Book Review: Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn

July 31, 2023

Atlanta is often referred to as the black Mecca. I first visited Atlanta while checking out graduate schools in the Atlanta area. When my Megabus rode from Gainesville in 6am and arrived in Atlanta, Georgia at noon, I was surprised to see a bustling city with a wide range of neighborhoods,  personalities and socioeconomic backgrounds. I lived in Atlanta for only a year but decided at the time it was not the place for me and really needed a change of environment after a difficult experience in graduate school. I never expected to return to Atlanta.

Moving back to Atlanta

Well, never say never. In 2022, I came back to Atlanta. It took me a few months to really get acclimated to the idea of living in Atlanta.At the time, I did not understand the complexities of Atlanta that well being a transplant. Last Fall, there was a lot of on online discussion about the traffic in Atlanta, the MARTA train lines, and Atlanta's city design in general.

The discussion was about highway design, public transportation, and urban renewal and its ties to racism. I saw someone mentioning to read Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn. It piqued my interest, so I ordered it and immediately dived in. It started off slow but got really interesting as it chronologically entered the 1940s into the 1960s.

Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn is one of my favorite books now. It documents two family lineages: one white and one black from the Reconstruction era straight through the 1996 Olympics. Both families produced City of Atlanta mayors and the black family produced the first black mayor of Atlanta, Maynard H. Jackson, Jr. It taught me a lot about why and how Atlanta has become the vibrant international city of commerce that it is.

Here are some cool things that I learned (besides the stories behind so many of the street names in Atlanta).

Atlanta became a city initially due to railroads.

It was first called “Marthasville”, but the name was too long on the railroad timetable so it was shortened to Atlanta.

Photography by Al Stephenson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

The first Black mayor of Atlanta, Maynard H. Jackson, Jr.

If you’ve flown to the ATL airport, you may already be familiar with the name Jackson. It is in fact named after Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard H. Jackson, Jr. who was not only able to push for the construction of the airport but also ensure increased minority business participation. I learned a lot about Maynard H. Jackson, Jr and how he navigated race relations and racial conflict during his two separate tenures. I learned about the great amount of colorism that existed in the Jim Crow era. (Like Black men were marrying lighter skinned Black women as a means of moving up socially in the 1940s). His grandfather, John Wesley Dobbs had elected to do this and encouraged his children to marry light. His grandfather was a respected city leader and facilitated the overturning of the white primary in Georgia. J.W. Dobbs was involved in a lot of civil rights at the time. My favorite quote from his grandfather that the most important thing for African Americans were the three B's: “bucks, ballots, and books!”

Georgia National Guard, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

City riots in Atlanta

There were city riots in Atlanta in the early 1900’s, the 1960s and the 1990s. With each era, I was able to learn how the country and the cities reaction to each riot told a lot about the changes that were going on socially. I had never heard of the riots in 1906 but it did leave a mark on the city of Atlanta. In the 1960s, white business owners were reluctant but more willing to negotiate circumstances to ensure the city wasn’t completely destroyed and to keep their Black shoppers. In the 1990s, things had changed. Student and individuals were no longer willing to keep the peace and often saw the black civil leaders as traitors. After the 1960s, many of these Black leaders had moved out of their neighborhoods to more affluent Atlanta neighborhoods such as Buckhead.

"Foreign relations subcommittee on African affairs - w/U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, TOH, 6/6/77." U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection.

Why Atlanta is such a large international hub today

The reason why Atlanta became such a large international hub is a direct impact from Andrew Young, who served as US ambassador to the United Nations prior to serving as mayor of Atlanta from 1982-1990. He was able to leverage his international relations to attract the international community to Atlanta.

Royal Peacock, Timothy J Carroll

Atlanta and Gentrification

Since the book’s publication, a lot of the neighborhoods that were discussed in the book have changed. Some are currently undergoing significant gentrification. However, as the city evolves, it’s nice to know that it’s been able to maintain different aspects of it’s identity: being business-friendly and open for commerce, at times putting business and commerce interests over racism, striving for and achieving racial and ethnic diversity. If there is ever a part two of this book that documents the city’s more recent history, from 1996 to today, I will be very interested in reading it purely based on the changes that I personally have seen in Atlanta since 2016.

Overall, this book made me really love the city of Atlanta because I understood it better and I can fully appreciate it it’s rich history. I look forward to continuing to explore all it has to offer.