Sweet Auburn Historic District
The steeple of Big Bethel AME Church, symbol of the neighborhood
|Architectural style||Late 19th and 20th Century Revivals|
|NRHP Reference #||76000631|
|Added to NRHP||December 8, 1976|
|Designated NHLD||December 8, 1976|
The Sweet Auburn Historic District is a historic African-American neighborhood along and surrounding Auburn Avenue, east of Downtown Atlanta, Georgia, United States. The name Sweet Auburn was coined by John Wesley Dobbs, referring to the "richest Negro street in the world."
Sweet Auburn is one of 242 officially recognized neighborhoods of Atlanta. It is bounded by:
- Freedom Parkway and the Old Fourth Ward (formerly the separate Bedford Pine neighborhood) on the north
- Boulevard and the Old Fourth Ward on the east
- the MARTA East-West line and the Oakland and Grant Park neighborhoods on the south, and
- the Downtown Connector and Downtown Atlanta on the west
The first settlement here was on land formerly occupied by Union troops and was called Shermantown for many years. It developed quickly being near the Georgia Railroad and in 1879 was at the endpoint of a newly graded road called simply Boulevard, which led from the railroad to North Avenue near Ponce de Leon Avenue and Angier Springs.
The rise of Auburn Avenue as "the" black business district in Atlanta was to a great extent an outcome of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot. Prior to this time black businesses operated largely in downtown Atlanta — a business district integrated as far as business ownership was concerned. But competition between working-class whites and black for jobs and housing gave rise to fears and tensions. In 1906, print media fueled these tensions with hearsay about alleged sexual assaults on white women by black men, triggering the riot, which left at least 27 people dead (25 of them black) and over 70 injured.,
Black businesses started to move from previously integrated business district downtown to the relative safety of the area around the Atlanta University Center west of downtown, and to Auburn Avenue in the Fourth Ward east of downtown. "Sweet" Auburn Avenue became home to Alonzo Herndon's Atlanta Mutual, the city's first black-owned life insurance company, and to a celebrated concentration of black businesses, newspapers, churches, and nightclubs. In 1956, Fortune magazine called Sweet Auburn "the richest Negro street in the world", a phrase originally coined by civil rights leader John Wesley Dobbs. Sweet Auburn and Atlanta's elite black colleges formed the nexus of a prosperous black middle class and upper class which arose despite of enormous social and legal obstacles.
Sweet Auburn was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. However, like so many other inner-city neighborhoods, Sweet Auburn fell victim to lack of investment, heavy, widespread crime, homelessness, and abandonment, compounded by construction of the Downtown Connector freeway that split it in two. In 1992 the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized that it was one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places and, in 2005, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation included the area in its 2006 list of Places in Peril. The Historic District Development Corporation (HDDC) was formed to turn the trend around, starting with houses surrounding the birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and working outward. The Peachtree Corridor Partnership has proposed to put a streetcar line that would extend east of the main Peachtree Street line down Auburn Avenue, and west as a circulator around downtown Atlanta, where Auburn Avenue continues as Luckie Street.
Historic structures and businesses
Several churches located along the avenue, such as Big Bethel AME and First Congregational, helped build and maintain the heritage of the street. The Royal Peacock Club provided an elegant setting where many African Americans could perform and bring the changing styles of black popular music to Atlanta. Originally called the Top Hat Club when it opened in 1938, the club hosted local talent and national acts such as B.B. King, the Four Tops, the Tams and Atlanta's own Gladys Knight. One of the many significant commercial buildings within the district is the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. The second-largest black insurance company in the United States, Atlanta Life Insurance was founded in 1905 by Alonzo Herndon, a former slave from Walton County, Georgia. The central building of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company complex is a Beaux Arts building facing Auburn Avenue. The district also includes the Rucker Building, Atlanta's first black-owned office building, constructed in 1904 by businessman and politician Henry A. Rucker. The Atlanta Daily World, the first black-owned daily newspaper, was founded here in 1928. In 1948, the Atlanta Police Department was integrated, hiring eight black police officers, all of whom were assigned to Auburn Avenue.
List of historic businesses
- APEX Museum – founded in 1985
- Atlanta Daily World – founded in 1928
- Atlanta Life Insurance – founded in 1905
- Big Bethel AME Church – founded in 1847
- Ebenezer Baptist Church – founded in 1886
- Herndon Building (demolished following tornado damage, 2008)
- Dr. Martin Luther King’s birth home – established January 15, 1929 
- Martin Luther King Jr. National Park Visitors Center – founded in 1980
- Odd Fellows Building and Auditorium – 1912–13
- Rucker Building – 1904–2001
- Sweet Auburn Curb Market – opened in 1924
- 100 Black Men of America National Headquarters – established in 1997
- Auburn Avenue Research Library – founded 1934
- Butler Street – YMCA founded in 1920
- Butler Street CME – founded in 1882
- Citizens Trust Bank – founded in 1921
- Hosea Williams Feed the Hungry – founded in 1971
- King Center for Non-Violent Social Change – founded in 1968
- The Royal Peacock – founded in 1930’s
- Wheat Street Baptist Church – founded in 1870
Sweet Auburn celebrates the annual Auburn SpringFest, and in the Fall, the Sweet Auburn Heritage Festival. The Sweet Auburn Heritage Festival is an annual festival held the first weekend in October on Auburn Avenue. Civil rights leader Hosea Williams founded the first festival in 1984. Charles Johnson founded the festival in 1994 as a way to celebrate the African American achievements as established on Auburn Avenue. The festival offers food, art, and entertainment throughout the day while celebrating Auburn Avenue’s past and growth, and is operated by the Sweet Auburn Committee.
The festival’s entertainment varies from comedians to up and coming artist from diverse genres of music. The Sweet Auburn Heritage Festival searches for entertainment from cities such as Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, Augusta, Huntsville and Chattanooga in hopes to help non- established artist’s path to stardom. Artist such as Usher Raymond, Outkast, India.Arie, and Raven-Symoné have started out performing on stage at the festival. Ultimately, the Sweet Auburn Heritage Festival entertainment has grown much farther than originally anticipated from its beginning stages in 1984.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Sweet Auburn Historic District". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-21.
- "Atlanta Race Riot". The Coalition to Remember the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot. Retrieved September 6, 2006.
- "Atlanta Race Riot". Retrieved 2006-09-06.
- "Auburn Avenue (Sweet Auburn)", New Georgia Encyclopedia
- Lynne Gomez-Graves (1976). PDF (32 KB). National Park Service and PDF (32 KB)
- "APD History".
- Martin Luther King’s birth home
- "Rucker Building (dem.), 158-160 Auburn Avenue". Sweet Auburn Avenue: Triumph of the Spirit. Retrieved 19 February 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sweet Auburn, Atlanta, Georgia.|
- Atlanta, Georgia, a National Park Service Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
- Sweet Auburn Heritage Festival site
- Photos of Sweet Auburn Springfest 2008