The city of Atlanta owes a huge debt to Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.
During the latter stages of the U.S. Civil War, Sherman famously marched his army across Georgia destroying everything in its path, in an effort to cut supply lines to Confederate troops farther north. His “march to the sea” left the state, along with the booming metropolis of Atlanta, in ruins.
Georgia’s largest city at the time, Savannah, was left intact and later “presented” by Sherman to president Abraham Lincoln in an 1864 Christmas card.
Atlanta, however, had to rebuild from scratch. Money poured in throughout the period of Southern reconstruction as several major corporations chose Atlanta for their headquarters. The result was a modern city that quickly became the economic centre of the South.
Coca-Cola, perhaps Atlanta’s best-known company, was first formulated and served in 1886. Created in response to local prohibition laws, the drink was an instant hit at local soda fountains. The Coca-Cola corporation quickly set up shop in Atlanta, forever safe-guarding its “secret formula” of the drink’s ingredients.
Today, the World of Coca-Cola museum attracts millions of visitors every year. Exhibits and videos detail the company’s history and worldwide appeal. The company’s iconic advertising history is vividly displayed via hundreds of signs, pushcarts, billboards and nearly every other advertising medium one can think of. The highlight for most visitors is the Taste It! exhibit, where visitors can try samples of Coke products from around the world.
Next door to the World of Coca-Cola is the gargantuan Georgia Aquarium. Opened in 2005, the aquarium was the brainchild of noted Jewish philanthropist Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot hardware stores.
In 2001, Marcus travelled to 13 countries and more than 50 aquariums in order to research designs that would appeal to visitors worldwide. His $250-million gift to the city of Atlanta resulted in a stunning edifice, home to more than 100,000 species of animals. Kids will especially enjoy the stingray petting tank and the incredible Dolphin Tales show.
Atlanta was home to noted U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. His childhood house and church are now part of the American National Park system and have been designated a National Historic Site. The museum guides visitors through the leader’s childhood in fiercely segregated Atlanta through to his adulthood as a noted Baptist preacher and civil rights activist. King and his wife, Coretta, are interred nearby.
Not to be missed is Atlanta’s infamous Stone Mountain Park, the site of the 1915 revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The Daughters of the Confederacy organization commissioned a massive carving on the face of the mountain as a civil war memorial in 1916. The detailed relief depicts Confederate States of America president Jefferson Davis, along with generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Today, Stone Mountain Park is home to numerous attractions, including an amusement park, a historic Georgia plantation and countless miles of hiking trails.
The city’s Jewish community dates back to before the Civil War. Although they made up just a tiny percentage of the city’s population, by the start of the war, Jews owned a disproportionally large number of the city’s retail shops.
During the early 20th century, Jews were routinely excluded from many professions and social clubs by other Southern whites, but usually didn’t experience the racism felt by African-Americans. This changed dramatically in 1913 during the trial of Leo Frank. Frank, a Jewish factory worker originally from New York, was tried and convicted for the murder of a white female co-worker. His conviction was based mostly on the testimony of a black janitor; something that would never have occurred had the defendant been Christian. Frank was later abducted from prison by an angry white mob and lynched in the nearby city of Marietta.
Throughout segregation, Jewish storeowners in Atlanta were among the only whites that employed black workers and extended credit to black patrons. Atlanta’s Jews were generally very supportive of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, much to the ire of their white, Christian neighbours.
Today, more than 100,000 Jews live in the Atlanta metropolitan area, making it the largest Jewish community in the “Bible Belt.” While Jews are mostly centred in the North Druid Hills area of town, there are numerous smaller communities spread throughout the region. Outreach groups Chabad and Aish HaTorah have a strong presence in Atlanta and have contributed to a religious resurgence in the last decade.
Conveniently located along one of the traditional “snowbird” routes to Florida, Atlanta is a must-see with activities available for the whole family!
Michael Stavsky acknowledges the assistance of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau in planning his family’s trip to Atlanta.