the histories of our streets

Georgia State University students map Atlanta's past

Author: kmcdowell8

“Cop City” at the Old Atlanta Prison Farm

The Old Atlanta Prison Farm sits on over 300 acres of land in the South River Forest which is currently Atlanta’s largest green space inside the perimeter. The land, once inhabited by the Muscogee (or Creek) tribe, has lived many lives, and currently, its future remains unclear. 

south river water trail “…”
south river watershed OVERVIEW — South River Watershed Alliance (

Today, the City of Atlanta plans to move forward with a proposed police and fire training facility at the site of the Old Atlanta Prison Farm. [the city will contribute 30 mil to the facility while private donors will provide the other 60 million] Reeves Young construction company was originally set to begin work on the facility later this year, despite resistance from members of the surrounding community, environmentalists, and local activists. In the last week, protesters have caused Reeves Young to (and another co?) to back out of the arrangement following loss of equipment and whatnot… (what is the company that is taking over? check the chat) According to the Atlanta Police Foundation President, David Wilkinson, the training facility, which will include a shooting range and an area for explosives testing, is “the most important security measure we could implement in this generation…” (Atlanta mayor affirms support for fire/training facility that drew activist backlash – YouTube) “The Atlanta Way” referenced by Keisha in press conference!! The use of the term “the Atlanta Way” has historically been in reference to compromises between the elite white and blacks… classism.

The land in question belonged to the Muscogee Nation until the 1800s when it was forcefully taken and eventually used as a plantation. Starting in the 1900s and as recently as the 1980s, the area was used as a prison farm. It is currently an important part of a large watershed and makes the largest continuous green space inside the perimeter of Atlanta. 

Environmentalists are concerned about contamination in the area from its previous uses, as well as the impact the proposed infrastructure could have on water resources (the forest plays an important role in regulating and helping control stormwater runoff and rainwater). While the Atlanta Police Foundation claims an environmental analysis has already been done on the area, there has been no information publicly shared, and many are skeptical as to whether this has actually been done. (Quote Lily Ponitz, GSU 

The DeKalb History Center published a report written by Jillian Wooten Nov 5 1999 historical-analysis-of-honor-farm.pdf ( which has been criticized widely for false information. Combined 3 different locations and painted an unrealistic picture… The Dekalb History Center’s Wooten report has been widely criticized for its inaccuracy. It has been shown the report actually combines information from three different sites, the Prison Farm, the Honor Farm, and a Federal facility in Atlanta, painting a picture of civility and relative freedom… 

(include map of unmarked graves from atl maps) Note the Dekalb History Center, the same website the Wooten report is still accessible on, doesn’t list the Old Atlanta Prison Cemetery (which is in unincorporated Dekalb) on its comprehensive list of cemeteries. It does appear on ATL Maps’ map of “Hidden Cemeteries.”

“This map shows ‘hidden’ cemeteries in the metro Atlanta area. ‘Hidden cemeteries’ here are defined as burial areas which are either unmarked, obscured, unkempt, abandoned, or in an unexpected location.” – ATL Maps per Save the Old Atlanta Prison Farm


“The Old Atlanta Prison Farm was a work farm for convicts and prisoners from the 1910’s to the 1960’s. There is a human burial site on the grounds where prisoners would be interred. There is also a strange burial site for zoo animals, namely Willie B. the gorilla, on the edge of the property.” Also, according to ATL Maps using the 1928 overlay, the cemetery is located at what was once the Atlanta Dairy Farm, quite near the Federal Prison which Wooten incorrectly reported on in his 1999 report. The Atlanta Press Collective provides a more accurate comprehensive history of the land and of the Atlanta Prison Farm

the “environmental analysis” doesn’t seem to have been done – Cop City Environmental Reports Critical Review & Statement – Atlanta Community Press Collective (

The facility will have a mock city, stables for police horses… the stakeholder committee previously advised they shrink and relocate the firing range further from neighborhoods, remove the proposed bomb detonation training area, will include (per the AJC article)

COUNTER MOVEMENT – defend the forest – may also want to include e5

The Atlanta Police Foundation even plan to build museums separate from the training facilities, “dedicated to police officers, firefighters and the labor prison that was once located there.” (on native land where slaves and Black indentured servants lived, likely based on false info like the Wooten report. Also notice that police come first there… what light will history be cast in?)

Jasmine Burnett, leading “abolition movement, organizing director for community builders, black woman run consulting co-op,” refers to the facility as an urban warfare training facility, mentions the planned explosives testing site and shooting range. Claims the facility is in direct response to the 2020 uprising – “not the place nor time” … on a podcast hosted by Kamau Franklin, Black Power Media, August 24, 2021 … Franklin was a moderator of the town hall that took place (cite the talk, but also article about the town hall) and cited an overwhelming majority of the community was opposed/ against the proposal.. among the concerns were environmental issues, police brutality and misconduct concerns, concerns this was the city’s response to the uprisings, as opposed to real change (ie police state) states not one person shared their support of the facility

South River Forest Coalition – 7 27 2021 stated their opposition in a formal statement citing the city of Atlanta’s own words as reason for the city to cancel the project.

Lake Claire Community Land Trust: Shared Greenspace and Garden

The Lake Claire Community Land Trust, a 1.7-acre piece of land less than 10 minutes from campus, has been one of my favorite places in Atlanta since I discovered it in high school.

The Land Trust is a nonprofit that serves to preserve greenspace and foster community. The organization was created by community members in the 1970s and is still managed by community members today. The area features a playground, a pond, dozens of community garden beds, and more. There are tables and chairs scattered throughout the property to provide plenty of room for those in the neighborhood to enjoy the space. While it is a neighborhood-based organization, the Land Trust, also home to countless turtles, two ducks, and an emu named Big Lou, welcomes visitors from near and far alike. Before the pandemic, the community regularly hosted drum circles and community events at the Land Trust.

I have found the Land Trust to be a safe place I can go to clear my head, enjoy time outside, say hello to “Big Lou” the emu, and get work done before heading to class down the road. The Land Trust is a unique space because, with all the surrounding greenery and wildlife, it can almost feel like you’re in a forest somewhere until you look out at the skyline and see the skyscrapers standing just a few minutes away. This speaks to what is probably my favorite element of Atlanta, the “city in a forest.”

As a Geosciences (Urban Studies concentration) major with a special interest in sustainability and implementing greenspaces in cities, my “dream world” is one in which every neighborhood has a shared space such as the Land Trust dedicated to preserving wildlife, growing food, and promoting a sense of community.

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