The Eternal Flame memorial to the 30 missing and murdered children and young adults of the Atlanta Child Murders. Photos by Isaiah Singleton/The Atlanta Voice

Between 1979-1981, 30 young victims were slain in what is now known as the “Atlanta Child Murders”. To honor them, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, then-Mayor Kiesha Lance Bottoms, victims’ families, and other key people dedicated a memorial to those who were lost. 

“At least 30 of our young children and young adults have been abducted and killed or were missing. Those of you who were here during that time know just how on edge this entire city was during that period,” Dickens said. “Mayor Maynard Jackson, the first African American Mayor, he wanted to find a way to keep kids safe during this period. He created what became known and called, ‘Camp Best Friend’ offering a haven in the city of Atlanta’s children.” 

Dickens said he was between 4-6 years old during the time of the Atlanta Child Murders

“That was a time that fortified us and brought us together, and you had to be in when the streetlights were on. You would see vans in your neighborhood and clear the streets so you could ensure you wouldn’t be a victim; everyone was on edge at that time,” he said. “I attended Camp Best Friends and even my daughter, who is now 18, has attended the camp. So, an initiative that was born out of tragedy, became one of the largest city-operated summer programs in the country and it’s still going on strong.”

Designed by international public artist Gordon Huether of Napa, CA, the “Eternal Flame” memorial includes a 52-foot-long remembrance wall with the name of each victim mounted next to an accompanying shelf for mourners to place special mementos in honor of children lost too soon. 

Seating faces the expansive wall, where visitors can spend time, contemplate, and pay their respects. The wall’s composition of Corten steel gives the memorial a strong, enduring impact as it weathers into a rust-colored patina. At the far end of the memorial, an Eternal Flame burns as an enduring and inspiring tribute to the victims and all those affected. The semi-enclosed space creates a symbolic embrace meant to comfort and sustain visitors. Centered within the semi-enclosed space is a granite inlay engraved with Pearl Cleage’s ‘A Poem for Our Children’. Ms. Cleage is an acclaimed novelist, essayist, playwright, and activist, and was named Atlanta’s first Poet Laureate in 2021. She was commissioned to compose the poem to commemorate the victims.

“My goal in designing ‘Eternal Flame’ was to commemorate the immeasurable loss suffered by the families and friends of the victims and by the entire City of Atlanta, and provide a space for remembrance and healing,” said Huether. “It also pays homage to those who aided in the searches, recovery, and community-wide mourning in the aftermath of this collective tragedy. It’s not just about the past, though, as the monument offers a reminder to the community to safeguard and support all of Atlanta’s children.”

Additionally, the memorial has been a long-desired goal of the victims’ families and elected officials and reached a key milestone in 2020 when then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms established the Atlanta Children’s Memorial Task Force. Funding and design followed quickly and Huether was selected to create a sculpture to fulfill the community’s vision.

During the memorial’s unveiling, Bottoms said she did not expect speaking at the memorial would be “so emotional”. 

“Some will say it was a long time ago, but to us who were there, it seems like yesterday because we remember everything. As Mayor Dickens said, we were children and we remember the year, our parents holding us close, communities frozen,” she said. “As a parent, I think of the ages of these beautiful children. Many of them were the ages that my children are now. To the families, what I do know to be true, is that Mayor Maynard Jackson cared deeply about each family and each town. Along with so many of the Atlanta Police Department, the FBI, and so many others worked diligently to find the person responsible for taking these young lives. We too remember that they were your children, they weren’t just names, they were human beings that you loved dearly.”

Bottoms also said she is honored to have played a part in ensuring the memorial will be here “for an eternity”. 

“Every single person who walks on the grounds of Atlanta’s City Hall will remember those children who mattered to us then, matter to us now, and they will matter to us for generations not yet forward,” she said. “I know progress has been made in analyzing the DNA and there’s still many answers to find, but it is my hope that one day soon Mayor Dickens will be able to share that information with the public as well, whatever information that may be available so they can continue to bring solace and comfort onto the victims’ families.”

The memorial is public and located on City Hall grounds.