Atlanta, Georgia
United States of America

Introduction

Atlanta, capital city of Georgia, located in the northern part of the state. The seat of Fulton County, Atlanta also occupies portions of De Kalb County. Atlanta is located on the Piedmont Plateau, a rolling upland region on the eastern slope of the Appalachian Mountains. The city’s high mean elevation—323 m (1,059 ft) above sea level—distinguishes Atlanta from most other southern cities and gives it a more temperate climate than urban areas located further south. The city itself is relatively small in land area at 340.8 sq km (131.6 sq mi), but the metropolitan region is one of the largest in the southeastern United States, encompassing 15,867 sq km (6,126 sq mi), occupying 20 counties, and containing a number of smaller established municipalities such as Decatur, Marietta, Douglasville, and Roswell.

Population

The population of the city of Atlanta declined from 425,022 in 1980 to 394,017 in 1990, as residents moved to suburban portions of the metropolitan region. During the 1990s, however, the city increased in population. In 2000 Atlanta had 416,474 inhabitants.

Urban renewal and interstate highway construction projects in the 1960s wiped out areas of black, low-income housing in the inner city. Subsequently, blacks moved into areas of the city previously inhabited mainly by whites, while thousands of whites departed Atlanta for the suburbs. As a result, in 1970 Atlanta had a black majority for the first time in its history. According to the 2000 census, blacks represent 61.4 percent of the city’s population; whites, 33.2 percent; Asians, 1.9 percent; Native Americans, 0.2 percent; and those of mixed heritage or not reporting race, 3.2 percent. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders numbered 173 at the time of the census. Hispanics, who may be of any race, constitute 4.5 percent of the population.

The population of the Atlanta metropolitan area increased at a rapid rate in recent decades. In 1980 it had a population of 2,233,000; in 2000 it had 4,112,200 inhabitants. In the metropolitan area, whites were the largest group. However, in recent years the area has experienced an influx of new cultural and ethnic groups.

Economy


The Atlanta region’s recent growth in population has been matched by rapid economic growth. The undisputed business capital of the Southeast, Atlanta houses the headquarters of some of the largest and best-known companies in the United States, including Coca-Cola, United Parcel Service, Georgia-Pacific Corporation, Turner Broadcasting System, and Delta Air Lines, Inc. In addition, more than four-fifths of the nation’s largest businesses maintain branch offices in the metropolitan area. The city is also gaining a reputation as an international business center.

Other important components of Atlanta’s economic mix are government agencies and activities, transportation facilities and industries, and the convention trade. Municipal, county, state, and federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, employ a large number of Atlanta area residents. Atlanta’s William B. Hartsfield International Airport, one of the largest and busiest air terminals in the United States, has established the city as a leader in air transport and commerce. The city is also served by three interstate highways, as well as freight and passenger railroads. The hospitality and convention industries also contribute to Atlanta’s economy, with three large trade facilities within the downtown area: the World Congress Center, the Merchandise Mart, and the Apparel Mart. The two largest newspapers in the city are the Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Journal.

The Urban Landscape

Atlanta is sometimes described as a “horizontal city.” With few natural barriers to contain or restrict its growth, the city has developed in a sprawling, dispersed fashion. The city’s low population density levels contrast sharply with those of older, more densely packed northern cities such as New York, Boston, or Chicago. The tallest and most closely grouped buildings are found in downtown Atlanta around an intersection called Five Points, and in the area immediately north. This is the business and historic heart of the city. Further north of this area are Midtown and Buckhead, the location of many of the city’s cultural institutions, Piedmont Park (Atlanta’s largest public park), and a number of older, traditionally white residential communities. To the immediate east of downtown is the Auburn Avenue community, the historic center of the city’s black business, religious, and entertainment life. Also in the east are Inman Park (Atlanta’s first planned suburb), and Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park, featuring the largest granite outcropping in the world and a massive relief carving of Confederate leaders from the American Civil War (1861-1865); the park also contains historic houses, a museum, recreational facilities, and a campground.

Points of Interest

Notable structures and sites of interest in downtown Atlanta include the State Capitol (1889); Underground Atlanta, a subterranean marketplace with shops, bars, and cafes; City Hall (1930); and the Peachtree Center business complex. The Georgia Dome, the home of the Atlanta Falcons football team, and the Philips Arena, where the Atlanta Hawks basketball team and the Atlanta Thrashers hockey team began play in 1999, are also located downtown.

Points of interest in southern Atlanta include the Atlanta Zoo; the Cyclorama (a 109-m/358-ft mural depicting the Civil War Battle of Atlanta); The Wren’s Nest (former home of 19th and early-20th century writer Joel Chandler Harris); and Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, which opened in 1997. Northern Atlanta is the site of Ansley Park residential community, the governor’s mansion, and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

Eastern Atlanta features the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site (including King’s birthplace; Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King preached; and the King Center, where his tomb is located). The Herndon Home (the residence of Atlanta’s first black millionaire, a former slave named Alonzo Franklin Herndon) and Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park are located in western Atlanta.

