Atlanta’s Black History


If you have ever been to Georgia State, there’s a building called 75 Piedmont. When you can go down there again, or if you’ve been down there at all before the pandemic, as you’re going in the front door, there are steps and a landing, and all along the wall there are photographs of African Americans. The collection of pictures shows the history of African Americans in Atlanta from slave times until the middle of the twentieth century. This building was the Citizens’ Trust Bank, the first black- owned bank in Atlanta. Most students at Georgia State don’t know that this building is an important historic place. My inclusive education program was in 75 Piedmont, so I was in this building often. Maybe those pictures need to be put in a Black History Month exhibit at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which is located in Atlanta so that everyone can look at those pictures.

Also, when I was at Georgia State, I would often pass the Atlanta Life Insurance building, which is on Auburn Avenue. The Atlanta Life Insurance Company was started by Alonzo Herndon. Herndon was born into slavery in 1858 in Social Circle, Georgia. At 20 years old, he opened his first barbershop. He was one of the first African American millionaires, and he started Atlanta Life Insurance Company. We all know about Martin Luther King and what he did, but many may not know about Alonzo Herndon.

Another connection to Atlanta’s black history is Margaret Clifford. She grew up in Tuskegee, Alabama, and her grandfather was Booker T. Washington. When I was in grade school, my family and Mrs. Clifford belonged to the same church. One time my family and I went over to her house to look at all the pictures and mementos she had of her grandfather. We even have a book that she signed of her grandfather’s writings. She died in 2009 after living for many years in Atlanta.

Black History needs to be celebrated more than one month each year, especially in Atlanta.  It’s all around us waiting to be explored.  There are many Black History Month activities happening in Atlanta–some are virtual, and many are in person. Maybe everyone would get along better if we all learned about each other’s history. I can’t wait until we can all get back together, sit down, listen to each other, and understand each other’s point of view. That would be the compassionate thing to do.

Jimmy Freels
Community Outreach Associate
Compassionate Atlanta

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