By Renée S. Gordon
“Behold this maimed and broken thing; dear God, it was an humble black man who toiled and sweat to save a bit from the pittance paid him. They told him: Work and Rise. He worked. Did this man sin? Nay, but some one told how some one said another did—one whom he had never seen nor known. Yet for that man’s crime this man lieth maimed and murdered, his wife naked to shame, his children, to poverty and evil. Hear us, O Heavenly Father!”
— ‘Litany of Atlanta,’ W.E.B. DuBois
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been deemed the world’s busiest airport since 1998, a designation first achieved in 1942. The airport sits on 4,700-acres and services nearly a quarter of a million passengers daily. Lindbergh landed there in 1927, before Delta Airways, the first regular passenger service, began in the 1930s, and Atlanta Airport has been an international hub ever since. www.atlanta-airport.com
Whether you are a transit passenger or Atlanta is your destination your visit can begin there. You can, of course, spend weeks touring the sites and attractions but you can also leave the airport between flights and spend a very productive few hours gaining insight into what Atlanta has to offer.
MARTA, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, is the most efficient and cost effective way to travel throughout the city beginning with your ride from the airport. The MARTA station is located near baggage claim and a pass for the 10-mile trip into downtown Atlanta costs $2.75. Depending upon your travel plans your destination can be an attraction, a guided tour pickup point or your accommodations. Visitor transit passes are also available for anywhere from one to 30 consecutive days. Detailed information is available online. www.itsmarta.com
Armed with a little research, the information in this column and a transit pass one can tour Atlanta at your own pace and visit the locations that you find the most interesting. This is designed to present an overview of the most popular sites so your initial stop should be in a visitor center to obtain information on touring exhibitions and more specialized attractions.
What is now metro Atlanta was once the site of a Native American village and the boundary line between Creek and Cherokee land. The visual symbols of the demarcation were a standing “pitch” tree and Indian trail that is the current Peachtree Street. Fort Peachtree was erected in 1813, the first non-native settlement, consisting of six houses, one storehouse and two blockhouses.
Surveys were taken in preparation for constructing a railroad in the 1820s but the first non-native permanent colonist, Hardy Ivey, arrived in the 1830s and in 1838 General Scott began the removal of 15,000 Cherokee on the “Trail of Tears.” More than 25 percent died along the way. Atlanta was originally known in 1836 as Terminus, in 1842 Marthasville and finally in 1845 Atlanta. In that same year the first passenger train arrived.
I am a huge advocate of visitors joining an organized tour for a city overview as their first activity and Atlanta offers two unique ways to see the city, Bicycle Tours of Atlanta and ATL-Cruzers.
Bicycle Tours of Atlanta has scheduled guided sightseeing for three fitness levels, 5, 10 or 15-mph and both 3 and 4.5-hour rides. The company provides bicycles, helmets and bottled water. Special progressive dinner and haunted history tours as well as customized tours are also available. Daily rides are scheduled beginning in March and this is a real treat and family fun because of the unique viewpoint obtained from the seat of your two-wheeler. www.biketoursatl.com
A little tamer but equally exciting is a guided city tour via ATL-Cruzers. These five passenger, open-air, electric cars envelope you in an extraordinary experience as you glide through the city. Your 10-mile, hour and 15-minute leisurely journey, takes you through the city’s neighborhoods and provides close-up views of the major attractions. The cars are ecologically friendly and the guides are extremely knowledgeable. ATL-Cruzers are an intimate way to orient oneself to Atlanta and its history and as an added bonus they are ideal for anyone with mobility issues. www.ATlCruzers.com
Atlanta’s Reconstruction and Civil Rights history is pivital to an understanding of African American history in the United States. In 1868, three years after the war’s end, 32 black legislators won seats in the state General Assembly. The white population declared that the right to vote did not extend to the right to hold office and all black elected officials were excluded that same year. This act was only the opening volley in a campaign to disenfranchise and marginalize blacks and in 1875 Congress appears to have given up on efforts at intervention and protection after passing a civil rights act that the Supreme Court would later declare unconstitutional.
