atlantans were proud. Once we had access to education and understood our culture, we were a force to be reckoned with. “Where culture goes, there goes critical thinking” says Nell Irvin Painter, in her book The History of White People (2).
1. United States Colored Troops, Wikipedia.
2. Nell Irvin Painter, “The History of White People,” 2012, Norton & Co. (NY).