Dec 15, 2021 - News

Smyrna’s Aunt Fanny’s Cabin could be demolished

Photo of the old Aunt Fanny's Cabin in Smyrna
The old Aunt Fanny Cabin’s restaurant in Smyrna. Photo: Kristal Dixon/Axios

The building that housed a restaurant known for its glorification of racist stereotypes could be demolished by the city of Smyrna.

Driving the news: A task force asked to review the fate of Aunt Fanny’s Cabin recommended that Smyrna put the building up for sale and remove it from city-owned property on Atlanta Road.

  • The task force, organized by Mayor Derek Norton, will present its recommendation to the City Council, which will have the final say.
  • If no one purchased the cabin, it would be demolished to make way for a memorial dedicated to Fanny Williams.

Catch up quick: Aunt Fanny’s Cabin was named after Fanny Williams, who was a servant of the Campbell family.

  • In the early years of the restaurant, Williams — donning a head wrap and calico dress — sat on the front porch and told customers about Gen. William T. Sherman’s burning of Atlanta, the Washington Post reported at the time.
  • The restaurant, which opened in 1941 was owned by Isoline Campbell, whose family was among Smyrna’s early settlers.

City Council member Travis Lindley said the cabin portion of the restaurant was moved from its original location to its current plot next to the Smyrna History Museum.

  • The city acquired the building with a vision to remodel it to serve as its welcome center, but those plans never came to fruition, he says:

What they’re saying: Lindley told Axios that some task force members want the city to preserve the cabin because of its history, but Smyrna must decide if it’s worth the money.

  • Remodeling the structure could cost between $480,000 and $520,000, but a demolition could come in at less than $400,000, city documents show.
  • “I’m deeply troubled by the fact that we are having this conversation at all,” Lindley told Axios. “I do not think this represents our community.”

As it grew, the restaurant attracted visits by celebrities including Mickey Rooney, Doris Day, Jackie Gleason, Clark Gable, Joanne Woodward and Ty Cobb, Smyrna historian Mike Terry told Axios.

  • Jimmy Carter even made a presidential campaign stop at the restaurant, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Velma Maia Thomas, an Atlanta-based independent scholar and researcher, told Axios that using subservient Black people to sell products was once a popular marketing angle for businesses.

  • “It fits the tenor of the times,” she said.

Council member Lewis Wheaton also told Axios that the research he and others have conducted showed Williams did not benefit financially from the use of her name on the business and had no financial stake in the business.

  • The restaurant, he said, promoted the revival of the “Old South mentality,” which continued well past the 1960s.
  • “What story are we telling by keeping the restaurant?” Wheaton asked. “What does this restaurant and the building symbolize and really, what are we preserving?”
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