Black Leaders of Atlanta, Part I

  
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This is Part I. Click here for Part II.

Part 1 of my 21-Heart Salute…

In honor of the Black History Month, I created a new tour that encourages people to learn about twenty-one exemplary individuals who made a lasting impression on ATL. This interactive tour was modeled after a similar one I created last year called, Women of Distinction: 20 Women Who Made a Lasting Impression on Atlanta. Both are self-guided tours that you can take online or in person. The full experience consists of four elements:

  1. A simple Matching Quiz that will establish a baseline for you. Please take this before and after you have experienced the tour. Share with your friends and family to see how well they know these leaders!

  2. A two-part podcast & newsletter that provides biographical information about each leader as well as tips on how and where to connect with them. In some cases, the connecting point is a street named in their honor that you can walk, bike or drive on. In others, it’s a building or statue that you can visit.

  3. An interactive map that identifies the locations of the various streets and monuments that were named to recognize their contributions to the City.

  4. A Tour Log that you can use to keep track of the places you visit.

As you make these connections you will develop a greater appreciation for the impact these exemplars had on Atlanta. You will see and feel the city differently as you drive along the streets that celebrate their lives. In so doing, you will honor their memories and the sacrifices they made to make ATL and the world a better place for all of us.

Stay curious and keep exploring!

Steve Saenz, ATLsherpa
February 2021 | Atlanta, GA

Hank Aaron

Our first salute goes to one of ATL’s most beloved ‘sons’ who sadly passed away two weeks ago. Henry Louis Aaron (February 5, 1934 – January 22, 2021) was a professional baseball right fielder who played 23 seasons in Major League Baseball from 1954 through 1976. "Hammerin' Hank" spent 21 seasons with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves (NL) and two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers (AL). He is regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali once called Hank Aaron, “The only man I idolize more than myself. ”

In 1973, Aaron was thrust into the national spotlight as he neared the finish of a successful assault on one of sport’s most cherished records: Babe Ruth’s mark of 714 home runs. It was on April 8, 1974, that Hammerin’ Hank sent a 1-0 pitch from Dodgers hurler Al Downing into the left field bullpen at Atlanta-Fulton Count Stadium, giving Aaron 715 career home runs. In 1982, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Where to Connect

  • Hank Aaron Drive — After the 1996 Summer Olympics, a portion of Capitol Avenue, including the segment that runs next to the former Olympic stadium, was renamed Hank Aaron Drive. The stadium's street number is 755, so designated to honor Aaron's lifetime record of home runs.

  • 715 Wall — When the old Fulton County Stadium was demolished in 1997, the section of the outfield wall where Aaron’s 715th homerun (the one that broke Babe Ruth’s record) was preserved to commemorate his achievement.

  • Hank Aaron Statue — The Hank Aaron statue still stands in the former “Monument Grove,” located on the northeast corner of Center Parc stadium.

  • Civil Rights Walk of Fame — Hank Aaron’s Profile

  • Delta Airlines dedicated Boeing 757 Ship 627 (N627DL) to honor Hank Aaron in June 2007.

Watch as Hank is reunited with the monument commemorating his record-breaking 715th career home run during his funeral procession…

Ralph David Abernathy

Ralph David Abernathy Sr. (March 11, 1926 – April 17, 1990) was a civil rights activist and Baptist minister. As a leader of the civil rights movement, he was a close friend and mentor of Martin Luther King Jr. He collaborated with King to create the Montgomery Improvement Association which led to the Montgomery bus boycott. He also co-founded and was an executive board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He became president of the SCLC following the assassination of King in 1968, where he led the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C. among other marches and demonstrations for disenfranchised Americans.

I have suffered as much as Martin Luther King. Only I didn't get the bullet. And I would have taken the bullet if I could have. — Ralph David Abernathy

Where to Connect

  • Civil Rights Walk of Fame — Ralph David Abernathy’s Profile

  • Ralph David Abernathy Freeway — One year after his death, 23 miles of I-20 (everything inside of I-285) was named in his honor

  • Abernathy Road — Runs through Sandy Springs from Johnson’s Ferry Road on the west to Mt. Vernon Highway in Dunwoody

  • Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard — Runs from Hank Aaron Drive in Summerhill to its intersection with Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Westview.

