Watch CBS News

Atlanta history and Black history are intertwined in many ways

Atlanta History is Black History
Atlanta History is Black History 01:22

ATLANTA (WUPA) - Atlanta is known worldwide as the cradle of the civil rights movement. It's the historic home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church and home to several notable historically Black institutions of higher learning. 

Dr. King was born and raised here. In addition, Atlanta is the crowning jewel of America's South. From its beginnings as a railroad crossroads, Atlanta's history has been deeply enmeshed with Black history -- and that history continues into the 21st Century as Atlanta, and Georgia, make historic strides into the future in endeavors of business, education, industry, politics, science, as well as other areas.

Elements of those endeavors show each and every day that Atlanta's history is Black history. 

John Wesley Dobbs

John Wesley Dobbs was born in Marietta in March of 1882, and grew up to become the "unofficial mayor" of Auburn Avenue during his years as a civil and political leader in Atlanta.

Atlanta Cityscapes And City Views
Ralph Helmick's "Through His Eyes" memorial tribute to John Wesley Dobbs, in Atlanta, Georgia on NOVEMBER 23, 2013.  (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

Dobbs grew up attending public schools before attending Atlanta Baptist College (which later became Morehouse College) for two years. He did not graduate, however, because he left to take care of his ailing mother. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Dobbs continued to study in the intervening years, and passed a civil service examination in 1903, allowing him to become a railway mail clerk for the US Post Office in Atlanta.

Dobbs married his wife Irene in 1906, and the two had six daughters. All six went on to graduate from Spelman College in Atlanta.

In 1911, Dobbs became a member of the Prince Hall Masons, eventually becoming Grand Master of the order. By the 1930s, Dobbs began to work toward a goal of registering 10,000 Black voters in Georgia. In subsequent years, he worked to register even more voters in Atlanta and beyond.

By the mid-1940s, Dobbs, with the power of Black voters at his heels, was able to convince then-Mayor William B. Hartsfield to integrate Atlanta's police force.

Dobbs' work to desegregate Atlanta and Georgia continued throughout the rest of his life. He died at the age of 79 on August 30, 1961 -- the same week Atlanta's public schools were desegregated.

WERD Radio

In 1949, Atlanta radio station WERD became the first station in the nation to be owned and operated by African Americans.

According to the National Black Radio Hall of Fame (, studios for the AM radio station were housed in the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge building in the 300 block of Auburn Avenue.

The station broadcast music, news, and information to Atlanta's Black community during the formative years of the Civil Rights movement. The programming on the radio station during the years it was on the air included sermons from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other ministers who were part of the movement. (

The station operated from sun-up to sundown, as did many smaller AM radio stations across the nation, but that was enough to provide a voice for a growing community in what, according to some estimates, was one of the richest Black areas of the nation at the time.

WERD lived in Atlanta through 1968. Other stations have since grown up to replace it within Atlanta's radio community, but Black radio in Atlanta -- and around the nation -- can trace its collective genesis to WERD and its place in Atlanta's Civil Rights history.

South-View Cemetery

South-View Cemetery was initially founded in 1886 as a "safe, secure" location for African Americans to be buried in Atlanta during Reconstruction.

South-View Cemetery
Cars are parked for graveside services for U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) at South-View Cemetery on July 30, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia.  Alyssa Pointer / Getty Images

Blacks had become tired of the indignities they were forced to suffer in order to conduct funeral services for family and friends. They were forced to wade through swamplands and enter cemeteries through rear entrances in order to conduct services.

According to the history of the South-View Cemetery Association, many of those who had to deal with these types of humiliations over the course of history were told, "If you don't like it, start your own cemetery."

Nine prominent Black businessmen petitioned the state of Georgia for a charter to establish the South-View Cemetery in 1886, where it became the final resting place for more than 80,000 African Americans, including such notable persons as Julian Bond, Herman Russell, Jean Childs Young, John Lewis, and Hank Aaron.

Before being interred on the Morehouse College campus, Dr. Benjamin Mays was buried at South-View. Likewise, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's was first buried at South-View before being relocated to the King Center.

The site remains a sought-after final home for many in the Atlanta community.

The Busy Bee Cafe

The Busy Bee Cafe was opened on Atlanta's West Hunter Street in 1947, when, according to the restaurant's website, self-taught cook Lucy Jackson decided to open her own eatery.

Mama Lucy, as she was affectionately known to those who came through her doors, worked to provide hot meals based on her family's home recipes during a time when Jim Crow laws prevented Blacks from visiting many other establishments in the city comfortably. The Busy Bee, along with nearby Paschal's Restaurant, became locations where the leaders of Atlanta's civil rights movement could be frequently found.

According to the Atlanta History Center, John Lewis described them as a haven where he could retreat after "arrests, death threats, and beatings."

While many establishments in the West End area have come and gone over the years, the Busy Bee has remained a constant presence in the area. The eatery continues to serve many satisfied patrons to this day.

Current owner Tracy Gates has held the reins of the Busy Bee since 1987 and has hosted Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden, as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders in recent years. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.