Conditions worsened for African American Atlantans and from September 22-24, 1906 a riot raged throughout the city resulting in a death toll of at least 15 blacks. The long-term results would impact the nation. The black community grew more tight-knit and insular and several of the black witnesses, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White and John Dobbs, would go on to have a profound effect on the Civil Rights Movement. www.1906atlantaraceriot.org
The Auburn Avenue Historic District was established in 1976 along what was once known as Wheat Street. John Wesley Dobbs was born in Atlanta in 1882. He worked tirelessly to integrate the city, is credited with deeming the area “Sweet Auburn” and was referred to as the “unofficial mayor” of Auburn Avenue. This African American neighborhood thrived from the 1920s until the 1960s and the 1.5-mile street was the location of 10,000 black owned businesses. A huge bust of J. W. Dobbs marks the entrance to the historic area. The eyes are hollow allowing visitors to look down Auburn Avenue as he saw it.
The Auburn Avenue Curb Market is the city’s oldest public market. It was so called because blacks were not allowed shops inside and vending was done from the curb.
The Apex Museum, African American Panoramic Experience, at 135 Auburn Ave interprets the area’s rich legacy.
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and Preservation District was established in 1980. The site includes the King Center, Freedom Hall, the Eternal Flame, King’s tomb, Ebenezer Baptist Church and King’s birth home at 449 Auburn Avenue NE. www.thekingcenter.com
One of Atlanta’s premier attractions is the Cyclorama and Museum at 800 Cherokee Ave. This two-story venue houses the world’s largest painting weighing 9,33-lbs, and 358-ft by 42-ft tall. Viewers sit in rotating seats and witness the battle that took place on July 22, 1864. In addition to the painting a diorama extends 30-ft with 128 three dimensional figures, one of which is Clark Gable. Museum exhibits on the lower level include weaponry and artifacts. www.atlantacyclorama.org
Atlanta’s History Center, situated on 33-acres, is the largest history museum in the southeast and features more than 1400 artifacts. To commemorate the Sesquicentennial the museum has mounted a special exhibit, “Turning Point: The American Civil War,” to augment the permanent galleries of the “War in Our Backyards: Discovering Atlanta, 1861-1865.” Highlights of the museum include the Thomas Swift Dickey Civil War Ordinance Collection of 1200 civil war artillery projectiles from nearly 400 battle sites and a drum from the 55th Massachusetts USCT.
Also on the grounds are six gardens, the 1860 Smith Family Farm plantation-style house, open-hearth kitchen, double corncrib and a cabin in which slave life is interpreted. 130 W. Paces Ferry Road www.atlantahistorycenter.com
Atlanta’s oldest cemetery, Oakland, is well worth a visit to view its Victorian garden splendor. Many of Atlanta’s notables of all races are interred there including Margaret Mitchell. Tours of the African American section are offered. 248 Oakland Ave., SE. www.oaklandcemetery.com
The Margaret Mitchell House and Museum site is located at 900 Peachtree Street. Visitors tour the museum and basement apartment No. 1 where Mitchell penned “Gone With the Wind.” The gift shop here is a rare treat for lovers of the movie or book. www.gwtw.org
Two of the most visited attractions in the city are located within a few feet of each other and both offer outstanding tours.
CNN’s global headquarters, One CNN Center, begins with an n elevator ride that will take your breath away. Walking through the public and studio areas guests see how the news is produced and engage in an interactive weatherman experience. www.cnn.com/tour
As a true fan of the world’s most recognizable brand the World of Coca-Cola is a real thrill for me as well as a totally immersive experience. Highlights of your visit are bound to be the 4-D movie, the functioning bottling line, the tasting room and the gift shop. 121 Baker Street. www.worldofcocacola.com
Several flights leave Philadelphia daily and time aloft is under two-hours. Atlanta constantly reinvents itself and I think its time you saw its latest incarnation. www.atlanta.net
I wish you smooth and exhilarating travels!
Art After 5, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Friday evening concert series, begins April 1st. Performances are staged in the Great Stair Hall and cocktails and appetizers are available to enhance the experience. Information is available. (215) 763-8100 and www.philamuseum.org.