DionRabouin.com (sort of)

Historic Auburn Ave. Endangered? ‘Just a Label’ Residents Say

Posted in Articles by dionrabouin on June 15, 2012

(Written for The Atlanta Voice)

ATLANTA – When the National Trust for Historic Places recently added the “Sweet Auburn” community to its list of America’s 11 “most endangered” historic places, analysts said the area had become a shell of what Fortune magazine once called the “richest Negro street in the world.”

But the residents of Auburn Avenue and the surrounding area are quick to say that the rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, many believe that the designation could spur a reversal of fortune for Sweet Auburn.

“It feels like it’s a rebirth for Auburn Avenue,” said Khalil Islam, president of the Sweet Auburn Area Coalition. “I see it as a good thing. Some others don’t and I’ve heard others talk about it, but we’ll just have to see. We’ll have to push; we’ll have to fight for it.”

The community, once the epicenter of black business and culture, has been struggling for generations as black residents and black businesses expanded beyond the downtown corridor. The district is rife with vacant buildings, shuttered businesses and diminished services, causing many to question whether the historic community can ever return to its former luster and vitality.

Amun Bey, whose brother owns Styles of the Nile barbershop in Sweet Auburn, believes it can, and says he’s unafraid of the “endangered” designation.

“I think that’s just a label. It’s up to the people that are in the community to actually change the conditions of the community,” Bey said.

“The people here need to network more with each other, circulating their dollars with each other, like traditionally when the Auburn Avenue strip was here,” he added. “They circulated their dollars together, that’s what kept them strong.”

Sonya Jones, owner and operator of the Sweet Auburn Bread Company, said the “endangered” designation could actually be a boon to the area. She and her bakery have been in the district since 1997 and she remembers when Sweet Auburn was first labeled as endangered in 1992, and how the community bounced back.

This time around, though, Jones said there is “more interest and more understanding of the need to save it.”

“With the [down] economy there’s a lack of businesses on the street,” she said, “so [the area] definitely needs some help; and maybe this recognition will really draw more attention to the need.”

In response to the “endangered” designation, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall called for a Marshall plan that would summon all available resources to keep the endangered district from becoming extinct.

“I think there’s a unique balance that we must strike and I’m of the mindset that it is the type of strategy that couples historic renovation and the preservation of the great legacy that exists on Auburn Avenue,” Hall said.

Hall, who’s lived in the Sweet Auburn district since 1999 and been the District 2 city councilman since 2005, said new federal funding for a street car project that will come through the area – and other funding from the city, investors and civic groups – will help save the area.

“If I had a dollar for every time we’ve had conversations and meetings about Sweet Auburn revitalization, we’d probably have a couple million dollars in the bank,” Hall said. “Now we’ve got all the people in a room and all the ducks in a row. All of the right ingredients have come together.”


One Response

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  1. femmefrugality said, on June 18, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    Sounds like Hall left on a positive note. My best wishes to the community. I think Bey has great points; the more any community networks, the more successful it will become.

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