Atlanta is Georgia’s largest city and the state capital. Two-thirds of its total population of 405,000 are African-American. A major trade, transportation, communication, business, and service center, it contains the headquarters of such giants as Coca-Cola, CNN, and BellSouth. A principal crossroads for air, road, and rail travel, it is the hub of a cosmopolitan cultural scene with museums, galleries, historic sites, performing arts events, and nightlife. It has one of the nation’s highest economic growth rates.
Atlanta emerged in 1837 and was initially called, unimaginatively, Terminus. It blossomed and was given the more poetic name of Atlanta in 1845. It served as a major Confederate center during the Civil War. General Sherman had it virtually burned down. Quickly rebuilt, it became the state capital in 1868, and was Georgia’s largest city by 1880. Atlanta continued to expand throughout the twentieth century, particularly with the arrival of war industries in the 1940s.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Atlanta became a center of the Civil Rights Movement under Dr Martin Luther King Jr. In the 1960s it gained a reputation as one of the most racially progressive cities in the South. The public schools were peacefully integrated and, in 1973, Maynard Jackson became the first African-American mayor in the South.
City walking tours reveal the oldest parts, which disappeared below street level as bridges and viaducts were built to raise traffic above the railway lines. This underground maze of brick streets, gas lighting, and storefronts, restored to their original appearance, is now incorporated into Underground Atlanta. Also in the downtown area are Centennial Olympic Park (site of the 1996 Olympics); the CNN Center (tours are regularly held); the State Capitol (1889), with its gold-leaf dome; the Atlanta Public Library (which houses “Gone with the Wind” memorabilia); and the High Museum of Art, Folk Art and Photography Galleries.
East of downtown’s Five Points intersection is an area known as “Sweet Auburn,” once the city’s most distinguished African-American neighborhood. Several blocks of Auburn Avenue now incorporate the Martin Luther King Jr Historic Site, including his restored birthplace, the King Center for Non- Violent Social Change, his sepulchre (behind the center), and the Historic Site Museum and Visitor Center. Also here is the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr King, his father, and grandfather were all pastors and where Dr King delivered his first pulpit oration. Further west the APEX Museum showcases African-American history and culture.
Northeast is the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum on 30 acres of gardens set on a hill. Further south are the extravagant funerary monuments of Oakland Cemetery (where Margaret Mitchell, Bobby Jones, and five Southern generals are interred) and Grant Park, which incorporates both Zoo Atlanta and the Cyclorama, a rotating platform surrounded by a huge circular oil painting completed in 1886. Forty-two feet high and 358 feet around, it depicts the 1864 Battle of Atlanta.
West End is an African-American area and Atlanta’s oldest neighborhood. Herndon Home is a Beaux-Arts mansion, erected in 1910 by African-American artisans for ex-slave Alonzo Herndon, who became one of the country’s first African-American millionaires. Further south is Wren’s Nest, former home of Joel Chandler Harris (author of the Brer Rabbit stories), which is now a museum. Hammonds House Galleries displays African-American art in one of the oldest surviving buildings. The Fox Theater is an extravagant Art-Deco movie palace opened in 1929. Margaret Mitchell House and Museum is where Mitchell lived while writing \”Gone with the Wind.\” The Fernbank Science Center is the largest museum of natural history in the southeast, next to 65 acres of forest. North of Piedmont Park is the High Museum of Modern Art, a remarkable building housing a large collection of American, European, and African exhibits.
The Governor’s Mansion and the outstanding Atlanta History Center are both in Buckhead. The center’s 32 acres includes a museum, an 1840s farmhouse with outbuildings, and a gracious 1928 mansion set amid gardens, woodlands, and walking trails. About 16 miles east of downtown is the wooded parkland of Stone Mountain Park. It has a lake, a paddlewheel riverboat, a petting zoo, a scenic railroad, the Antique Car and Treasure Museum, and a restored antebellum plantation with assistants in period costume. Walking trails and cable-car rides lead to the top of Stone Mountain, which is 825 feet and has a 90- by 190-foot bas-relief carving of Confederate war heroes Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson.
Northeast of town is Lake Sidney Lanier, which has an aquatic park and campground complex. To its north is the charming town of Dahlonega, which was, in 1828, the site of the first US gold rush. The events are commemorated in the Dahlonega Gold Museum. An international airport, trains, and buses service Atlanta.