Educational and Cultural Institutions

Among the region’s private institutions of higher learning are Emory University (1836); Agnes Scott College (1889); the Cecil B. Day Campus of Mercer University, originally established as Atlanta Baptist College in 1969; Oglethorpe University (1835); and the Atlanta University Center, the largest consortium of black colleges and universities in the nation, comprised of Spelman College (1881), Morris Brown College (1881), Morehouse College (1867), Clark Atlanta University (combined in 1988), the Interdenominational Theological Center (1958), and the Morehouse School of Medicine (1981). Publicly supported colleges include Georgia Institute of Technology (1885) and Georgia State University (1913).

Prominent cultural and historical institutions in the city include the High Museum of Art (1983), designed by the noted postmodern American architect Richard Meier; the Atlanta Symphony; the Atlanta History Center, which maintains a history museum, historic houses and gardens, and extensive library and archives; Nexus Contemporary Art Center; the Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center; the Apex Museum; the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University; the Clark Atlanta University Art Gallery; Fernbank Science Center; and the Carter Presidential Center, a library-museum dedicated to the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States.

History

Atlanta’s founding was based on two events that occurred in the 1830s—the forcible removal of the Creek and Cherokee peoples and the extension of railroad lines into the state’s interior. In 1837 surveyors for the Western and Atlantic Railroad selected a locale 11 km (7 mi) southeast of the Chattahoochee River as a southern terminus for their line. A small settlement, aptly named Terminus, arose at this location. While work was progressing on the Western and Atlantic, Terminus grew, changing its name to Marthasville in 1843 and to Atlanta (in honor of the railroad) in 1845. Atlanta was incorporated as a city in 1847.

Two more railroads soon established connections with Atlanta. The extensive rail facilities made Atlanta the center of a growing regional transportation network and hastened the city’s development as a commercial center. By the American Civil War (1861-1865) Atlanta’s population had grown to over 9,000. As a vital Confederate production center and supply depot during the war, Atlanta became a prime objective of Union General William T. Sherman in his efforts to subdue the Confederacy. Sherman captured Atlanta on September 2, 1864, and subsequently burned much of the city.

Despite the destruction, Atlanta recovered and grew quickly after the war. Between 1865 and 1867, almost 20,000 people migrated to the city. Atlanta became the temporary capital of Georgia in 1868 and the permanent state capital in 1877. By the end of the 19th century, Atlanta had become the largest city in the state.

Atlanta experienced strong racial tensions in the early 20th century. In 1906 the city suffered a serious race riot, and in the 1920s Atlanta served as headquarters for the Ku Klux Klan, a white terrorist society whose activities are directed against blacks and other minorities. On the other hand, Atlanta was also home to organizations founded to combat racial violence, such as the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching and the Commission on Interracial Cooperation. As a result of the rigid racial segregation which characterized Atlanta and the rest of the South during this period, an extremely rich and vibrant black business, cultural, and entertainment center arose along Auburn Avenue to the east of downtown.

By the end of World War II (1939-1945), Atlanta’s laws promoting racial segregation were beginning to erode. In comparison to other southern cities, Atlanta became progressive on racial matters. A movement for increased black political and civil rights led to a successful voter registration drive in 1946 and the peaceful desegregation of four of the city’s public high schools in 1961. In 1973 Atlanta became the first major city in the South to elect a black mayor, Maynard Jackson. In 2001 Atlanta elected its first woman mayor, Shirley Franklin.
Atlanta’s physical landscape also underwent a dramatic transformation during the mid-20th century. In 1952 the city annexed 238 sq km (92 sq mi), which added more than 100,000 people. The skyline of Atlanta changed as numerous high-rise buildings were built in the downtown and midtown areas. New interstate highways and Hartsfield International Airport drew more people and businesses to the metropolitan area.

In 1996 Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympic Games. The games were generally considered a success by most Atlantans, although many athletes and international visitors complained about transportation and lodging problems. In addition, the games were marred when a pipe bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park, which had become a popular gathering place for tourists during the games. The bomb killed one person and injured more than 100 others. The Games provided many benefits to Atlanta, including the buildings and facilities that were constructed or improved for the event. A reconfigured Olympic Stadium became Turner Field, the home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team. The 8-hectare (21-acre) Centennial Olympic Park in the city’s downtown area represented the largest urban park built in the United States in the last 25 years. The Olympic Village, which housed athletes, became student housing at Georgia State University. Preparations for the games resulted in $2 billion in publicly financed transportation projects, including $700 million in improvements to Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.