Decatur Street (Atlanta)
Decatur Street is one of the original 7 streets of Atlanta, Georgia; it was also a famous (and infamous) entertainment area from the 1850s through the early 20th century.
In 1854 the first theater in the city, the Athenaeum, opened on Decatur near Peachtree.
In the early 20th century, it included an African American entertainment district. In 1906 it was the trigger point of the Atlanta race riot; allegations that the street's dive bars frequented by blacks were showing nude pictures of white women, and "troublesome Negro vagrants" hanging out in the dive bars there, were amongst the allegations whipping up anti-black sentiment among poor whites.
After the riot, the Atlanta Constitution regularly ran stories documenting city efforts to clean up the street's dance halls, saloons, and dives; ragtime music; whiskey and drug peddling.
In 1909 the city nearly changed the name of the street in East Main street in an effort to clean up the street's reputation. At the start of the 1920s it was commemorated in the Clarence Williams song "Decatur Street Blues".
Today, Decatur Street cuts across the Georgia State University campus in the Downtown area, while further east it was part of a 1940s urban renewal area that became Grady Homes, which were demolished in 2005 and replaced by the Ashley Auburn Pointe mixed-income community, now considered part of the Sweet Auburn neighborhood as it is officially defined.
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Having grown from very humble beginnings, the City of Atlanta's streets are not organized in rational rectilinear patterns like better organized cities. Rather the Atlanta metropolitan area exhibits the "cluster of grapes" pattern; dozens of small communities (including Atlanta) squashed "cheek by jowl" with each having a road running to each in an overlapping maze. For that reason Atlanta's streets, such as Decatur Street, can be confusing. Decatur Street for example runs from Atlanta to Decatur on the east. However once you pass by the "zero mile post" in downtown Atlanta's Five Points district heading west, the same road runs to northwest to the community of Marietta. Hence Decatur Street is the same street as Marietta Street. The situation is made more confusing when leaving the city limits of, in this example, Atlanta, because when one enters the "neutral zone" between cities another street name is used, and when entering the "remote" city yet another name is used. So, traveling on this one street from Marietta on the northwest the sequence is: Atlanta Road, Marietta Boulevard, Marietta Street, Decatur Street, DeKalb Avenue (DeKalb being Decatur's county), and finally Howard Avenue in Decatur; all this in under twenty-five miles. (This leaves out the "West" and "East" variants that are also present.) For this reason you can see why it is frequently said "half the streets in Atlanta are named Peachtree but all the others have three or four names to make up for it."
Atlanta Constitution 1902 exposé on black nightlife in Decatur Street
- Atlanta Constitution, Dec. 28, 1909
- Media related to Decatur Street, Atlanta at Wikimedia Commons
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