A map of Atlanta depicts where the Beaver Slide neighborhood once was. Photo submitted

Beaver Slide first appears in publication as a Black settlement located on Ivy and Decatur Street in the late 1800s. In 1882 after a smallpox outbreak Beaver Slide was condemned by Atlanta City Council and ordered the burning of the buildings to stop the spread of smallpox. 

Black residents forced to move from the Beaver Slide were reported to move throughout Metro Atlanta for the following years. It was in 1924 that Beaver Slide as a neighborhood reappeared in reports requesting a massive clean-up. This time “Beaver Slide” is located in the southwest part of Atlanta,  just south of Atlanta University and North of Spelman College. Beaver Slide’s neighborhood streets include Lawshe Street, Elm, and Dora Streets. 

In the following years, with the location of Atlanta University in Beaver Slide, Atlanta University President John Hope had previously tried to appeal to the then United States President Herbert Hoover and his administration for funds to address the neighborhood. O.I. Freeman, a Black engineer, and WJ Sayward, a Black architect, approached Hope in 1933 with a plan to build University Homes. A vote and approval by university leadership for property assemblage, slum clearance, and construction soon occurred. In partnership with Charles Palmer of Techwood Homes, they came together and applied for federal funding.

Hope and Palmer traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive the green light on the University Homes and Techwood Homes projects from the Works Progress Administration of Georgia (WPA). Harold Ickes, then U.S. Secretary of the Interior, approved the first two housing projects in the United States, which would share the $4 million financing. The money covered nearly 85% of costs. Techwood Homes, which was designated for white residents, received $2.375 million for 600 apartments while University Homes, which was for Black residents, got $1.085 million for 640 apartments. John Hope protested the inequities in project financing and won an increase to $2.1 million for his project in 1933. 

In 1934, upon receiving the funding for University Homes, Hope began to have a survey done by noted sociologist and author Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois of the 314 residents and business owners within the Beaver Slide neighborhood. Following Du Bois’ survey, he determined that poverty is the primary ailment of this neighborhood. Not the ongoing myth of crime and violence that was often reported around the city and the nation. Du Bois wanted to make sure everyone knew that this was an inaccurate description of Beaver Slide. Of 314 families that provided data, 69 had no regular income. Regardless of the finding by DuBois, Hope moved forward with plans to develop University Homes. In 1934, the Emergency Housing Corporation signed the contracts that cleared the way for the removal of Beaver Slide which consisted of 18 acres and contained nearly 200 homes. An estimated 207 families did not know where to live once their homes were demolished.

University Homes Housing project, located at 668 Fair St. SW, with 675 family units, a library, nursery school, medical and dental facilities, laundry rooms, and parks, was completed in early 1937. It the first public housing for African Americans in the nation. In April, the first residents, Oscar and Lelia Banks, moved into apartment 457, along with their daughter, Ruby Croft. The tenants could belong to their own Tenant Association, Men’s and Women’s Clubs, Girl and Boy Scouts, and Garden Clubs. It even had its own credit union. The new residents of University Homes paid $2.65-$4.00 a week and had a monthly income that ranged between $8 – $30. With the building of University Homes came the emerging Black middle class. Black construction workers and all-Black management staff were hired at University Homes. Atlanta University established a Housing Managers program to ensure proper education for these new positions available to Black residents. The hiring of the first Black police officers in the Atlanta Police Department was a direct request from University Homes residents. 

In 2006 residents were relocated, and it was demolished in 2009. The only remaining building of University Homes is Roosevelt Hall, which was once the hub of University Homes. The 18,000 square foot building housed not only the leasing office and community center for the neighborhood, but also a laundromat, grocery store, five and dime store, beauty and barbershops, office space, and a Yates and Milton drugstore. With a current name change to “Scholar’s Landing,” now utilizes $10 million of funding, while harkening back to the long-forgotten Beaver Slide neighborhood.