Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

Sweet Auburn—”the richest black street in the world,”—became a “drug zone.”

By triji Apr 29, 2024
News

Auburn Avenue in Atlanta was the most important place for African Americans to go for 50 years in terms of their spirituality, finances, and society. Before the Downtown Connector was built, this was the case. This 14-lane highway scarred this historic area and has made it look like a shadow of what it used to be.

When you look at this road east of downtown Atlanta, with its empty lots and boarded-up buildings, it’s hard to believe that it used to be the pride of black people in the southern United States.

Even though segregationist laws were in place during the first half of the 20th century under Jim Crow, an all-African-American bourgeoisie did well in this area called Sweet Auburn.

During this golden age, Auburn Avenue was where the wealthy and famous gathered. The well-dressed men rearranged their suits before going into the Rucker Building. The building was Atlanta’s first office space owned entirely by an African-American when it was completed in 1904.

Some people had a copy of the Atlanta Daily World in their arms. The Auburn Avenue daily was the first newspaper in the world to be owned and run by black people when it started around 1928.

An important nightclub in town was where many people went to relax in the evenings. The biggest names in African-American society used to hang out at the Top Hat Club, which later changed its name to the Royal Peacock. Regulars included Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Little Richard, and Mohamed Ali.

People went to the two historic churches in the area, Big Bethel and Ebenezer, on Sundays to talk to a man named Martin Luther King Jr., who was born and raised in the area and gave his first lectures here. It was in Sweet Auburn that he made friends with people. a change that ended when the Civil Rights Act was signed into law in 1964.

The Downtown Connector: the start of the end

At that time, Auburn Avenue showed how strong the African-American community’s economy was, even though the government tried to make it look weak. In 1956, the thoroughfare was so busy that Fortune magazine called it “the richest black street in the world.” This was because it was home to Citizens Trust, the city’s first African-American bank, and the Atlanta Life Insurance Company and Standard Life, two life insurance companies also started by black people.

Less than ten years later, the Downtown Connector split the avenue in half, which Daniel Henry, head of the Remerge studio, called a “killing blow” to the neighborhood. The studio uses art to fix up Sweet Auburn’s broken community fabric.

“This highway is a horror that ruins the whole district,” he complains. It was the building of it that marked the end of Sweet Auburn.

The huge snake of concrete and bitumen that still cuts through the neighborhood was opened in 1964 as part of an ambitious highway network plan by the Eisenhower administration. The latter destroyed many heavily populated areas across the United States during construction, in what the government called “urban renewal” projects.

The Downtown Connector went from having 6 lanes to having 14 lanes in the 1980s, and it was crowded as soon as it opened. Today, this part is one of the most crowded in the US, and Atlanta is ranked tenth on the INRIX list of cities with the worst traffic problems in the country because of its constant traffic jams.

“There are drugs here”

If the highway that goes through the area is crowded, the sidewalks on Auburn Avenue, which used to be busy, look like they are empty and empty for homeless people.

“Today is my 43rd birthday,” Ayesha Patrice Levitt says from a porch on the main street. I don’t want to celebrate, though. She says that since she is pregnant with twins, all she has is a few things thrown together in her shopping basket. She is one of hundreds of people who live and sleep on the streets in Sweet Auburn.

She says, “This neighborhood is messed up; it’s a drug zone.” Please take a short walk to see that we are mentally sick, addicted to drugs, and drunk. “Black-skinned homeless people” are afraid of us.

Atlanta has tried to bring shine back to this district that is on the register of national historic districts, but it hasn’t been able to stop businesses and people from leaving for the cities. The area kept getting worse until the city that hosted the Olympics in 1996 told millions of tourists not to visit Sweet Auburn because of the crime and poverty there.

An attempt to restart
Even though a tram stop was built in the middle of the district and memorials to Martin Luther King Jr. bring a lot of people there, this decline has not been reversed.

Sixty years after the Downtown Connector opened, the White House is now trying to fix the urban wounds that were left over from the past. In 2022, Pete Buttigieg, who is the US Secretary of Transportation, started a program to bring back together areas that had been split up by big infrastructure projects that were started by governments that were dishonest with the poor people who lived there.

Mr. Buttigieg said, “We can’t ignore a simple truth.” In some cases, urban planning has destroyed thriving communities, sometimes to make segregation stronger and sometimes to replace or get rid of black areas.

The event, which Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called “woke,” still brought attention to how these construction sites have destroyed the social fabric of many African-American neighborhoods. The few stores that are still open in Sweet Auburn are hopeful about the future.

“President [Bill] Clinton was here in 1999,” says Sonya Jones, cook and founder of the Sweet Auburn Bread Co. “He tasted this,” she says, pointing to the dessert that proves it. It was its popular cheese and sweet potato cake that made it famous.

As someone who has lived in the area since 1997, she has seen its ups and downs. “I like this place. There are times when things are hard, but I’m starting to see companies open up here and there.

One of them is Jatrice Owens and his Atlanta Breakfast Club. It opened three years ago and now has hip customers who want lattes and rich Southern food. The cook says, “There’s no doubt that we are in a time of change.” We are coming out of a time of hopelessness and neglect.

She sees a quiet comeback on the road. “Restaurant will open right around the corner.” Also, an apartment building: it will bring us people. The highway, on the other hand, keeps making the future less bright in this neighborhood she picked because of its long history.

“I don’t think the avenue will be as beautiful as it used to be until the city bury the Downtown Connector.” “The people of Sweet Auburn built it, and a white governor destroyed it,” she said about Marvin Griffin, the openly racist governor who gave the go-ahead for the highway to be built through the middle of the neighborhood. Like those who came before us, it is up to the community to work together to make it better today.

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By triji

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