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Chattahoochee Brick Co. site – Atlanta could set tone for talks of racial justice

Advocates for civil and human rights declared as a sacred site the grounds of the Chattahoochee Brick Co., on April 3. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)

By David Pendered

Atlanta has the opportunity at the Chattahoochee Brick Co. site to set a course toward healing wounds inflicted by the treatment of Black citizens by Atlanta’s white elites in the post Reconstruction era.

A proper memorial to the Black convicts who were leased to the brick company in the late 1800s has always been the goal of the Chattahoochee Brick Company Descendants Coalition. The coalition is supported by the National African American Reparations Commission and the Fund for Reparations Now

The Descendants Coalition was founded by Donna Stephens, who has worked for years with environmental justice supporters, including the Conservation Fund, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Groundwork Atlanta, The Proctor Creek Stewardship Council, Eco-Action and the Trust for Public Land. As co-chair of The Proctor Creek Stewardship Council, Stephens convinced environmental justice advocates that the site needed to be preserved as a historic and sacred site, not just for the sake of clean air and water, and not be lost to development.

The purpose of the coalition, according to its Facebook page, is to “restore and preserve the Chattahoochee Brick Company Site for its uniquely sacred historical and educational value with an environmental approach.” The coalition has not yet formally contemplated its recommendations of a potential memorial, or how it could contribute to discussions of racial justice and this part of Atlanta’s history.

The preservation component is being secured.

The Conservation Fund, a national land conservation organization, is in talks to buy more than 75 acres of land around the shuttered brick company from Lincoln Terminal Co. The Atlanta City Council voted Monday to enact legislation to support the deal. The apparent idea is for the conservancy to buy the land and hold it until the city identifies funds to buy the parcel. The city has not put money into the transaction, but the legislation appears to telegraph support for future funding. The Conservation Fund performed a similar role in the city’s purchase of Lake Charlotte, a vacant tract along Moreland Avenue.

Fulton County’s Board of Assessors has appraised the entire site at $7.8 million. The site is spread across three addresses and encompasses a total of 77.71 acres, records show.

Next is the restoration of the brick company property, with an eye toward educational and environmental interests. Public funding has not been allocated and formal planning has not begun, but a few ideas have taken shape.

The Descendants Coalition has collaborated with Georgia Tech to devise a number of potential approaches to memorialize the site. The organization’s role in implementing any concepts has not been officially determined, but it is expected to have significant influence.

All the ideas begin with the primary purpose of establishing a memorial to the legacy of Blacks who were arrested — often on trumped-up charges — sentenced to time in jail and leased at low cost to work as laborers at businesses including the brick company. The brick company was owned by a former Atlanta mayor, James English. Bricks produced at the plant were used to build roads and structures in the city.

From this starting point of a memorial, Tech students came up with four potential scenarios. Their work was led by Mike Dobbins, a professor of practice in Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning. Preliminary concepts include:

  • A greenspace oriented toward memorialization. The memorial aspect could be fairly Spartan or include educational concepts such as a museum;
  • A site with a greater focus on memorialization than on greenspace;
  • Fostering an industrial use of the property, in recognition of the jobs that could be created for area residents;
  • A mix of housing and commercial developments to be built around the property, with the stipulation that projects would support the neighborhood.

The land is located near the confluence of Proctor Creek and the Chattahoochee River. This part of town has, historically, been home mostly to Black residents and was developed into an industrial area. The three street addresses cited in the legislation are 3095 Parrott Ave., 3101 Parrott Ave. and 0 Bolton Road, NW.

Over the past decade, environmental advocates have been working to reclaim surrounding neighborhoods from neglect. The banks of Proctor Creek have been partially rehabilitated, though the creek itself remains a conveyor of water runoff from Downtown Atlanta to the Chattahoochee River. In addition, this area is targeted for work as part of the Chattahoochee Riverlands project.

The operative portion of the legislation approved Monday by City Council states: “NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ATLANTA, GEORGIA, that the City of Atlanta hereby expresses its support for a partnership between the City of Atlanta and the Conservation Fund pursuant to which the Conservation Fund (TCF) will undertake activities to facilitate acquisition and preservation the over 75 acres of land which was the former site of the Chattahoochee Brick Company…”

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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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2 Comments

  1. PeggyDobbins December 8, 2021 5:05 pm

    Thanks for that story. It’s a hard one to write. But harder to live, then and now.Report

    Reply
  2. Donna Y Stephens March 14, 2022 4:47 pm

    Thank you Mr Pendered for spreading this information to others. As you so elegantly stated in this glowing article, this piece of American history needs to be acknowledged.Report

    Reply

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