The Making of Modern Atlanta: 20 years later

30 Aug

The year: 1991. The Olympics: Five years away. Atlanta: Hadn’t done a thing to prepare itself for the event it was pinning its every hope and dream for the future on.

Enter: THE HISTORY TWINS.
Ready to blow the lid off this whole “Atlanta” thing – for the entire world to see, on Public Broadcasting Atlanta, with the help of that shadowy group called the Georgia Humanities Council.


I know that 2011 is a significant anniversary for Coca-Cola, for Gone With the Wind (the novel), for the Atlanta Olympics, and for the Civil War, but I really believe that this televised contribution by the History Twins should be celebrated as an epic contribution to Atlanta’s historic fabric too!

What, you’ve never heard of the History Twins? Have you been living under a rock? A rock in Valdosta?
“I’m Tim Crimmins, and I’m a dedicated urbanite. I’m a person who enjoys living on the edge – on the edge of Piedmont Park, that is, in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. And I like working here in Downtown Atlanta, where I teach at Georgia State University.”

“I’m Dana White, and I live in the outback – back out in suburban Druid Hills, that is, where I teach at Emory University.”

On their “History Twins” nickname: “The resemblance, of course, is more intellectual than physical.” Let’s just say they are both REALLY INTO Atlanta history.

The Making of Modern Atlanta, produced by Chris Moser, was an eight-part series – half made in 1991 and the last half in 1993 – that charted Atlanta’s growth and history since the WWII/Mayor Hartsfield era and what that meant for the 1996 Olympics and after. Obviously, if you were born after a certain point, the Olympics aren’t really on your radar constantly and barely ever were. We now have a newer couple of unfinished projects to which to attach all our distorted fantasies of survival and success as a city. But in the early ’90s, Olympics anxiety and Olympics hyperboles were rampant from Atlanta’s elite circles on down to the very bottom rungs of society.

The show (heretoforth shall be known as TMOMA) is so very charming, mainly because these two academics are able to carry every episode so well with their pensive reflections on Atlanta’s endless cycle of building, destruction, and rebuilding, their little inside jokes, and their hilariously awkward choreography.

There are tons of minor and major celebrities interviewed – from Cliff Kuhn, Hank Aaron, Leon Eplan, and John Portman, to name only a few – amazing old film footage and images, some exhausting comic relief from the Wits’ End Players, and the most informative pepperoni pizza I’ve ever seen, but it’s really the History Twins who consistently dazzle, amuse, and enlighten us in each and every episode.

Won’t you join us for a blog-walk through TMOMA?
The first episode starts at Underground Atlanta and explores the myth of Gone With the Wind and Tara versus the reality of the pushy New South. Obviously one could not talk about Scarlett O’Hara as a metaphor for Atlanta without interviewing to the most famous Atlanta lady novelist of the late ’80s/early ’90s. Just like Scarlett, “I’ve never thought Atlanta was terribly long on qualms, which has served us well!”

Uh oh…it’s time to laugh with the Wits’ End Players. I had to look up who these people were. Get used to their wacky songs; they’re in almost every episode of TMOMA.

Finally, perched on the porch of MLK’s childhood home, Dr. Guy-Sheftall puts to bed the GWTW phenomenon.We shift into the Civil Rights era – well, that one that was ushered in by William Hartsfield and Atlanta’s other “power elite” of white businessmen who wanted to be a great metropolitan city on par with New York and L.A., boostering de-segregation and racial harmony as a business decision.

“Coke had a lot of drinkers, a lot of customers, clients who were black they didn’t want to offend. But I think there was something else to it as well, and that is once you begin operating on an international scope, which Coke very much did after the second world war, suddenly you’re dealing with people of color, people of different cultures, different religions all over the world. And suppose your bottler from Brazil is coming to visit Atlanta. Are you going to say to a fabulously wealthy businessman who’s an associate of yours, ‘You can’t stay at the Dinkler Plaza because we think you might be black’?”

BUT ALL ISN’T PERFECTLY PROGRESSIVE IN THE CITY TOO BUSY TO HATE.

“As early as the 1970s, some Atlantans began to fear that the city’s ‘progress at any price’ mentality had betrayed them.” Uh oh! In the late ’70s, Nashville leaders said they didn’t want to be “another Atlanta” of unchecked growth. In 1988, the Wall Street Journal ran an article called “The Big Hustle: Atlanta’s Two Worlds: Wealth and Poverty, Magnet and Mirage.” And Arthur Frommer said…
It’s mean because it’s TRUE! Well, with all these vultures circling, thank God Atlanta “survived the media blitz of the summer of ’88 reasonably intact” after the Democratic National Convention. Close call, Chamber of Commerce!

