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Aunt Fanny’s Cabin gains support of ‘Smithsonian Magazine,’ professional architects

Aunt Fanny’s Cabin. (File/Photo by Tyler Lahti via wikimedia.org.)

By David Pendered

The Smithsonian Magazine on March 11 provided a nuanced portrayal of the debate in Smyrna over the fate of Aunt Fanny’s Cabin, a relic of the Jim Crow South where the bowed but not broken structure evokes the strength of the restaurant’s Black cook.

“In some ways, the conflict over what to do about Aunt Fanny’s Cabin echoes the Confederate monument disputes that have unfolded across the South,” author Hanna Raskin observed of memorials to the Lost Cause.

The magazine story and an unrelated offer of support from Atlanta’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) come as Smyrna’s mayor and City Council prepare to determine whether the cabin will be demolished or retained. The pace of events is accelerating.

On Monday, the city’s Committee to Honor Fanny Williams was slated to meet. The meeting did not happen and no public announcement was made.

On Tuesday afternoon, the city’s website listed a calendar notice of a committee meeting Wednesday at 3 p.m. in Marietta. The agenda calls for a tour of Elizabeth Porter Park.

On Thursday, the City Council is to meet for a routine work session. One item of business is expected to be the announcement of any bids from entities that want to acquire the cabin. The agenda had not been posted as of Tuesday afternoon.

On March 21, the Smyrna City Council is tentatively scheduled to cast the final vote on the fate of the cabin.

Last week, the Atlanta chapter of the nation’s leading association of professional architects, the American Institute of Architects, came out in support of additional efforts into the potential to save the structure. The chapter offered three measures of support in response to a request from Smyrna residents working to preserve the cabin.

The AIA’s first offer is to prepare a “letter to the mayor and city council of Smyrna requesting more time for your group and the greater community to fact-gather, along with structured community discussions regarding the future of this building.”

The second is a “$450 stipend toward your group’s contracted investigation by a building mover regarding cost and feasibility implications.”

The third is a “letter of recommendation for your pursuit towards the IMPACT AIA Georgia Foundation grant, should you choose to pursue it for this initiative.”

The email concluded: “We hope our support to this initiative will help you pursue the information necessary to continue your investigations and proposals. Please let us know which items above you wish to pursue…”

The article in the Smithsonian continued from the reference to Confederate monuments to portray the complexities of the cabin in a nation struggling to come to grips with its past.

Raskin knows this territory. She’s a former food editor and chief critic of the South’s oldest newspaper, The Post and Courier, in Charleston, S.C., where she won a 2015 Pulitzer Prize for public service for reporting on “the deadly toll of domestic abuse.” Raskin now serves as editor and publisher of The Food Section, of the Smithsonian Magazine.

The Smithsonian story observed some of the nuances presented by the cabin that go beyond memorials to the Confederacy, many of which were erected across the South in the decades after the Civil War.

“The meaning of the cabin is murkier, since a violently offensive themed restaurant wasn’t its only resident. It was inhabited by sharecroppers before it was Aunt Fanny’s and enlivened by partygoers of all racial backgrounds after it was Aunt Fanny’s. And during the Aunt Fanny’s era, it benefited enormously from Black labor, starting with the work of Williams…

“[W]hat’s clear is sorting out the past and grappling with its contemporary consequences is an exercise bound to become even more wobbly if there isn’t a building to hold on to,” Raskin noted in ending this segment of the story.

The issue has roiled since Smyrna’s chief building official, Anthony Carter, wrote a letter on April 21, 2021, which declared the cabin “unsafe.” Carter ordered the structure “be repaired to current code or deemed uninhabitable or demolished.”

The cost to repair the structure was estimated at $480,000 to $520,000 by Marietta-based Artisans of Atlanta. The preliminary estimate noted its offer was “subject to full structural engineering analysis to determine if structure will fall apart when moved.”

As for Raskin’s closing, she ended her piece by noting the relevance of Aunt Fanny’s Cabin in the nation’s attempts at reconciliation of past actions.

“Without any real evidence of Williams, it becomes very easy to graft any message onto her life story,” Raskin wrote.

“And without Aunt Fanny’s Cabin around, it’s likely to become even easier for those in power to decree how the racist restaurant is remembered — if it’s remembered at all,” Raskin wrote.

Click here to read Hanna Raskin’s report in Smithsonian Magazine, “The Complex Legacy of an Anti-Black Restaurant Slated for Demolition”

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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3 Comments

  1. Laura Norton March 17, 2022 8:31 am

    Is this actually what the letter said?Report

    Reply
  2. Dana Blankenhorn March 18, 2022 10:09 am

    The question is whether the cabin is a legacy of Jim Crow or a tribute to the African-American history of struggle. Black history is systematically erased in this country, because the real estate is always seen as a bargain by developers. Toss out the residents, redevelop the land for white folks, and profit. That’s what the backlash against gentrification is all about. That’s why private equity has been buying up south Atlanta.Report

    Reply
  3. retna Pullings March 19, 2022 4:14 am

    As a young person who worked at Aunt Fannie Cabin while on high school. I was paid $5.00 per night to wash those large pots and pans.Report

    Reply

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