Jul 26, 2022 - News

Grants awarded to help preserve Atlanta's Black history

English avenue school
The Atlanta Preservation Center received a grant to stabilize the former English Avenue School, which opened in 1910 and closed in 1995. Credit: Atlanta Preservation Center

Four landmarks significant to Atlanta's Black history are getting crucial upgrades, thanks to the federal government.

Driving the news: The National Park Service awarded grants to organizations in Atlanta to help preserve civil rights history.

  • The Atlanta Preservation Center will receive $500,000 to stabilize the English Avenue School.
  • Preserve Black Atlanta is getting $1 million to stabilize the Vine City homes of Grace Towns Hamilton and her father, George Alexander Towns.
  • The Ralph David Abernathy III Foundation will receive about $500,000 to preserve the Historic West Hunter Street Baptist Church, which became the “strategic and emotional headquarters” of the civil rights movement under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy Sr., according to its website.

What they're saying: Investment in these properties ensures they will be around for the future, said David Y. Mitchell, executive director of the Atlanta Preservation Center.

  • "We're at that fulcrum moment where Atlanta isn't what it was," he said. "We're not pre-Olympics Atlanta. We're pre-World Cup Atlanta, and who and what we are has been defined in so many ways by the intermingling of all these spaces."

The English Avenue School, constructed in 1910, served white students until 1950 when the Atlanta Board of Education voted to send Black students there because of the neighborhood's changing demographics, according to the Atlanta Preservation Center.

  • On Dec. 13, 1960, the school was bombed in what was called "one of the worst racially motivated" attacks in Atlanta, the preservation center said in its grant application.

It closed in 1995, and is "rapidly deteriorating and in danger of being permanently lost," according to a petition created by community members who want to see the site redeveloped.

  • The owner of the property, Westside Development Partners, wants to transform the school into a community center, according to the AJC.

The Hamilton and Towns homes are vacant and owned by Invest Atlanta, the economic development arm of the city, said Preserve Black Atlanta CEO Karcheik Sims-Alvarado.

Hamilton and Towns homes
The George Alexander Towns home, left, and the Grace Towns Hamilton home. Photo: Invest Atlanta
  • Hamilton was the first Black woman elected to the Georgia General Assembly and was executive director of the Atlanta Urban League.
  • Towns was a professor at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) and was a pioneering civil rights activist in the city, Sims-Alvarado told Axios.

Sims-Alvarado said preserving the homes "helps to tell the early years of the civil rights movement and to help answer the question of how Atlanta came to be known as the epicenter of the civil rights movement."

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