Dr. White quotes a newspaper editorial from a small town: “Atlanta is certainly a fast place in every sense of the word, and our friends in Atlanta are a fast people. They live fast and they die fast. They make money fast and they spend it fast. They build houses fast, and they burn them down fast…They have the largest public buildings, and the most of them, and they pass the most resolutions of any people, ancient or modern. To a stranger the whole city seems to be running on wheels, and all of the inhabitants continually blowing off steam.”
Published in…1867!

What does this mean for us, for Atlantans? What does this mean for our future?

Tell us, Dr. Crimmins!
“The faster Atlanta changes, the truer it remains to its nature. Atlanta may tear down the physical relics of its heritage, but, in the very act of doing so, it lives that heritage.”

IS ANYONE ELSE CRYING RIGHT NOW?!?!!

What does modern Atlanta have to offer, if the magical world of Gone With the Wind is dead? Plans to build “the latest big league fad – a domed stadium.” Also, Underground Atlanta – “far more lavish than the one that flourished for a few years and then died out in the early 1980s.”
Honestly, I think this dollhouse of the Dome is so much more fun than the real thing!

Moving past the Tara hype, now Andrew Young and Billy Payne have found “a new torch with which to sell the city” – really cheesy graphics.
Imagine how many city boosters’ hearts swelled with pride when they saw their city’s name next to a future year in 3-D letters on a computer screen.

Next up: Part Two – “They’re Tearing Up Peachtree Again”

For new fans, Dana White will be appearing live in person at this expensive thing at the Carter Center tomorrow. Some of TMOMA’s interviews that didn’t appear in the show are still available at Dr. Crimmins’ Atlanta Metropolitan Growth Project website.

A million thanks to the people who made it possible for me to have a copy of TMOMA, of which there seems to only be one other copy in the entire city, at Emory.

21 Responses to “The Making of Modern Atlanta: 20 years later”

  1. Sarah C. Roberts Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    How do you have a copy of this? People made it possible? Who are these thugs? Thomas Watley of the Belle Watleys? Can I borrow?

    • pecanne log Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

      If you think Thomas Wheatley is good for ANYTHING, including getting copies of things, you have another thing coming.

  2. Terry Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    I’m at a loss, how can these be seen? Do we need to see them?

  3. Brooke Hatfield Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

    yall should write a quiz called “WHICH HISTORY TWIN ARE YOU!??!?”

    • pecanne log Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

      “Do you look better in khaki suits or khaki safari jackets?”
      “Do you look better in mom glasses or dad glasses?”

  4. Holly Schwarzmann Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    I had Dr. Crimmins as a professor last year and man, do I wish I would have known about his epic past! I would love to see these on video!

  5. Thomas Wheatley Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 12:01 am #

    I think I found my Halloween costume.

  6. Thomas Wheatley Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    And by that I mean Dr. Guy-Sheftall.

  7. Stephanie Cherry-Farmer, PNJ Programs Director Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    Bravo for bringing this to light! Dr. Crimmins was a professor of mine in both undergraduate and grad school- he’s a great guy with many stories to tell. What a cool look back!

  8. ElementaryHistoryTeacher Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    Great read……I’d really love to see it from start to finish.

  9. atlurbanist Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

    Guy-Sheftall seems to be modelling the lesser-known Lady Cosby Sweater.

  10. Ciaran Flannery Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    Good God! I was an intern on that show…

    • pecanne log Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 10:54 pm #

      WHAT WAS THE WRAP PARTY LIKE??!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!!?!

    • Gary Moss Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

      And a darn good one, too. Hope all is well with you.

  11. Shawn Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Is there any way to get this put up on youtube? Please?

  12. atlpaddy Friday, September 23, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    When I was in grad school at GSU, the now-bearded Dr. Crimmins showed us a documentary about gentrification in Candler Park during the late 1970s and early 1980s. I’m blanking on the title, but I am sure someone may be able to come up with it.

    That should be next on the list for You-Tubification.

    • Gary Moss Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

      Candler Park: A Neighborhood In Transition. Georgia Humanities Council might have it, or know where to find it. It was based on fieldwork done by Ina Jane Wundrum and Robb Fishman. I directed it.

  13. Terry Kearns Friday, September 23, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    I spoke with George Goodwin and his son Clark on Tuesday about this. I’m hoping to see it.

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