The ever-changing cityscape of Atlanta shows a long history of sacrificing heritage structures to the wrecking ball in order to move forward urban development. A new project led by Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts dean, Jacqueline Royster, seeks to revive some of these places – whether torn down, still standing, repurposed – through the stories of the people who have occupied them and to preserve the always interesting and often quite inspiring details of this history as a vital part of our public memory.
A collection of audio interviews presented in podcasts, “Building Memories” interweaves facts, memories, and viewpoints to create oral histories that reveal Atlanta’s past, affording insight into its present and future. The inaugural podcast presents the home of the prominent African American family of insurance magnate, Alonzo Herndon.
“My intent is to help us remember a more diversely rendered citizenry,” said Royster, “those – famous and not so famous – who, like our College namesake, Ivan Allen, Jr., contributed to the complex identity of the city we know today.”
The “Building Memories” podcasts will be organized annually around thematic threads and include 6 - 8 episodes. The inaugural theme focuses on some of the most historic sites in the history of Atlanta’s African American communities. The Herndon home podcast is emblematic of the kinds of places that will be featured. For example, future podcasts are planned around: 1) Herren’s Restaurant – remembered by many for its cinnamon rolls; it was the venue for the city’s first integrated event – a dinner honoring Nobel Prize winner Martin Luther King, Jr. 2) The Royal Peacock – to highlight the history of one of the nation’s premiere nightclubs for African Americans; it hosted celebrities ranging from Louis Armstrong to Marvin Gaye to homegrown talent, Gladys Knight.
“Atlanta’s continual drive for redevelopment has often triumphed over the preservation of the city’s heritage,” said Royster. “This project is in the spirit of College namesake Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr, whose leadership spurred our ascent as a top tier American city. Yet in looking back, Mayor Allen expressed regret that some historic structures and neighborhoods were sacrificed to achieve this status. I think he would appreciate the “Building Memories” effort to preserve and share the stories associated with specific places and to remind ourselves of the interesting array of people who have helped to define this genuinely international city.
Partners in the “Building Memories” project are Gene Kansas, an Atlanta entrepreneur, real estate developer, and Ivan Allen College alumnus (M.S. in Digital Media 2016); Ivan Allen College IT director Steven Hodges; and Stephen Key, Atlanta artist and radio host of AM 1690 WMLB’s "The Voice of The Arts."