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Atlanta History

Atlanta is a city that knows where’s it’s going but never forgets where it’s been, finding ways to adapt and change without giving up its essential character. Atlanta history is around every corner. Where the Chattahoochee River meets Peachtree Creek in what's now northwestern Atlanta, the Creek Indian village of Standing Peachtree once stood. Atlanta is a fairly young city; Atlanta history dates back to the mid 1800s. In 1822, white settlers began pushing the Creek and Cherokee people out of the area, concentrating their activity around modern Decatur. Georgia's Western and Atlantic Railroad wanted to make Decatur the southernmost stop on its new rail line in the late 1830s but the townsfolk balked so a new village, Terminus, was established to its east in what's now Downtown. In 1842, Terminus's 30 residents voted to change the town's name to Marthasville in honor of the daughter of Georgia Governor Wilson Lumpkin. The city finally became Atlanta (shortened from the proposed Atlantica-Pacifica), and after incorporating in 1847, it grew rapidly. By the time of the War Between the States there were almost 10,000 Atlantans. The city’s strategic position and Confederate munitions plants made it an irresistible target for the invading Union Army, and in late 1864, the young city was burned to the ground, as portrayed in Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel Gone With the Wind. After the war, Atlanta rose from the ashes with astonishing swiftness, drawing both new white settlers and newly freed slaves from the surrounding countryside. In 1868 the city became Georgia's state capital, and in the 1870s it came to be seen as the center of the "New South," home to a diverse and urbanized—but still Southern—economy. Relations between the white and black populations in the growing city, however, were fraught with tension, and the Atlanta Race Riots led to bloodshed in 1906. Half a century later, racial tensions once again rose to the fore, and the city became the seat of the national civil rights movement. One of the most notable figures in Atlanta history is native Atlantan Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who played a leading role. Despite Dr. King's assassination in Memphis in 1968, his work and dream lived on, and in 1973 Atlanta elected its first African-American mayor. In 1996, Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympic Games, becoming only the third American city to do so. Today Atlanta is a hub for regional corporate headquarters and home to numerous universities, such as prestigious Emory, the historically black Spelman College and Georgia State.