Atlanta is a city known by many for its influencers, historic movements, and an aura brimming to the hilt with bright and shiny aspirations. Yet, it is also a city that possesses two sides — the known and the unspoken. Ironically, one of Atlanta’s greatest accomplishments to date may have been its ability to virtually hide many of its “dark spaces” in plain sight. Here, The Atlanta Voice’s Ann Hill-Bond reaches into local history and community recollections to unearth five of Atlanta’s sacred spaces, often cast behind dark secrets and shameful occurrences.
Marta Train Stations, the 1800s
In pre-Civil War Atlanta, there were two main slave auctions, Five Points Marta Station/Kenny’s Alley (Underground Atlanta), and Garnett Marta Station-Whitehall Street.
Many people in Atlanta who stand at Five Points Marta Station and Kenny’s Alley known to most as the Underground Atlanta have no idea it was once a thriving slave auction block, as well as one at the corner of Forsyth and Alabama Street
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, known as MARTA, provides bus and rapid rail service to the most urbanized portions of the Atlanta metropolitan area. The eighth-largest transit system in the United States, MARTA serves nearly 400,000 passengers a day. A 2015 study revealed that as much as 75 percent of MARTA riders are Black.
The Garnett Marta Station and The Greyhound Station were formerly The Slave Stone Holding Pen. Even the Marta railroad tracks that travel from the Mercedes Benz Stadium, under the CNN Building, behind the old Atlanta Journal-Constitution building leading into Five points are the same tracks that carried carts of enslaved Black people into the city for auction — for both the Confederate and Union forces more than 200 years ago.
Post Civil War, the same corner of Forsyth and Alabama, became the meeting space where former enslaved Black people would venture to in hopes of being reunited with lost family members.
In 1884-20 years after slavery, the auction blocks were still visible. Today, there is no visible marker displaying the horrors of these spaces.
9 Gammon Street SE, The early 1900s
The Atlanta Race Massacre of 1906 was a massive killing spree of white men attacking and killing black men and women by the dozens. This race massacre was caused by the media. Newspapers printing articles of mixed relations between black men and white women.
According to the Atlanta History Center, some Black Americans were hanged from lamposts; others were shot, beaten, or stabbed to death. They were pulled from streetcars and attacked on the street; white mobs invaded black neighborhoods, destroying homes and businesses.
In South Atlanta on Gammon Street, the Brownsville neighborhood in close proximity to downtown Atlanta is where the two-day massacre ended on Sunday, September 24, 1906. A group of African Americans met in the Brownsville community and discussed actions; they had armed themselves for defense. Fulton County police learned of the meeting and raided it; three companies of militia were sent to Brownsville, where they arrested and disarmed about 250 African-Americans, including university professors.
On April 27, 2019, The Fulton County Remembrance Coalition in partnership with Equal Justice Institute (EJI), honored the 25 Black known and unknown victims of the senseless act against Black lives with a Soil Collection. Because many of the victims were placed in unmarked graves and stories untold–still to this day. The Soil Collection is currently on display at the Auburn Research Library.
Gates City Bowen Homes Daycare Center, 1980
Bowen Homes was built in 1964, named after John W. E. Bowen, Sr. John Wesley Edward Bowen was born into American slavery and became a Methodist clergyman, denominational official, college and university educator, and one of the first African Americans to earn a Ph.D. degree in the US. He is credited as the first African American to receive a Ph.D. degree from Boston University, which was granted in 1887.
Bowen Homes Housing Projects was a sprawling complex, containing an early education facility and a library. Located along Bankhead Highway, Gate City Bowen Homes Daycare Center was operated by The Gate City Day Nursery Association.
Gate City Day Nursery Association was co-founded in 1905 by Dr. W.E.B Dubois and a group of prominent Atlanta University and City of Atlanta women formed the “Gate City Free Kindergarten”, the first kindergarten for African American children in Atlanta.
With such a rich foundation Gates City Bowen Homes Daycare Center, was set on a solid foundation— until the morning of October 13, 1980, when a mysterious exposition happened, killing four children (all Black boys) and two adults. At the time of the explosion, Atlanta was experiencing a string of unsolved murders and kidnappings of Black boys.
The morning of the explosion, Police said “there were 83 children, all young black males, and 12 adults at the center at the time of the explosion”. The center had a capacity of 85 children. Fire officials blamed the explosion at Gates City Bowen Homes Daycare Center on gas leaking from the daycare center’s furnace. Many Atlanta residents still believe the explosion was connected to the Atlanta Child Murders.
Gate City Bowen Homes Daycare Center, is a distant memory –as Bowen Homes Housing Project was demolished in 2008 the 77–acre Bowen Homes site is on the scale for a revitalization plan of the far northwest corridor of the city. As of today, there is no visual remembrance of that sad day.
Johnston House on Neal Street, 2006
After 17 years of living on Neal Street in northwest Atlanta, Ms. Kathryn Johnston, 92, was shot and killed by Atlanta Police in November 2006.
Johnston was known in her Vine City neighborhood as peaceful and quiet. She enjoyed her family and church. That joy was ripped away from Neal Street when plainclothes officers entered Johnston’s residence at 7 p.m. in the most egregious way via a no-knock warrant.
Last November marked 14 years since Johnston was shot to death in her Neal Street home by Atlanta police in an illegal drug raid. The traumatic killing spurred an investigation on the Atlanta Police Department that led to four officers currently serving time in federal prison, as well as the resignation, discipline, or termination of other officers for their roles in the loss of this beloved Black woman’s life.
Today, Johnston is remembered throughout the world via citywide murals, her name spoken in hip-hop lyrics, and The Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park is located only a few blocks from where she was murdered.
However, many new faces walking down Neal Street wouldn’t know what happened on that terrifying night, as Ms. Johnston’s house on Neal Street, still sits, abandoned and boarded up.
125 University Avenue, 2020
On Friday, June 12, 2020, Atlanta Police Department arrived at the Wendy’s restaurant at 125 University Avenue in South Atlanta to investigate a report of a man asleep in a car that was blocking the drive-through lane.
APD officer Devin Brosnan was first to arrive at the scene. He radioed for assistance, and officer Garrett Rolfe arrived some minutes later. Rolfe conducted a breathalyzer exam which indicated that Brooks’s blood-alcohol content was above the legal limit for driving.
The man who was sleeping in his car we all came to know as Rayshard Brooks. Brooks was shot and killed that night by Rolfe after trying to flee on foot from the Wendy’s parking lot.
On June 13, 2020 protests and the burning of the Wendy’s took place as a demonstration against police brutality. On July 6th, 2020, the Wendy’s on University Ave was demolished. Today, some six months after the shooting, as you drive past all that remains is an empty space with no visuals honoring the life of the Black man who was violently killed there.
*Brooks’ case is still under investigation.