We are officially over the hill with The Making of Modern Atlanta. The second installment aired in 1993, two years after the first four episodes. The History Twins were still high off their regional Emmy nomination for “How We Played The Game” and ready to rock the PBA audience demanding more, more, more History Twins! This reinforced confidence in their game led to a few new snazzy enhancements on the series, like wackier introductions to each episode, Dr. White accenting his safari jackets with a little color base, and a new design to the titles and whatever it’s called that tells you the name of the person talking on the screen.
Our fifth episode of TMOMA starts at City Hall, with the words we all dream of hearing spoken to us one day…
“Mr. Mayor, Professors Crimmins and White are here to see you.”“Who?”“Tim Crimmins and Dana White – the professors doing the public television series on the making of modern Atlanta.”“Oh yes, the History Twins!”Mayor Jackson and his scheduler, Brenda Johnson, share some light banter and quote Bernard DeVoto and Thomas Carlyle to each other. Needless to say, she delays the History Twins’ visit with the mayor until the end of the show. The first rule of television is you can’t just start out an episode of anything with a Maynard Jackson interview. You have to build up to that.
The Twins stroll through City Hall and introduce what this particular program will cover: the five mayors who shaped modern Atlanta, starting with William Hartsfield. “For many, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind is the Atlanta book. But for some of us, Floyd Hunter’s Community Power Structure is not only a more important book, it’s also a better read.”Ya burnt, Scarlett O’Hara!The “Regional City” described in Hunter’s study was a thinly-veiled Atlanta, and its Mayor Peter Barner was really Mayor Hartsfield who served, more or less, from 1865 to 1962. I mean, you try and name one pre-Hartsfield mayor! Do it right now!
- Never call the press unless you have something for them to take a picture of.
- Never let anyone be your enemy or your friend too long.
- When you really wanted to make progress, the quieter you could be about it the faster you could move.
And with whom did Hartsfield most like slipping under the radar, slinking around behind the scenes? Robert Woodruff, king of Coca-Cola.“Hartsfield said once, openly, on the record, that he never made a single decision in politics in his entire career without first thinking how it would affect the Coca-Cola Company.”
The city tripled in size (square miles) under Hartsfield’s annexations and 1951 plan. There was so much stuff going on at this time – the Federal Highway Act, the Lochner Plan, the Federal Housing Act, etc. Interstate construction and urban revitalization were going positively gangbusters in the 1950s! I wonder which segment of Atlanta’s population will be most negatively impacted by this progress???
Hartsfield, political beast that he was, realized he couldn’t really leave anyone out of progress, especially in a city with a sizeable and well-organized middle-class black population. “He also knew that ballots didn’t have any color and he became a more thoughtful, reasonable man with which to deal.”
But Hartsfield’s major intentional contribution to his dear city was the airport – oh, the airport.
“If Floyd Hunter’s book Community Power Structure is the old testament of Atlanta politics, then this book is surely its new testament.” (Dr. White just went there!) If you have ever taken a class in certain disciplines then you already know what this sacred tome is, even without its dustcover.
“It’s Clarence Stone’s Regime Politics. It’s about how public bodies and private interests work together to govern the likes of you and me. It’s about one special time in the 1960s, and one special place – Buckhead.”
IT’S IVAN ALLEN, JR. TIME! IVAN ALLEN, JR. TIME! (1962-1970)
If you haven’t noticed, this episode basically assigns you a reading list. It’s almost winter; you’ll have time.
The Buckhead Boys! “We were white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Atlanta. Business-oriented, non-political, moderate, well-bred, well-educated, pragmatic, and dedicated to the betterment of Atlanta as much as a Boy Scout troop is dedicated to fresh milk and clean air.” (From Allen’s Mayor: Notes on the Sixties.)
“Mayor Allen’s monument to Atlanta was the building of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and the luring of a major league baseball franchise to the city.” We already know about that! When the sporty people were pleased, he got the Civic Center built. Look at these amazing wealthy artistic types so delighted to enter the Civic Center!!!
While Hartsfield accidentally stumbled into the beginning of some semblance of civil rights in the city, Mayor Allen really understood and embraced those rights as “a matter of decency and dignity.”
But, “The Duke of Buckhead chose not to succeed himself, and an era ended.”
“But a new one was not yet ready to begin. As the cracker Camelot crumbled, no once and future king stepped forward to claim the crown.”
Wow, I guess there were really low expectations for Sam Massell, Atlanta’s first Jewish mayor (1970-1974), who now holds a title much more powerful than Allen’s rinky-dink “Duke of Buckhead” – Mayor of Buckhead.
He built the Omni Coliseum, which was cooler than Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium because it was indoors and hosted not one but two teams.
But his real monument was MARTA.“Yes, I’m predicting that circumstances are such at this time in history that we will either end up with the best transportation system in the country, or with no transportation system at all.”
There were other, more complex pieces of Massell’s single term. His “think black, think white” speech, which is hard not to wince through. His campaign slogan, “Atlanta is too young to die,” when he ran for re-election against his vice mayor, Maynard Jackson.
You guys, I know this is taking forever. We have two mayors left. Just stop reading this and dive into Regime Politics instead if you’re so bored.
“Youthful and energetic, Maynard Jackson was there for Atlanta – through thick and thin.” [Montage of Jackson's various weights/sizes; his ride on a MARTA bus; his fight with Muhammad Ali; Ali saying to reporters, "He's so big, he's like a balloon! If you hit him, he'll bust! I couldn't bust him."]
Atlanta’s strong mayor system had arrived.
Jackson’s monument: the airport’s international terminal. And the groups he worked hard to include in the city’s power structure – African-American small businesses, women – got a piece of that. Needless to say, the “downtown business community” – i.e. powerful white guys – were miffed.
Next up was Andrew Young (1982-1990); unlike the his modern predecessors, he took a step down accepting the post of mayor after a career as a fancy diplomat.
He drove the Democratic National Convention, the redone Underground Atlanta, a City Hall expansion, the Georgia Dome (now finished – in the last episode, if you remember, it was not), and the 1996 Olympics.
And while he didn’t need the “downtown business community” to get elected, he quickly made them his allies.
His enemies were a lot of the people who first voted him in – the neighborhoods, the anti-Presidential Parkway activists, black people, poor people. This wasn’t long after our beloved and insane Neighborhood Planning Unit program was first created, so the NPUs were especially baffled to have their power stripped so quickly.
Dear lord, even Dan Sweat says that Young was “a little too pro-business”! (P.S. While we’re assigning books, let me throw Imagineering Atlanta on the pile.)
“One time I said, ‘Why don’t you and I just have a fight?’ I said, ‘Like Maynard and I used to, and maybe that’ll just help you out.'” (Nice inkjet printer, Dan Sweat!)
“Action Jackson” comes back for his third term (1990-1994) but the History Twins don’t have a lot to say on Maynard III yet. It’s time to offer some concluding thoughts.
“Over the past 50 years, managing Atlanta has come to mean more than just running the city. Today, it means managing a sense of the region, a 19-county metropolitan region.”
Perfect segue for their next episode.
Friends, we have realized we cannot fully capture the magic – and especially the sweeping cinematography, the precise choreography, and stirring theme music – of The Making of Modern Atlanta on this very limited blog. If you are interested in whatever the future may hold in regards to TMOMA (whatever that means), please include your email address here so we have it on file for said future.