Atlanta became the first major Southern city to elect an African-American mayor in 1974, and has chosen one in every election since. Black citizens in metro Atlanta earn college degrees at a rate nearly 50% higher than the national black average.
when Ebony Atlanta, Georgia magazine dubbed it the “Black Mecca of the South” in 1971, less than a decade after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In Atlanta, according to writer Phyllis “Phil” T. Garland, “blacks own more, live better, accomplish more and deal with whites more effectively than they do anywhere else in the South—or the North.” Slowly but surely, this trend is extending beyond the city limits.
Farming communities outside the city that had previously relied on slaves for labor were now home to many African American professionals who commuted to the city for work. One such community is Stockbridge, located 30 minutes south of Atlanta and the birthplace of Martin Luther King Sr. in 1899.
Martin Luther King Sr. Heritage path
The racial gap in Stockbridge has diminished since 1899. Signs along historic downtown streets guide visitors along the Martin Luther King Sr. Heritage Trail established in 2015. The thoroughfare bearing his name connects downtown to this community. It leads to Floyd Chapel Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Sr. worshiped as a child and gave his first sermon in 1915, when he was 15 years old.
The elder King, also known as “Papa King,” was a civil rights leader in his own right. He became assistant pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1927 and senior pastor in 1931. He led the church through the Great Depression and became a widely respected church leader by 1934.
Daddy King was the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church for four decades, making an impact on the black community and earning the respect of enlightened parts of the white community. As a local leader of the civil rights movement, he served on the executive committee of the NAACP's Atlanta branch and as an officer of the Civic and Political League.
He also inspired his son to become active in the movement.
In his essay, “The Autobiography of Religious Development,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “I believe my father’s influence also had a great influence in my entering the ministry. This is not to say that he ever talked to me about being a minister, but my admiration for him was the great influencing factor; He set a noble example that I did not mind following.”
The juxtaposition of old and new
Just 30 miles to the north is Stone Mountain, Georgia, and just 16 miles from downtown Atlanta. The site of the world's largest bas-relief sculpture, which depicts three Confederate leaders: Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, was completed in 1972. Stone Mountain Park officially opened on April 14, 1965, to coincide with the centennial. Anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Fortunately, things are changing.
You can see the Henry County difference as you walk along the strip of downtown Stockbridge. You'll notice BarnBeautiful Wood Shop among the downtown shops, where artisans transform reclaimed wood from old barns into handcrafted home decor. Store manager and head craftsman Chris Bradley is often working on his latest projects behind the counter.
Bradley is always open to conversation, and doesn't take long to tell you why he loves his job. “I've found that working with your hands can put you more in touch with the world than anything else,” Bradley says with a smile. “Working with forests that have seen thousands of experiences over sometimes hundreds of years, feeling the history, and helping to shape the future, is spiritually fulfilling.”
He picks up a board and explains that the imperfections in wood are the most beautiful parts, and he reveals this beauty with polish and hard work.
The juxtaposition of old and new is clearly evident as you exit BarnBeautiful and continue along the downtown strip. Looking past the bare foundation of Stockbridge station, which was demolished in the 1980s, you'll see the new town hall and grandstand. This construction was not the first time Stockbridge had been moved.
More than 140 years ago, in 1882, the present Stockbridge was created a mile south of Old Stockbridge to accommodate the expansion of the Southern Railway and plans for a railway station. Trains still pass through Stockbridge, although they no longer stop or even sound their horns. However, their legacy lives on, including marking the historic center of Stockbridge's African American community, which was once viewed as the “wrong side of the tracks.”
Traveling the Martin Luther King Sr. Heritage Trail
The Green Front Café is located a little further down the street. This historical marker in front of the building says: “The Green Front Café was a popular gathering place from the late 1940s through the early 2000s. The establishment was synonymous with Mrs. Carrie Mae Hambrick, who became the owner in 1949. It was known for serving delicious hamburgers, hot Doug, and delicious soul foods, especially their famous cornbread.
This little café is believed to have been the first restaurant in Henry County. Under Hambrick's management, everyone was welcome. Black and white residents dined together under one roof, regardless of prevailing segregation practices.
Mrs. Carrie May must have had some good cornbread to defy the color barrier in Georgia in the 1940s.
The mere mention of its name stirs up fond memories for many who frequented this place when Mrs. Carrie May owned and ran it. Diane D. Miller, the new owner and curator of Green Front Café, told us why it was important to reopen “The Green Lady” and restore it with original Henry County touches wherever possible.
Miller realized that the café was a symbol of a resilient community full of hope. When she began renovating the building, she turned to BarnBeautiful to help integrate community into the fabric of the café by incorporating reclaimed wood from nearby Broder Farm into the ceiling beams.
Visitors who walk through the front door of Green Front Café today are greeted like family. This is a throwback to a time when neighbors knew each other and the community cared about those who lived there. It was essential for Miller to create a place to save “stories and make new memories.”
Following the café's grand reopening in May 2023, Miller commissioned BarnBeautiful to create a miniature replica of the Green Front Café as a symbol of the community to help tell the story beyond the venue's four walls. The Green Front Café welcomes everyone who visits Stockbridge for a history lesson, a great meal, and a dose of Southern hospitality.
It's easy to feel welcome over a delicious plate of cornbread and fried catfish, but change isn't always simple, and there's still a lot of work to be done. If asked, Miller will tell you how she helps local charities with coat drives and participates in other community outreach programs because there are still pockets of poverty in the area.
During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the King family gave everything they could to the movement.
On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last speech. He opened his strong, confident voice by saying: “If I were standing at the beginning of time with the possibility of a general and panoramic view of all of human history up to now, and God Almighty said to me: “Martin Luther King, at what age do you want to live?”
King's speech had great moments of change and freedom. It stops at the Exodus from Egypt, the birth of philosophy in ancient Greece, the growth of civil leadership in the Roman Empire, and the resurgence of learning in the Renaissance. He touched on Lincoln's leadership with the Emancipation Proclamation and President Franklin Roosevelt's inaugural address.
After honoring the past, he embraced living in the present. “The strange thing is that I used to turn to God Almighty and say: If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.” “.”
Later that night, a single shot fired outside the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis took King's life. Martin Luther King Jr. was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. King Sr.'s wife, Alberta, was murdered on June 30, 1974. The elder King lived to be 84 and died of natural causes in Atlanta.
Stockbridge embodies the dream
Between Mrs. Carrie May's cornbread, Daddy King's preaching, and the hard work of the civil rights movement, the color barrier is breaking down not only in Stockbridge, but in all of Henry County.
The 2000 Census showed that of the approximately 122,000 people living in the county, 81.38% were white, and 14.68% were black or African American. As of 2020, it was 35.85% white and 48.37% black or African American, with a county population of 239,000.
Residents embrace this transformation from a farm community to a bedroom community for wealthy Atlanta families seeking the American dream. Stockbridge, the largest city in Henry County, was even named among the “10 Best Cities in the Nation for African Americans to Live in,” according to Livability.com.
History is a winding, complex path navigated through conscious preservation, whether barn wood, cornbread recipes, or historical trails. The Martin Luther King, Sr. Heritage Trail and Stockbridge, Georgia, tell the story of the great people who came before us—their challenges and triumphs, their grief and hard work, but most of all, their unwavering commitment to the dream of freedom and equality for all.
This article originally appeared on Media decision.
Hello! We are Ed and Jane Coleman also known as Coleman Concierge. In short, we are a 10th generation couple from Huntsville sharing our stories of amazing adventures through transformative and experiential activity-based travel.