Atlanta History


Atlanta (ətlăn´tə, ăt–), city (1990 pop. 394,017), state capital and seat of Fulton co., NW Ga., on the Chattahoochee R. and Peachtree Creek, near the Appalachian foothills; inc. 1847. It is Georgia's largest city and one of the leading cities of the South.

Economy and Transportation

Manufactures include textiles, furniture, food and beverages, telecommunications hardware, steel, paper, and chemicals. There are automobile and aircraft assembly plants, insurance companies, and printing and publishing houses; and it is a major television broadcasting center. Atlanta is home to numerous corporations, notably Coca-Cola, founded here in 1892. The site of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, Atlanta is also a major convention center with many large hotels. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is one of the busiest in the world, and the city has a modern subway system.

Points of Interest

Notable sites include the capitol (1889), housing the state library; the city hall; the Woodruff Arts Center, home of the High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; the Fernbank Museum of Natural History; the state archives building; the building housing the huge Cyclorama of the Battle of Atlanta; Oakland Cemetery, containing Civil War dead; "Underground Atlanta," a four-block tract covered for 50 years by a viaduct system and restored as a tourist district; the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site, including King's birthplace and grave as well as Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached; Grant Park, with a zoo and Confederate Fort Walker (restored); and the Georgia Aquarium, National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and other attractions clustered around Centennial Olympic Park. The Carter Presidential Center (1986) contains a museum and library dedicated to former President Jimmy Carter as well as a forum (part of Emory Univ.) for the discussion of international issues.

Many departments of the federal government have branches in and near Atlanta, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; also there are Fort McPherson, headquarters of the U.S. 3d Army, and a naval air station. The Atlanta penitentiary (est. 1899) is one of the most widely known U.S. federal prisons. The city's numerous parks are famous for their dogwood blooms. Nearby is Stone Mountain Park, with enormous relief carvings of Confederate figures and a 19th-century plantation, reminiscent of the Atlanta depicted in the film Gone with the Wind (1939). Also in the area are Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (see National Parks and Monuments, table) and Six Flags Over Georgia, a large theme park.

Atlanta is the seat of Emory Univ., Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State Univ., Oglethorpe Univ., the Atlanta School of Art, and Atlanta Univ., with its adjacent and affiliated schools: Clark, Morehouse, Morris Brown, and Spelman colleges. The city is home to the Atlanta Braves (baseball), Falcons (football), and Hawks (basketball).


Hardy Ivy, the first settler, built (1833) a cabin on what had been Creek tribal land. The town, founded (1837) as Terminus, one end of the Western & Atlantic rail line, was incorporated as Marthasville in 1843 and renamed Atlanta in 1845. It became a rail and marketing hub and in the Civil War was a communication and supply center; it fell to Gen. W. T. Sherman on Sept. 2, 1864 (see Atlanta campaign). Most of the city was burned on Nov. 15, before Sherman began his march to the sea. Rapidly rebuilt, it thrived as a commercial and industrial center, and became temporary (1868) and permanent (1877, following a popular vote) capital of Georgia. Conventions and expositions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries drew attention to the city's growth and strategic position. In 1973, Atlanta became the first major Southern city to elect an African American as mayor. By then it was already losing residents to its rapidly expanding suburbs; in the late 1990s the metropolitan area had a population close to 4 million, and "sprawl" had become a major concern.


See T. A. Hartshorn, Atlanta (1976) and H. H. Martin, Atlanta and Environs (1987).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Atlanta History: Selected full-text books and articles

Rage in the Gate City: The Story of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot By Rebecca Burns University of Georgia Press, 2009 (Revised edition)
Black Politics in New Deal Atlanta By Karen Ferguson University of North Carolina Press, 2002
Strangers within the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915 By Steven Hertzberg Jewish Publication Society of America,, 1978
Atlanta 1864: Last Chance for the Confederacy By Richard M. McMurry University of Nebraska Press, 2000
The Atlanta Youth Murders and the Politics of Race By Bernard Headley Southern Illinois University Press, 1998
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