Julian Bond

Horace Julian Bond (January 14, 1940 – August 15, 2015) was a social activist, leader of the civil rights movement, politician, professor, and writer. While he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta during the early 1960s, he helped establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1971, he helped found the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama and served as its first president for nearly a decade.

Bond was elected to serve four terms in the Georgia House of Representatives and later he was elected to serve six terms in the Georgia State Senate, serving a total of twenty years in both legislative chambers. From 1998 to 2010, he was chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Where to Connect

Joseph E. Boone

Joseph Everhart Boone (September 19, 1922 – July 15, 2006) was a civil rights activist and organizer who marched together with Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister of the First Congregational Church in Anniston, Alabama from 1955 to 1959. From 1959 to 1980, he was a minister of the Rush Memorial Congregational Church of the Atlanta University Center.

Boone was a key organizer of the Atlanta Movement, which led to the integration of lunch counters and department stores in Atlanta during the early 1960s. He worked with King, Ralph David Abernathy, John Lewis and Andrew Young. In 1960, he encouraged Lonnie C. King Jr. — along with Julian Bond an others — to launch the Atlanta Student Movement.(see Roslyn Pope below).

One way to connect with these exemplars is by visiting murals that were created in their honor. In this photo: John Lewis + Joseph E. Boone + Hosea Williams

Where to Connect

  • Joseph E. Boone Boulevard — in 2008, a four-mile stretch of the former ‘Simpson Road’ (from Northside Drive in Vine City west to James Jackson Blvd in Center Hill) was renamed in his honor.

  • The Seeds that are Planted Mural — Unveiled in early 2020, this stunning mural, which aims to connect the “past struggles, sacrifices and triumphs of our ancestors,” stretches 130 feet along Joseph E. Boone Boulevard just west of Northside Drive.

John Wesley Dobbs

John Wesley Dobbs (March 26, 1882 – August 30, 1961) was a civic and political leader in Atlanta. He was often referred to as the unofficial "mayor" of Auburn Avenue.

Dobbs co-founded the Atlanta Negro Voters League with civil rights attorney A.T. Walden, leading voter registration efforts that registered 20,000 African Americans in Atlanta from 1936-1946. This new political power helped gain the hiring in 1948 of the first eight African-American police officers in Atlanta, the same year that the federal government began to integrate the armed services. In 1949 the city finally installed lighting along Auburn Avenue, the main retail street of the African-American community.

Where to Connect

  • John Wesley Dobbs Avenue — A 1.5-mile stretch of the former Houston Street was named in Dobbs’ honor

  • Through His Eyes Monument — this breath-taking monument by Ralph Helmick pays tribute to the “Mayor of Auburn Avenue” (see tour map for exact location)

  • Dobbs House — The family home of John Wesley Dobbs still stands at 540 John Wesley Dobbs Avenue in Old Fourth Ward (now a private residence)

W.E.B. DuBois

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was a sociologist, socialist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community, and after completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

“My real life work was done at Atlanta for thirteen years, from my twenty-ninth to my forty-second birthday. They were years of great spiritual upturning, of the making and unmaking of ideals, of hard work and hard play. Here I found myself. I lost most of my mannerisms. I grew more broadly human, made my closest and most holy friendships, and studied human beings. I became widely-acquainted with the real condition of my people. I realized the terrific odds which faced them. — W.E.B. Du Bois, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil

Where to Connect

  • DuBois Sculpture — this 3.5-foot, 800-pound bronze bust of Du Bois sits atop a 4-foot concrete pedestal near the entrance of the quadrangle in the center of CAU's campus. This stunning piece, created by artist Ayokunle Odeleye, commemorates Dubois’ life and legacy.

Alonzo Herndon

Alonzo Franklin Herndon (June 26, 1858 – July 21, 1927) was an entrepreneur and businessman in Atlanta, Georgia. Born into slavery, he became one of the first African American millionaires in the United States, first achieving success by owning and operating three large barber shops in the city that served prominent white men. In 1905 he became the founder and president of what he built to be one of the United States' most well-known and successful African-American businesses, the Atlanta Family Life Insurance Company (Atlanta Life).

