National Geographic : 1969 Feb
WALKING ALONG Peachtree Street on a summer evening tinted yellow by fireflies, I stopped, looked around, and told myself that William Tecumseh Sherman was right about Atlanta. Not-I hasten to add-because the Yankee general burned the city to a cinder on his march to the sea in 1864. I was simply recall ing a little-known story told to me only a few hours earlier by Ralph McGill, famed pub lisher of the Atlanta Constitution. "Sherman returned to Atlanta 15 years after the burning," Mr. McGill said, "and a young reporter for our paper named Clark Howell asked him why he had burned the city. Many years later, when he had become editor, Howell told me how the general took one of his hands in his own and, pointing to the palm, replied: "'Young man, when I got to Atlanta, what was left of the Confederacy could be roughly compared to your hand. Atlanta was the palm, and by destroying it I spared myself much further fighting. But remember, the same reason which caused me to destroy Atlanta will make it a great city in the future.'" "We Can't Live in the Past" I walked on, feeling the truth of this proph ecy on every side. Though the city was at rest, kerosene lanterns flickered beside gaping excavations; steel skeletons soared into a dark sky, awaiting the morning return of machines and men who would put Atlanta in even closer communion with its golden promise. I had come to know Atlanta some 15 years ago, when it was still a relaxed Southern city on the brink of its destiny. Now I found the city caught up on a wave of development and growth, strengthening its role as a transpor tation hub, medical and educational center, financial capital of a large section of the country, and ballet-to-baseball sophisticate in culture and major-league sports. Atlanta exemplifies the best of a new breed of thriving urban communities, touched by technology and stirred by the Air Age-cities that are making a growing impact on the Nation's economy and a deepening imprint on its character. Today's Atlanta boils with activity. High above a downtown corner where I used to lis ten to the shrill admonishments of a tattooed evangelist, workmen pour concrete around the rib cage of a building under construction. Express buses to the new $18,000,000 stadium line the curb of another block, siphoning clumps of sports fans from the sidewalk. In 248 the hotels, hordes of convention-goers do battle with the doors of packed elevators. Marveling at the many changes led me to wonder about survival of the town's personal ity. Here, after all, was a city where a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., could rise to inter national fame fighting for civil rights, while a Lester Maddox was ascending to the gover norship on a platform of strict segregation. And where else could Negroes and members of the Ku Klux Klan picket on the same street, while a Salvation Army band blared hymns half a block away? "Atlanta's character has always been one of growth and progress, so there's no danger of that being lost," I was assured by Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. (opposite, second from right). "Of course there's some nostalgia for the way things were, but we can't live in the past." Responsibility for Atlanta's position as flagship city of the Southeast rests largely Congenial partners in progress lunch at a Com merce Club directors' meet ing. Atlantans consider the cooperation of business and political leaders the key to the city's development. From right: Frank M. Malone, president of South ern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company, directs a major segment of the South's largest communica tions center. Ivan Allen, Jr., whose portrait hangs at center, serves his second term as mayor. Robert W. Woodruff, the retired presi dent and now chairman of the Finance Committee of the Coca-Cola Company, built the Atlanta-born firm into a world-famous name. Gordon Jones presides over the Fulton National Bank that raised the first of Atlanta's modern sky scrapers in 1955. Depart ment store magnates-Rol land A. Maxwell, president of Davison's, and Richard H. Rich, chairman of Rich's, Inc. - have helped make the city a focus of retail trade.