Eugene Bullard: boxer, soldier, fighter pilot, spy, and elevator operator

This week guest columnist CHRIS DOBBS, editorial assistant for the New Georgia Encyclopedia, shares the story of Eugene Bullard, son of a former slave, and the first black fighter pilot.

Eugene Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1895. As an expatriate in France, he became a boxer, soldier, fighter pilot, business owner, and spy. During his final years, in the United States, he was an elevator operator. Bullard’s story is particularly engaging. He was obviously a tight spring of potential as a boy, and it’s fascinating to see how high he flew as soon as the environment around him allowed it. The difference between his life in the United States and his life in Europe lends his life its striking cinematic scale.

Commerce Club management team

Remembering the legacy Commerce Club

By Maria Saporta It has been more than five years since the Commerce Club moved from its original location near Five Points to the 191 Peachtree building. The prestigious Commerce Club is now more than 55 years old, and its Atlanta history runs deep. That was obvious on Saturday, Feb. 6 when there was a […]

Why history matters

This week guest columnist PEARL MCHANEY, a Georgia State University professor, discusses how voices from our past speak to our present.

With inflammatory rhetoric about citizenship, the value of lives black, brown, and white, and the memorialization/revision of history, I feel that hearing the carefully written words of Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, and Ernest Gaines will help to ground us in our shared past and give us opportunity to engage in reasoned discourse.

The Measure of a Man’s Character

Our story this week is about Atlanta-born Walter White. On the surface, it is the story of a man who found his calling, applied himself and eventually took a place on the national stage. But in reality, this story is much more than a chronicle of a man’s career path. Walter White was born in […]

From Atlanta He Sold to the World

As sure as there is breakfast, lunch and dinner, there is snacking.  Satisfying those between-meal cravings is a need we all have. While some people are able to eat healthy snacks, many of us cannot resist the lure of less healthy foods.   Snacking certainly is not a new innovation.  It goes back, in some […]

It’s unlikely that this record will ever be broken

When asked to name something that is quintessentially American, right after apple pie people usually will say…baseball. It is a long-held belief that baseball is, in fact, America’s national pastime. And while there are many who maintain that football has eclipsed baseball in American popularity, it is hard to argue with the facts of baseball’s […]

It’s all in how you deliver the message

They say that when you die, whether you’re going to heaven or hell, you have to go through Atlanta first. Though made popular by Atlanta’s very busy airport, that saying actually originated back in the day when Atlanta was a major railroad junction. At its peak, over 300 trains a day came and went through […]

Gaines Hall Fountain Hall

Atlantans fight to restore Gaines Hall after fire

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

Gaines Hall, built in 1869 as a dorm for Atlanta University, caught fire on Aug. 20. The next day, the Atlanta Fire Department said the historic building should be torn down for safety reasons. But local preservationists immediately objected, saying Gaines Hall can and should be saved.

Atlanta has a pretty dismal record when it comes to preservation.

Gaines Hall 2013

A boarded up Gaines Hall awaits its fate in 2013 (Photos by Maria Saporta)

All too often, vacant older buildings suffer from a condition known as demolition by neglect ─ they fall victim to the elements or catch on fire ─ giving property owners an excuse to tear them down.

And it’s rare for local governments in metro Atlanta to stand in the way of demolition.  It’s even rarer for them to find a permanent solution to preserve historic buildings.

So it appeared as though Gaines Hall was doomed.

The dorm had been owned by the struggling Morris Brown College, until earlier this year, when it was acquired by the city of Atlanta.

Would the fire seal its fate?

That’s when Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed came to the rescue.

When I asked the mayor about Gaines Hall Monday, he told me emphatically, “We are going to find a way to preserve it.”


After all, Gaines Hall had been the stomping ground for leading African-American scholars like W.E.B. DuBois, among others.

The next day, the city sent engineers as well as the head of planning, the head of Invest Atlanta and the head of real estate to examine the building.

The official line is that they’re trying to assess the damage to see if it can be saved.

But Mayor Reed, someone who rules with an iron fist, has let his feelings be known. And city officials will be more motivated to preserve Gaines Hall rather than demolish it.

While I’m not always a fan of the mayor’s heavy-handed style, I have seen it work once before in saving a building.

The city had given Atlanta Housing Authority permission to demolish the Trio building in the King historic district.

Preservationists cried foul.

Mayor Reed agreed. And he controls most of AHA’s board members, so the historic building is being saved.

It’s time to do it again!

Just like the Trio building, preservationists are standing by, ready to help.

Mark McDonald, CEO of the Georgia Trust, said the Hancock County Courthouse in Sparta, designed by the same architect, had even worse fire damage than Gaines Hall. But Hancock County officials are preserving it.

If Sparta can do it, so can Atlanta.

For Gaines Hall to be a real success, we need to not only save the building. We need to give it new life so that it won’t fall victim again.

Mayor Reed, you can be an even greater hero if you come up with a permanent solution for Gaines Hall, one that will keep it standing for generations to come.

The dragon that reaches out and grabs you

Roger Babson is the founder of the Gravity Research Foundation, an organization with the stated purpose of studying, understanding and, ultimately, harnessing the force of gravity. It was the childhood drowning of his older sister in a river near Gloucester, Massachusetts that sparked Babson’s life-long interest in finding a way to control the effects of […]

Alvin York Slept Here

America’s entry into World War One required the country ramp up its training efforts in order to accommodate the thousands of conscripted servicemen who were joining the war effort. Sixteen temporary camps, or cantonments as they were known, were built at locations around the country. One of those camps was constructed on the outskirts of […]