Where to Connect

Jesse Hill, Jr.

Jesse Hill Jr. (May 30, 1926 – December 17, 2012) was a civil rights activist. He was active in the civic and business communities of the city for more than five decades. Hill was president and chief executive officer of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, from 1973 to 1992, and was the first African American to be elected president of a chamber of commerce in a major city. During Hill's presidency of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company it became the largest black-owned life insurance company in the nation. He was a member of the board of directors for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Where to Connect

  • Jesse Hill, Jr Drive — this 0.5-mile stretch of former begins at Irwin Street and ends at Capitol Avenue in Downtown ATL. Heading south, you will pass the main entrance to Grady Hospital (on your left) and Liberty Plaza on your right. The southern end of JHJ Drive comes out at the southeast corner of the State Capitol.

  • Civil Rights Walk of Fame — Jesse Hill’s Profile

Upper left photo: Donald Lee Hollowell + Hamilton E. Holmes + Alfred “Tup” Holmes (Hamilton’s father). Middle photo: Donald Lee Hollowell. Right photo: Jesse and Azira Hill

Donald Lee Hollowell

Donald Lee Hollowell (December 19, 1917 – December 27, 2004) was a civil rights attorney during the Civil Rights Movement, in the state of Georgia. He successfully sued to integrate Atlanta's public schools, Georgia colleges, universities and public transit, freed Martin Luther King Jr. from prison, and mentored civil rights attorneys (including Vernon Jordan and Horace Ward). The first black regional director of a federal agency — the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Hollowell is best remembered for his instrumental role in winning the desegregation of the University of Georgia in 1961. He is the subject of a 2010 documentary film, Donald L. Hollowell: Foot Soldier for Equal Justice.

Where to Connect

Hamilton E. Holmes

Hamilton E. Holmes (July 8, 1941 – October 26, 1995) was an orthopedic physician.

Where to Connect

  • H.E. Holmes Station — last station (furthest west) on the Blue MARTA Line

  • Hamilton E. Holmes Drive — this 1.8-mile stretch of the former Hightower Road (GA 280) runs from MLK Jr Drive (in the ATL neighborhood of Harland Terrace) north to Donald Lee Hollowell Pkwy in Collier Heights

Maynard Jackson

Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. (March 23, 1938 – June 23, 2003) was a politician and attorney from Georgia. A member of the Democratic Party, he was elected in 1973 at the age of 35 as the first black mayor of Atlanta and of any major city in the South. He served three terms (1974–1982, 1990–1994), making him the second longest-serving mayor of Atlanta, after six-term mayor, William B. Hartsfield.

Jackson is notable also for public works projects, primarily the new Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal at the Atlanta airport, and for greatly increasing minority business participation in the city. After his death, the William B. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport was re-named Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to honor his service to the expansion of the airport, the city and its people.

You connect with Mayor Jackson every time you visit the OG ATL! Left photo: Maynard Jackson Int’l Terminal. Upper right: Domestic Terminal. Bottom left: A Mayor Jackson!

Where to Connect

Explore More

  1. Baseball legend Hank Aaron dies at 86 (MLB)

  2. Set in Stone: The legacy and church of Dr. Ralph David Abernathy (U.S. Dept of Interior)

  3. Julian Bond, Charismatic Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 75 (New York Times)

  4. Rev. Joseph E. Boone: The Picketing Preacher (Atlanta Business Journal)

  5. The John Wesley Dobbs House (History Atlanta)

  6. My Real-Life Work Was Done At Atlanta”: Aldon Morris On W. E. B. Du Bois’ Career In Atlanta (Atlanta Studies)

  7. From Rags to Riches: The Story of Alonzo Herndon (Georgia Public Broadcasting)

  8. Remembering Atlanta Business Icon Jesse Hill, Jr. (Atlanta Inquirer)

  9. Donald Lee Hollowell: A Heroic Presence in the Civil Rights Movement (State Bar of Georgia)

  10. Hamilton Holmes Dies; Integrated University of Georgia (AJC)

  11. A new documentary on Maynard Jackson delves deep into the struggles and scrutiny of Atlanta’s first black mayor (Atlanta Magazine)

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