Competing Legacies in Atlanta

A couple days in Atlanta, caught between the Confederacy and Civil Rights Movement.

The view from Stone Mountain.

The view from Stone Mountain.

Atlanta was always on our trip plans, and for two reasons. First, I have an aunt and uncle who live in the far-flung north suburbs, and second, Maki has a good friend and former roommate who moved their recently. And, it occurred to me as we were in North Carolina, I even had a fellow program participant from my time in Kazakhstan last summer who was in the Atlanta area, too. So, all things seemed set for a nice visit, and we arrived just in time for a nice dinner with my aunt and uncle. Unfortunately, we got no pictures with them, even though we stayed two pleasant evenings in their lovely home — the every day, humdrum stuff is always the hardest to document! Anyway, our plans for Atlanta were largely undefined, and we decided to give it a go with Stone Mountain, allegedly one of its most popular attractions. And for good reason — it’s kind of weirdly horrific that the enormous carving, a monument to three important Confederate leaders, was a work in progress until 1970. 1970! Let that sink in. As civil rights movements were gaining speed, Jeff Davis was being simultaneously carved into the side of a mountain.

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And let me just say, much as I hate to admit it, the monument is impressive. While I, like a good liberal from the north, felt at least slightly guilty of the confederate-themed tourism, visiting the monument was actually illuminating. The language of the monument is rather unreformed, with placards commemorating heroic efforts of each state, their leaders acting only as they felt their founding fathers would have done. But I think that most surprised me was the general diversity of the park’s visitors — many of whom were local and not of the general profile one might expect at a monument to the Confederacy. Indeed, as we headed over to the other side to take a hike up to the top, I was actually fairly surprised that the hill seems to be at least locally popular for a good exercise routine. The views from the top are admittedly pretty cool. Even on a cloudy day, we could see much of downtown Atlanta off in the distance.

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Mostly, though, I was excited about the opportunity to recreate this shot from my childhood:

1993 and 2013. We didn't quite get it, but clearly the idea is the same!

1993 and 2013. We didn’t quite get it, but clearly the idea is the same!

And the marker at the top:

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From there, our original plan was to go straight to the MLK Center in downtown Atlanta, but as we neared the city, the traffic told us this was going to be impossible, so we cut our losses, decided to move that stop to the next morning, and headed over to a coffee shop in Decatur, a hip urban center within the greater Atlanta area, near Emory University. There, my friend Rebekah joined us for coffee — and even treated us! Maki’s even came with a scoop of Jeni’s Ice Cream (hello, Columbus, Ohio!). And we caught up about research and projects and took a walk to the downtown to take in the local monuments, which included, of course, the requisite Civil War stuff.

At the Decatur court house, with its various statues and monuments.

At the Decatur court house, with its various statues and monuments.

Rebekah headed home for dinner, and we headed over to pick up Maki’s friend Evan for dinner, before returning to the very place we had just left.

Downtown Decatur

Downtown Decatur

There, we enjoyed a nice dinner, where we were joined not only by Evan but also Maki’s friend, a professor at Georgia College, in Milledgeville, a couple hours drive, who came all the way to join us. The dinner, at a pub/restaurant recommended by my uncle, was lovely.

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After a nice long chat, Bill headed back home, and we had a nightcap at Evan’s place as his girlfriend worked frantically on her midterms (sigh, bad timing!). We returned to my aunt and uncle’s quite late. The next morning, Maki and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with my aunt and headed off for the long day’s drive to New Orleans. But not without a few stops. First, for a picture overlooking their backyard.

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And next, in downtown Atlanta. But not without the real Atlanta experience!

My father was glad to see we saw Atlanta as most people see it.

My father was glad to see we saw Atlanta as most people see it.

Upon arriving downtown, we parked the car, emptied our pockets of all our quarters, and paid our respects to the really excellent Martin Luther King Center.

The various sites of the MLK memorials.

The various sites of the MLK memorials.

And of course, to the great leader himself:

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The museum, so well designed and put together, left a much more lasting impression of the city’s more important (and, it should be added, more venerable) legacies as one of the centers of the Civil Rights movement, which would feature prominently in our remaining stops of the trip. But from there, it was onwards and outwards, with our next stop in Alabama. As always, the subject for another, future post.


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