the histories of our streets

Georgia State University students map Atlanta's past

Author: ES

The Birth of Pride in Atlanta: 20th Century Origins of Gay Rights in Midtown and Downtown

Growing up in repressive rural Georgia hours north of Atlanta, I dreamt of going to Pride in Piedmont Park – a chance to experience freedom, joy, hope, and love in the expression of the queer identity. Now at college and in my third year in the city, I am a few months out from attending my third Atlanta Pride. It has been everything I hoped: the colors, smiles, excitement, compliments, free mom hugs, drag queens swinging from poles on moving floats, seeing old friends, making new connections, and overwhelming emotion at the scale of LGBTQIA+ representation. Pride at Piedmont Park and the larger community provides the most electrifying, knowing, and supportive environment where one can see those both alike and different. Every year the smaller-than-you’d-think community gathers bumping into exes and impending self-realization yet are happy in the light air of the large gathering of a normally stigmatized and disjointed community. Experiencing this I found myself curious as to how such a setting, and Atlanta Pride, were born – what people, places, and ideals coalesced to create the resonant gay culture that midtown has become known for? 

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Southeast Section (6): Streets, Stadiums, and Segregation turn a community to a parking lot

The area that is now the “orange lot” directly North of Publix Summerhill has been a face of change throughout the city’s development. In 1898 and 1899 the surrounding streets were Capitol Ave. (S), Fulton St. (N), Frazer St. (W), and Richardson St. (E), and the area was primarily residential. The street names have largely remained the same with Frazer becoming Fraser by 1925 and Capitol Ave. being renamed Hank Aaron in the 1990’s. 1914 and 1898 directories indicate that the area was a mixed-race residential area with several names marked (c) indicative of the Jim Crow Era and had several vacancies.

The MacGregor Institute considered a “south side”1 school at the time of its opening in 1897, was located at 223 Capitol Avenue in the stretch between Fulton St. and Richardson St. It was founded by established educators Clementine and Margaret MacGregor, the grand opening in the Black residential area was of high anticipation and success. Macgregor was a private all-girls institute that originally offered primary courses in science, literature, and art. By 1899 the school was under expansion and soon reopening with boarding and “primary, preparatory, academic, and collegiate departments”2. The institute was seemingly successful into the early 1900’s yet little information exists on it after this point, there was perhaps another institute that began offering such educational services or rezoning that would have made Macgregor unnecessary.

The block was originally on streetcar lines which provided access to the city for residents early on yet came with grim indications – Atlanta’s patterns of new development run on old lines fostering new forms of transport-based discrimination. By the1960’s this community was mostly displaced by the downtown connector. In the 1970’s the incoming Stadium next door meant all residents of this block were displaced as it was fully demolished and became a parking lot. As a parking lot the area has been used as parking for Atlanta-Fulton-County Stadium, the 1996 Olympics, the Braves, Turner Field, and now is owned by Georgia State for what has been rebranded Center-Park Stadium. Residents of still-residential areas continued to protest against further infrastructure through the Olympic Games and Braves Residence in Summerhill to no avail. Today the parking lot serves as a buffer with an expansive parking lot, stadium, and stores to the west and south, an interstate to the north, and a highly gentrified residential area directly to the east.

Besides MacGregor traceable change with the block happened through Sanborn maps from 1899 -1911 with multiple units, presumably houses, being built and the addition of a short-lived lumber yard. In the 1930s the area remained residential, to the southwest it was neighbored by Piedmont Hospital, by the 1950s the institution was relocated and plans for interstates and stadiums were underway. Into the late 20th century the area, as a part of Summerhill, faced ongoing issues of segregation, racial tensions, and financial immobility. Issues of redlining and exclusionary infrastructure continued as property values dropped and vacancies increased. Nearby white churches refused integration, and crime and poverty for residents lingered. 


1895-1962 SanBorn Maps.

Atlanta SanBorn Maps.

1898/1914 Atlanta City Directory Co.’s Greater Atlanta Directory, , Emory University

  1. MACGREGOR INSTITUTE.: New School on the South Side. The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945); Aug 28, 1897; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Atlanta Constitution pg. 5 ↩︎
  2. MACGREGOR INSTITUTE: Adds Boarding Department–Has Enlarged Plans. The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945); Jun 18, 1899; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Atlanta Constitution pg. 5 ↩︎

Historic Downtown Streets Installation in front of the William-Oliver Building

I was introduced to the William-Oliver Building during my freshman year when one of my friends lived there, it always stood out to me for its sense of opulence in an otherwise industrial-looking block. As an environmental science major with an interest in urban planning, I am at times hyper-aware of the built environment and curious about its histories such as why infrastructure like streets developed and how. Continuing my education this kind of information did not always feel readily available – looking for further history on land use in the area I was drawn back to the William-Oliver Building where I noticed a large plaque structure for the first time.

Student Selfie at downtown street history Installation
Student Selfie at Historic Downtown Streets Plaque Installation outside of William-Oliver Building

The installation is located across Peachtree St. from Hurt Park and features five panels including brief histories on Peachtree St., Marietta St., Whitehall St., Decatur St., and Edgewood Ave. – some of the most crucial roadways to Downtown. Each panel provides the street’s name and timelines, mostly dated back to the early 1800s, as well as the street’s past functions as indigenous routes or intra/inner city connectors. It seems to be one of the few places nearby that acknowledges (although incorrectly) the indigenous Muscogee-Creek Peoples that once lived in the region or their land uses. The “Peachtree Street” panel specifically provides information on the Peachtree Ridge, dubbed such by indigenous inhabitants, that the city expanded from. I have since learned that the indigenous-given name for the region surrounding the ridge, “Standing Peachtree”, was changed in the early 1800s when indigenous groups were forcibly removed by settlers and indigenous-erasure campaigns were executed. Such information is critical to understanding the socio-environmental history before colonialism, indigenous land use, and their impacts on modern development patterns.

Partially hidden from streetview, the plaque appears more historic and official than others I have seen due to its unique engraved metal structure. It is, however, visually similar to one nearby art installation (directly to the left of that discussed on the “island” on Peachtree St.) at the site of what was once a municipal well that provided water resources to the settlement of Terminus in the 1800s. The art piece provides no indication of this history or any relation to the installation at hand and they may have both been installed in preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games held in the city.

Regardless of when the historic downtown streets plaque was installed the provision of such information in a public space feels crucial to education on urban development and a good start towards more accurate historical representation. I find the understanding of how and why our travel paths and geographic resource use developed to be crucial in having a holistic understanding of concerns such as urban renewal and cultural preservation. There are still four panels on Downtown Street history not pictured here so if you’re curious to learn more I recommend stopping by and checking it out!

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