A look back at how Atlanta became the “Black Mecca” and the “Hollywood of the South” with white flight

A look back at how Atlanta became the “Black Mecca” and the “Hollywood of the South” with white flight

This is a brief historical look back, via newspaper articles, at the transformation of the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Atlanta may not be as well known for racial challenges like Birmingham, Alabama or Detroit, Michigan. Yet, Atlanta has a history that is not very often spoken about with regard its demographic changes since the late 1960s.


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Map of Atlanta 1961

Map of Atlanta 1963





Map of Atlanta in 1969


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City of Atlanta demographic changes

City of Atlanta public schools demographic changes


A look back at the economic growth of Atlanta in the late 1980s

Atlanta, Georgia as seen in 1985 has changed greatly to become, in 2019, one of America’s most dynamic business and entertainment metropolitan areas.

This series of newspaper articles, from the late 1980s, takes a look back on the growth of Atlanta prior to hosting the Democratic National Convention in 1988 and before hosting the 1996 Olympic Games.  The city’s Westin Peachtree Plaza once dominated the Atlanta skyline, then came the years post 1986 and 1987.

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Democratic National Convention will be in Atlanta in 1988

Associated Press

WASHINGTON- Democratic Party Chairman Paul Kirk announced Tuesday that Atlanta will host the party’s 1988 national convention, saying Democrats must “send a message to the nation from the South” and unite that region with others for victory in the next presidential election.
Kirk chose the Georgia capital over Houston, the other finalist in the running for the massive meeting to be held July 18-21, 1988, where the party will select a national ticket to try to reverse the Democrats’ dismal showings in recent presidential balloting.

“If we’re to be a competitive national party, we have to be competitive in the Southern part of this country,” Kirk said. “I think people recognize that the capital and hub and heart of the South is Atlanta.”

The Democratic decision made it a clean sweep for the South in the 1988 political convention sweepstakes, for the Republicans announced last month that they are going to New Orleans for their Aug. 15-18 convention. It will be the first national party convention ever held in Georgia. “We guarantee you a successful convention,” Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young told Kirk in a telephone call. ”We guarantee you that the Democrats will select a winner in 1988.”

“Atlanta will be great in ’88,” read the sign held up by Democratic Ntional Committee staffers here after the decision was announced.

Democrats have won only once in the last five presidential elections. And that victory came the only time the party carried most of the South – with Georgia son and regional favorite Jimmy Carter in 1976. Other than in 1976, the national Democratic ticket has carried only one southern state since 1964.

Kirk talked of reaching out to the South, particularly after the party’s good showing in the 1986 elections in the region helped win back the Senate from the Republicans.

Atlanta “provides an opportunity to have a site where we can send a message to the nation from the South and uniting that region and others for the Democratic Party,” Kirk said. “There is a Democratic base there from which our party can reach to the rest of the nation.”

But even Kirk doesn’t think the choice guarantees “that where one holds a convention means that one automatically carries that state or region,” he said. For example, in 1984, Democrats didn’t even come close to carrying California, despite their San Francisco convention.

The site choice ultimately was Kirk’s alone. But the final act of the process was played out in public Tuesday when the party’s site-selection committee voted 44-13 in favor of Atlanta over Houston. The vote came after a private breakfast where Kirk told the committee members he wanted the convention in Atlanta.

The choice left a bad taste with some Houston boosters, who rejected Kirk’s characterization of Atlanta as the capital of the South.

“I didn’t necessarily know that. I always thought Houston was a southern city as well,” said Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire. “It’s my understanding that the chairman’s decision was based on … his feeling that Atlanta would be a better representative of the South…. We were all disappointed.”

“In light of overwhelming support for Texas, he pursued his own agenda,” said Joe Russo, chairman of the Houston host committee effort, said of Kirk. “It seems to me that the Democratic National Committee is going to have a lot of difficulty in Texas because of the chairman’s heavy-handedness.”

But Houston boosters on the committee were conciliatory. “I think the process has been fair,” said Sam Dawson, political director of the United Steel Workers of America. “If Houston will not be great in ’88, I’m sure it will do in ’92.”

And after the decision was made, Russo and other Houston backers swarmed around the Atlanta supporters to offer their congratulations.
Kirk rejected the criticism of the selection process, saying it was a “deliberate, thoughtful and reflective process.”

Texas Republicans were clearly pleased by the Democratic friction. Texas GOP Chairman George Strake, of Houston, gave his reaction:
“After weeks and weeks of shake-downs and run arounds, the DNC finally gave Houston the back of its hand. It is absolutely incredible to me that the national Democratic Party has chosen Atlanta, Ga., as the site of their convention after leading on the city of Houston for so long.”

