The Story: Internationally recognized as the birthplace of the civil rights movement, the Auburn Avenue Commercial District still contains a long list of landmark historic structures, including the 1914 Odd Fellows Building, Ebenezer Baptist Church, headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and both the birthplace and gravesite of Martin Luther King, Jr. The mile-and-a-half Sweet Auburn Historic District is at the center of Atlanta’s African American history. By 1930, the Auburn Avenue business district supported 121 black-owned businesses and 39 black professionals, plus several churches and other social organizations—it was a thriving community that exemplified African American success in the South, a refuge and salvation for many during segregation.
Threat: By the early 1970s after the end of segregation, businesses were closing and residents were moving elsewhere. Today, the remaining businesses mix with boarded up buildings, with a lingering hope that the area will one day become a thriving district once again. Edgewood, which runs parallel to Auburn, is facing a similar challenge. The rebirth has already started there, but unbridled growth could lead to additional demolition of historic buildings along that road as well.
Solution: As the return to intown living continues, many feel the time is ripe to see a rebirth of Auburn Avenue. A master redevelopment plan for the area, however, suggests demolition of more than 30 historic structures. While revitalization is a positive for the area, it will be difficult to build on Auburn Avenue’s history if it no longer exists.