I just returned from Atlanta, a city that is evidently committed to the principle that free wireless connections must not be allowed to take root anywhere. I thought I might be able to sneak in a quick Althousian post addressing the mediocre wardrobe choices that govern the historical profession, but alas . . . not a signal to be found anywhere near Peachtree Center.
My time at the convention was brief and marginal. I didn’t see any panels of great note, and I didn’t spend much time at the book exhibit. Some readers will be pleased to learn that I scored a free hotel room when a 15-year old girl in California — the daughter of a friend’s colleague — broke her ankle, preventing her mother from attending the conference at the last minute. The room, which was being used to conduct interviews, was fantastic. (Best wishes, of course, for a speedy recovery to the clumsy California teen.)
While I was in town, my friend Brett — who runs an amazing blog about pigs — took me on a tour of “Sweet Auburn,” the neighborhood built by black Atlantans after the they were more or less expelled them from the downtown area a hundred years ago. I did manage to see the gravesite of MLK and Coretta Scott King, as well as a sharp exhibit at the MLK National Historical Site on the Atlanta Race Riot, whose centennary year just ended. We dropped by the old Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King himself ministered and where his mother was shot to death in 1974; we saw (but didn’t tour) King’s birth home and the Atlanta Life Insurance company, founded by Alonzo Hendon in 1905; and we politely refused numerous fliers advertising some of Atlanta’s sub-elite gentlemen’s clubs. (Interestingly, one of the guys handing out fliers immediately identified us as historians. “You’re here for that historical convention, aren’t you?” he asked. I don’t know what that insight says — if anything — about Brett and me, or about historians in general, but we didn’t bother to pretend he was wrong. Nevertheless, we passed up offer and went to Daddy D’z that night instead. The barbeque probably took five years off my life, but I have no regrets.)
For all its historical attractions, the Sweet Auburn neighborhood continues to be desperately poor; as these things usually go, parts of Sweet Auburn are being tenderized for the urban gentry. Old buildings have been hollowed out, their antique facades retained to give the soon-to-be-completed condominia the aura of historical legitimacy. I’m not familiar enough with Atlanta’s contemporary political scene to add much more, but it’s always distressing to watch the trouncing of historic urban districts. It’s as if the fragmentary celebration of the past — e.g., here’s King’s birth home, here’s the Odd Fellows’ complex — provides the alibi for the wider neglect of the people who actually live there.