Kirk said that he was swayed in part by “the solid Democratic phalanx of public officials from top to bottom in Georgia” and the “remarkable comeback in 1986″ in which Wyche Fowler won back a Georgia Senate seat for the Democrats.

He brushed aside concerns about the lack of 20,000 seats in the Omni arena, saying the facilities ”provide a workable site for an exciting convention.”

Atlanta- 1988 Democratic National Convention
The 1988 National Convention of the U.S. Democratic Party was held at The Omni in Atlanta, Georgia from July 18–July 21, 1988 to select candidates for the 1988 presidential election.

Atlanta DNC 1988
Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis (third from left) and his running mate Lloyd Bentsen (second from left), stand with their wives on the podium of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, July 21, 1988 at the Omni in Atlanta. At left is Beryl Ann Bentsen and at right is Kitty Dukakis. Dukakis went on to lose to George H.W. Bush in 1988. Delegate vote: Dukakis 70%, Jesse Jackson 30%

July 23, 1988
Atlanta’s image post hosting the Democratic National Convention

Associated Press

Atlanta 1988 DNC Convention


September 18, 1990

The Atlanta Olympics
World-class! Proud city brings home the gold
Athens defeated on 5th vote

Atlanta Olympic Bid 1990

Bert Roughton Jr. and Karen Rosen Staff writers
The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution


TOKYO – Atlanta’s Olympic dream has come true. Promising to stage the best Olympics the world has known, Atlanta today won the right to play host to the 1996 Games, which will mark the beginning of the second century of the modern Olympics. Atlanta will be only the third U.S. city to host the Summer Games.

The nearly 400 Atlantans scattered around the enormous, ornate ballroom of the New Takanawa Prince Hotel exploded into cheers as International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Antonio Samaranch made the simple announcement.

“The International Olympic Committee has awarded the 1996 Olympic Games to the city of . . . Atlanta,” Mr. Samaranch said.
Atlanta Organizing Committee (AOC) President Billy Payne embraced former Mayor Andrew Young and Mayor Maynard H. Jackson, who were sitting on the front row, in front of a stage where 86 IOC members were standing.

Charlie Battle, an AOC member whose personal skills at lobbying IOC members were a key to Atlanta’s win, said he was “stunned.”
“I’m excited. I’m elated. I’m shell-shocked,” he said. “I can’t express it, I’m at a loss for words.”

Martha Payne, Mr. Payne’s wife, sat on the edge of her seat until the announcement and then hugged their daughter, Elizabeth, and son, Porter. Vince Dooley, Mr. Payne’s former football coach at the University of Georgia, had tears in his eyes. Mr. Young sat and wept quietly. Mr. Payne leapt on the stage and was mobbed by TV crews and reporters.

Mr. Payne, Mayor Jackson and Gov. Joe Frank Harris signed the IOC contract at a table onstage within minutes of the announcement.
A year ago, Atlanta was given virtually no chance of winning because of the emotional advantage held by Athens, which hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896. The Games were in Los Angeles only six years ago, which some felt made any U.S. candidate a longshot.
However, the handicaps were overcome by a cadre of Atlanta volunteers led by Mr. Payne, who fathered Atlanta’s Olympic dream in 1987. The IOC members also were swept away by the outpouring of public support they found in Atlanta.

“People, people,” Mr. Payne shouted above the din to a reporter asking him what won the Games for Atlanta. For a time, there was pandemonium. The stage was packed with Atlantans chanting, “Atlanta, Atlanta . . . Atlanta ’96” and “BILL-LEE, BILL-LEE.”

“Somebody asked me did I think Billy Payne was crazy,” Mayor Jackson said later. “I said, no, Billy Payne was born to do the Olympics.”
In what has been described as one of closest competitions ever, the IOC took five rounds of votes to reach a decision. Atlanta trailed Athens on the first ballot, 23-19. Belgrade was knocked out, then Manchester, then Melbourne. When Toronto, which held 22 votes, was eliminated in the fourth round, Atlanta soared to 51 votes.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Horace Sibley, one of the AOC’s key players. “I leaped out of my chair 40 feet in the air, thanked my lucky stars and thanked the people of Atlanta for the wonderful job they’ve done the past four years. I know that we will put on the best Olympics ever.”

Later, in the calmer atmosphere of a brief news conference, Mr. Payne explained what Atlanta had told the IOC. “We assured them, we promised the members of the International Olympic Committee that we would stage the best ever Olympic Games in 1996. And first and foremost, we’re going to honor that commitment.”

