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Places (POIs) visited during this tour

Place #1
Distance: 0.10mi , Attraction : Tour Introduction
Map Pin
43 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA
POI 1 Tour Image
Once again, welcome to Historic America & UCPlaces’ audio walking tour of Atlanta’s Historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood. We’re glad you could join us! I’m Aaron, your guide (but I also respond to professional history nerd). This is the part of the tour where I fit in my shameless plug for our websites (www.historicamerica.org & www.ucplaces.com) and invite you to use #historicamericatours on social media while traveling alongside us today.

You’re now standing at the intersection of Auburn Avenue & Peachtree Center Ave. Following your on screen navigation, walk east down Auburn Avenue on the right hand side of the street. As you walk, I'll talk … and the easiest part is that today’s tour is a straight shot moving east down Auburn - so if you can walk a straight line, you won’t get lost. Each block of our journey holds a new discovery in store.

Throughout the late 19th & 20th centuries, Auburn Avenue developed as a vibrant hub of African American entertainment, business, and spirituality in the heart of Atlanta. In the bygone era of legalized discrimination, the city was cordoned off by lines of color and Blacks from across the south came to Auburn Avenue - some drawn by shared dreams and others pushed by restrictive segregation laws. The community they built became a cradle of Black opportunity and achievement, impacting not only the American South, but the entire nation. Eventually dubbed “Sweet Auburn” by those who loved her best, a 1956 issue of Fortune magazine declared the neighborhood to be, “...the richest Negro street in the world.” Let’s find out why.

The development of Auburn Avenue can be traced back to the reconstruction era, when formerly enslaved people began purchasing land in the area just east of Atlanta’s central business district along what was then called Wheat Street. White neighbors, concerned by the changing landscape, petitioned to have the street name changed to Auburn Avenue as it had a more cosmopolitan sound. As educational and business opportunities expanded for Blacks in Atlanta, Auburn soon became a hub for the Black middle class. Eventually, Auburn’s unofficial “mayor” John Wesley Dobbs declared that Auburn offered residents the keys to Black liberation in the form of three B's - bucks, ballots, and books.

At our next stop, we’ll learn about the books.

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Place #2
Distance: 0.13mi , Attraction : Apex Museum, Atlanta Life Insurance, Atlanta Daily World Building
Map Pin
30 Courtland St NE, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA
POI 2 Tour Image
Block 1
As you reach the intersection of Auburn Ave. & Courtland Street our sightseeing experience begins. Pause your walk to get oriented. Diagonally to your left, notice the Georgia State University Welcome Center. Here you’ll find GSU’s admissions office and the meeting point for GSU’s downtown campus tours. Ahead to your right you’ll find the red brick and granite exterior of the Auburn Avenue Research Library. This historic library marks the beginning of the Sweet Auburn historic district. Way back in 1921 it was also the first public library branch for African Americans in the city of Atlanta, and ultimately became the first public library in all of the Southeast United States to offer a specialized focus on the study & research of African American history & culture.

Inside you’ll find ​​more than 600 manuscript collections and over 20,000 books in addition to artifacts, audio recordings, oral histories, periodicals, a quarter-of-a-million photographs and countless other items all concerned with the African American experience.

Keep walking down Auburn and I’ll tell you more.

The original 1921 branch has long since closed. Opened in 1994 and expanded in 2016, the new building you see today boasts 50,000 square feet of space over three levels dedicated to community programming, reference, research and archival space.

Did I also mention the library is an art gallery boasting over 800 creations by Black artists? As you continue down the street, notice the prominent piece near the library’s north entrance by artist Radcliffe Bailey - a two tiered sculpture of rusted steel silhouettes representing the African diaspora. Look closely to find (among other items) a saxophone, a sailing ship, tribal masks and a ladder which turns into a DNA strand. If you’d like to explore the library, feel free to pause the tour and get your learn on. Otherwise, we continue along Auburn.

Separated from the library by a small parking lot, the next site (upcoming on your right) is the oldest Black History Museum in Atlanta - the APEX Museum. The name APEX is an acronym for African American Panoramic eXperience, because the museum aims to provide visitors with a complete view of African American history and culture. APEX was founded in 1978 by Black filmmaker Dan Moore Senior and the building itself is over 100 years old - the work of African American masons. You’ll notice the red brick walls, white fronting and exterior alleyway entrance overhung with wrought iron fencing which spells out APEX.

If you choose to enter APEX and explore the exhibits, make sure to look for the recreated druggist storefront of the first Black registered pharmacist in Georgia - Moses Amos. And although Moses is no longer around to fill your medical prescriptions, APEX will fill your head with knowledge as you watch a short film on the story of Auburn Avenue inside the museum’s Trolley Theater.

On the opposite side of the street from the APEX museum, locate the classical building of tan & white, with one portion closer to the roadside than the other. This is the Atlanta Life Insurance Company Building. Though the building itself dates from the 1920s, Atlanta Life was founded in 1905 by pioneering entrepreneur Alonzo Herndon, a man born into slavery who eventually became Atlanta’s first black millionaire.

With a mere $11 in his pocket and only a year’s worth of schooling, Herndon left sharecropping at twenty-years-old, to embark on a journey that led to ownership of an Atlanta barbershop chain, transitioned into real estate investment, and culminated in the creation of a life insurance empire formerly headquartered here. Throughout the American south, the name Herndon became synonymous with business success. A local newspaper editor once wrote, "When people buy a policy in Atlanta Life they are buying Alonzo Herndon." Herndon’s company still exists today and is currently headquartered on nearby Peachtree Street.

By the way, did you hear about the salesman who tried selling insurance to a turtle? The turtle told the salesman, "No, I don't want to buy a policy. I'm already covered".

Moving on.

Across the street from Atlanta Life, locate the red brick structure decorated with white diamonds. As the signage over the main doorway still attests, this was once the home of the Atlanta Daily World - the city’s oldest Black newspaper. Founded by 26-year-old Morehouse graduate William Alexander Scott, and eventually taken over by his brother Cornelius, the publication was the first successful African American daily newspaper in the country and the first paper to send an assigned correspondent to the White House - Harry Alpin - who himself became the first Black person to cover the White House in February of 1944. The paper still exists but relocated in 2008 after the old headquarters building (where you now stand) was damaged by a tornado.

Continue onto the next block and I’ll meet you there!

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Tour itinerary stops | Additional places you'll see on this self-guided tour

Map Pin Place 1 Intro
Map Pin Place 2 Block 1
Map Pin Place 3 Block 2
Map Pin Place 4 Block 3
Map Pin Place 5 Block 5
Map Pin Place 6 Cross street
Map Pin Place 7 Intro to block 6
Map Pin Place 8 Block 6
Map Pin Place 9 Block 7
Map Pin Place 10 King's Grave
Map Pin Place 11 King Center Headquarters
Map Pin Place 12 Block 8
Map Pin Place 13 Block 8 Continued

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