the histories of our streets

Georgia State University students map Atlanta's past

Author: Blake L.

Martin Street, Baptists, and the Love of Pecans

In 2001, during my first attempt at college, I was contacted by a friend from high school who was transferring to Georgia State. He and two other friends were looking at houses near campus and wanted to know if I would like to be the fourth roommate. I asked him to send me the address so that I could go check the house out myself and see if it would make sense. The address he sent me was familiar, and at the time I was unable to figure out exactly why that particular combination of numbers and letters was so memorable. A quick google maps search later and I immediately knew the exact house they were looking at.

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The Summerhill School

Sketch of the original school house off Martin Street.

Built in 1869, Summerhill School was once the oldest operating school in Atlanta. Though the title would eventually be taken from Summerhill to be shared with three other White schools in 1872 when the Atlanta Public School System purchased the school (for whatever reason the three years it operated before its purchase no longer mattered). It served an almost entirely African-American community in the South Atlanta neighborhood of Summerhill. While parts of Summerhill would be mixed throughout history the school was entirely for the Black children in the communinty.1 Though a segregated, all Black school, it would not be until after 1887 when Black educators and administrators would be able to work at the school and serve their community as well. This was attributed to the continued success of the Black university system the had developed in Atlanta after the Civil War by such people as W.E.B. de Bois and Booker T. Washington and their many contemporaries.2

As the neighborhood grew and the opportunity for the children of Summerhill to receive an education grew with it was becoming obvious that expansion was going to be necessary. In the 1920’s the city commissioned roughly $40,000 to demolish and rebuild a new school on the existing lot due to increased overcrowding. The new school would still be amicably referred to as the Summerhill school even though it would be renamed the E. P. Johnson school after the successful and renowned pastor from the community, Reverend Edwin Posey Johnson.3

Sandborn map from 1899 showing the old Summerhill School to the West.

As seen above this section of the Summerhill neighborhood was still developing and much of the surrounding lots were either undeveloped or de facto parks. But as seen in the image below just more than 30 years later, in 1932, much of the empty spaces surrounding the school. Which at this time had been rebuilt as the E.P. Johnson school.

Sandborn map from 1932 shows the increased development of the Summerhill neighborhood.

Above shows the neighborhood as it is now. The school would eventually move into disuse and would eventually be demolished by in the 1980’s. Where, as stated above, the neighborhood would build over the old lot beginning in the late 1980’s but mostly during the 1990’s with the boom associated with the Olympics.

  1. KGuestH, “Eternally Forgotten Atlanta Public Schools – Pt. 3 – The First schools for African-American students”,Atlanta’s Past Revisited, ↩︎
  3. KGuestH, “Eternally Forgotten Atlanta Public Schools – Pt. 3 – The First schools for African-American students”,Atlanta’s Past Revisited, ↩︎

Alonzo F. Herndon’s Barber Shop

Selfie taken in front of the modern front entrance to Herndon's barber shop.

Alonzo Herndon was Atlanta’s first African American millionaire and was an affluent businessman during the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s. He owned and operated multiple businesses including his barber shop: the Crystal Palace located at 66 Peachtree Street in the city’s business district.

I chose this location for my journal entry because I have walked past this shop front for many years, starting in 2009. However, it was not until recently that I began to think more deeply about the buildings and the people that once visited and lived inside of them.

When I was first exposed to the story of Alonzo Herndon, his business and affluence, did my fascination with this property and Herndon grow.

Born into slavery Herndon was the son of his mother’s enslaver. After the Civil war was over he moved away with his mother and siblings where they would make a living sharecropping. Herndon had a knack for business and earned secondary income as a peddler of small goods including peanuts and axel grease.1 After saving enough money Herndon would eventually move to Atlanta where he would become business partners with other affluent black Atlantans. It was those partnerships that led Herndon to have the opportunity to open up his Crystal Palace.

Unfortunately, Herndon’s business was a victim of the 1906 riot and eventual massacre. He was fortunate enough to have been home that night however, his business was targeted and vandalized. After the massacre and destruction of the Crystal Palace, Herndon decided to stay and continue to build his business enterprise. While the torching of his barbershop was a major setback, in regards to race relations, Herndon was more concerned about the success of his insurance company and other ventures.

It is important to remember however, that despite his ability to survive and grow, Herndon’s existence was never easily or mutually accepted. By existence, it is meant: a black man in the early 1900’s who is successful, socially rejected, yet economically accepted.

  1. Henderson, Alexa. “Alonzo Herndon.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified Jul 14, 2020. (Accessed Feb 20, 2024.) ↩︎
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