“If you believe that if you surrounded yourself with enough talent, enough good friends, enough people willing to push or pull all in the same direction, there can be absolutely no limitation on what you can achieve,” Mr. Payne said.

“About three years ago, when we won the designation for the Democratic National Convention,” Mr. Harris said, “I thought that was great. Earlier in the year, when we won the ’94 Super Bowl, I thought that was outstanding. But tonight, I don’t know that there’ll be the words in my vocabulary to explain the feelings that I feel and the emotionalism that came to the fact that we’re going to have the ’96 Olympics in Georgia.”

The Games are expected to have an economic impact of $3.48 billion, the equivalent of more than 50 Super Bowls, during the next six years.

“I remember the little things,” Mr. Young said. “I remember the kids in the square in Savannah singing, the people in the hotels who just made everybody who visited Atlanta . . . feel they were in a special place.”

When asked if the IOC had sold out to the prospect of more money with a U.S. host city, Mr. Young introduced the world press to a Georgia saying: “That dog won’t hunt,” he said.

In the days leading up to the vote, Atlanta seemed to be gaining momentum, and on the morning of the city’s final presentation, some observers declared Atlanta the clear front-runner.

Atlanta, Toronto and Melbourne had attempted to become viable alternatives to Athens, and all were well received by the IOC.
Dick Pound, an IOC member from Canada, said the historical argument for Athens simply had not been enough. “Really, your centennial Games are the launch of the second century, not a celebratory mass,” Mr. Pound said.

It has been an emotional week in Tokyo leading up to today’s vote. Some of the Atlantans were overcome with emotion after the crucial, final presentation this morning. Mr. Payne was in tears.

“It went real good,” Mr. Payne said. “It hit on all four cylinders. We could have done it a thousand times, and it couldn’t have gone any better.”

In the presentation, the Atlantans, who have been seen as the high-tech candidate, stressed the themes of youth, hope and trust.
“In a world seemingly more uncertain and unpredictable every day, there will be no uncertainty about the Atlanta Games, no question about our ability to prepare and no doubt that the driving force and motivation behind the Atlanta effort is that same volunteer spirit and love of sport which gave birth to the Olympic meovement and which gives hope for the future,” Mr. Payne told the IOC members.

Mr. Young, the most experienced orator to speak to the IOC, stressed the city’s emotional appeal. “I know that for you – and for all of the people of the world – it comes down to two overriding questions,” Mr. Young said.

“Where will the Olympic flame burn brightest? Who will make the Olympic spirit soar the highest? You know Atlanta. You know me. You know the rest of our organizing team. You have seen our credentials. You have seen our qualifications. You have asked many searching questions about our city – the answers filled five volumes,” Mr. Young said. “But there are things about Atlanta that could never be put into a credentials presentation.”

Atlanta Olympic Bid 1990a

November  28, 1990–A wide path reaches north from the Lenox Square Mall area (at bottom) towards Interstate 285. The land is being cleared for construction of a six-lane extension to Georgia 400. Contractors are knocking down trees, residents complaining of rats being driven into their houses.
Photo by Joey Ivansco

October 31, 1991

Atlanta’s skyline hits new heights

C&S Tower topping
The final section of the 50-ton, 90-foot gold-leaf spire is hoisted into place atop the C&S Plaza tower Wednesday. Topping out at 1,023 feet, the building is Atlanta’s tallest.

The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution

The final section of the 50-ton, 90-foot gold-leaf spire is hoisted into place atop the C&S Plaza tower Wednesday as a helicopter hovers and the moon fades. Topping out at 1,023 feet, the building is Atlanta’s tallest. It will be renamed NationsBank Plaza following the proposed merger of C&S/Sovran Corp. and NCNB Corp. The spire is covered in 405 square feet of 23-karat gold leaf – much like the dome on the Georgia Capitol.

C&S Old Tower seen in 1990
C&S Old Tower seen in 1990

The new C&S Tower rises next to old tower
C&S Tower rises

C&S Plaza at a glance
Height: 1,023 feet, 55 stories.
Site: Peachtree Street at North Avenue.
Completion date: Early 1992.

Comparison: One Peachtree Center, 842 feet; New York, Empire State Building, 1,414 feet; Chicago, Sears Tower, 1,454 feet.


1996 Summer Olympics
Games of the XXVI Olympiad

Atlanta Olympic Stadium
AP Photo/John Bazemore


Atlanta in 2018
Population City of Atlanta: 498,044
Atlanta–Athens-Clarke County–Sandy Springs: 6,630,231

Source: U.S. Census Bureau metropolitan population estimates July 1, 2018 –Release Date: April 18, 2019

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