From the Annual Meeting 2007 column of the September 2006 Perspectives

Welcome to Atlanta!

Jamil S. Zainaldin, September 2006

On behalf of the 2007 Local Arrangements Committee (LAC), let me welcome you to the "city too busy to hate," the land that is "North of the South, and South of the North," or just simply "The ATL."

As these monikers suggest, Atlanta is myth, symbol, and reality. It is an invention, and not only in a marketing sense (the city is well known for its boosterism). After the Cherokee removal and before settlers lived here, the site of present day Atlanta was staked out by engineers in 1837 as the geographical end-of-the-line of the Atlantic and Western Railroad in Tennessee and given the name Terminus. (But is there a hint here of the city's future name?) When two other lines crossed through Terminus in 1846, it became (overnight) a "hub." Atlanta, which also calls itself the "Gateway of the South," began as a city in motion. It does not often stop.

If the city is something of an invention, then it is surely too a living and breathing presence with four million souls spilling outside its limits into 28 surrounding counties comprising 6,000 square miles. Greater Atlanta has no natural barriers of containment unless one counts Chattanooga, about 100 miles north. It has a massive arterial system of roads built years before the nation's Interstate system (and is constantly being expanded); it can also point to a large and affordable housing stock and a thriving rate of employment that now spans four decades. Its demographic make-up includes a surprisingly youthful profile, in part a reflection of the little-recognized fact that Atlanta is also a college town, with 19 public and private higher education institutions in the area.

With a blanket of trees masking the city from the air and a climate that allows gardens and yards to retain their color for much of the year, Atlanta truly can be said to be a pleasant place. Atlanta even has a river running through it (the Chattahoochee).

For all of these reasons modern Atlanta operates as a powerful lure for businesses, migrants from elsewhere in the South and North, immigrants, and refugees. It counts among its home industries Coca Cola, UPS, Home Depot, Georgia-Pacific, and CNN. It is the headquarters of the Center for Disease Control, the global relief organization CARE, and the American Cancer Society as well as the home of important national and international figures in politics, culture, world affairs, and the arts. Within half a mile of each other are the birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Carter Presidential Center. Their proximity, President Carter will tell you, is no accident. There is much talk in Atlanta these days of building a civil rights/human rights museum.
With so many elements at play, Atlanta's history and culture are downright fascinating. Through its activities leading up to and culminating in the AHA's annual meeting, the LAC will attempt to capture what "place" means outside the front doors of the hotels. Much of what we are planning will not be found in a standard convention and visitor's bureau brochure. This is a city where people work together. The past two LAC committees in Atlanta have set a high standard for their efforts and programs, and we will strive to do our best in 2007.

Perspectives Articles and Sponsored Tours

Through a series of articles in Perspectives, we will explore Atlanta's Civil War and Civil Rights heritage, the impact of the Olympics on the city, the image of Atlanta in the popular imagination and culture, its architectural and design heritage, and such topics as Native American heritage, Mississippian culture—and of course food. Along the way we will be pointing out research opportunities, archives, and historic sites and attractions that can be visited on your own.

The LAC is also organizing and leading a series of historically significant tours within easy commuting distance from the hotel (buses will be provided.) These include the State Capitol Building, a structure completed in 1889 that carries forward powerful elements of Redeemer Georgia; the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site; the "Old Fourth Ward" that includes "Sweet Auburn," one of the nation's busiest and wealthiest black business districts before desegregation; the historically significant Lockheed-Martin Marietta factory complex that is the site of a new museum in the planning stages; the historically black colleges and universities that make up the Atlanta University Center, and the Carter Presidential Library and Museum.

We will follow the historical "color line" in the city, with a special tour that will view Atlanta through the eyes of W.E.B. DuBois, who wrote an important book on the subject while teaching at Atlanta University.

2006 is the centennial of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, an event that until recent times has remained virtually unknown in Atlanta. With much new evidence being unearthed and interpreted by area historians, the LAC will sponsor a special session and tour of the locations where the riots occurred, only blocks from the downtown hotels. We will also view a Georgia Humanities Council-funded exhibit on the riot ("Red Was the Night") at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

We anticipate scheduling several sponsored sessions and events at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and the Carter Center (co-located though separate buildings). The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum will offer half-price admission to its museum, and its director will host private tours of the Library and museum for registered AHA attendees. Shuttles will run between the hotels and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Center (just minutes away).

The Atlanta History Center will open its doors to all AHA-registered attendees at no charge. The AHC operates on a 33-acre campus that houses a main building with several permanent exhibits. Also on the grounds are an operating farm, a historic home, and several major archival collections. Scheduled shuttles will run from the conference hotels to the AHC in the Buckhead district of the city (about 25 minutes away).

Self-Guided Tours and Restaurants

For those who prefer to tour on their own, or walk the city and enjoy its sites and attractions (especially families), we will have a special "Stepping Out Guide" with all the information you will need printed on a single page, front and back. There are museums for children and adults, public parks, a new city aquarium, historical sites, and more that you are free to explore on your own. The hotels in the downtown area are located near Centennial Park, the site of the 1996 Olympics, and no more than 5 or so minutes by cab from Midtown Atlanta where Piedmont Park and the High Museum of Art are located. (The High will be hosting a major Louvre exhibition at that time.) The Buckhead shopping district is conveniently located on MARTA rail lines and is approximately 20 minutes by cab or auto from the downtown hotels.

The LAC is preparing a dining guide for the downtown and Midtown areas. Since the AHA last met in the city, dozens of new restaurants have opened featuring a range of cuisine that matches the city's international flavor. And there's still plenty of Southern cuisine, of course. Our reviewer, a Southern historian who formerly operated restaurants for the Brennan family of New Orleans, will offer some insights into bargains and quality.

The LAC includes eight institutional partners who are helping us plan. They include the Georgia Humanities Council, the Atlanta History Center, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, The Carter Center, Morehouse College, the Rialto Theater of Georgia State University, the Historical Preservation Division of the State of Georgia, and the Georgia State University (GSU) transportation system. For additional staff support at the annual meeting, the LAC will recruit graduate and undergraduate students from the Atlanta University Center, Georgia State, Emory, University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech.

Jump Online

Georgians—and now AHA members—are fortunate to have the state's history at their fingertips. While it is not a substitute for visiting the city, the New Georgia Encyclopedia is an exclusively online resource of about 2,000 original articles that AHA members are invited to consult before coming here. Indeed, background articles on all of the sites, tours, and topics mentioned above are included in the encyclopedia (www.georgiaencyclopedia.org). You might begin with the excellent article on Atlanta by Andy Ambrose. The encyclopedia is a project of the Georgia Humanities Council in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the Office of the Governor, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO (the state's virtual library), and the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education. We will have more to say about this resource in a forthcoming Perspectives article. In the mean time, we look forward to seeing you in Atlanta!

—Jamil Zainaldin is president of the Georgia Humanities Council and chairs the Local Arrangements Committee of the 2007 annual meeting of the AHA.