10 Monuments That Pay Tribute To Atlanta Black History

homage to king
The steelwork ”Homage to King” welcomes guests to the King National Historic Site. Photo by Al Such / WABE.

Atlanta is rich in civil rights history. Many notable African-American scientists, inventors and leaders who fought for rights called the city home.

Artists from all corners have built monuments dedicated to their accomplishments over the years.

This month, take some time to explore these public works of art in honor of Atlanta black history. Leaders in the civil rights struggle, including Atlanta’s own Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, spoke to hundreds of thousands of people about the fight for equality.

The installations in this list are all public art, meaning that they are free to view and placed in accessible areas of the city. The installations mostly display plaques and dedications which provide historical context to the installations themselves. In addition, many of these plaques are in areas easily accessible for families and field trips, and attractions nearby such as restaurants can make this tour one for the whole family to remember.

Homage to King

Location: Boulevard and Freedom Parkway
Artist: Xavier Medina

This 1996 plate steel sculpture features the profile of Martin Luther King Jr. and welcomes visitors to the King National Historic Site. The work was commissioned as a cultural exchange during the Olympics from Barcelona. According to the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, Medina-Campeny’s work often uses a geometric style to reference the human figure.

Auburn Avenue Bas Reliefs

Location: Along Auburn Avenue
Artist: Brian Owens

These bas relief sculptures display the visages of prominent figures in the history of civil rights, such as educator Alice Dugged Cary, prominent Auburn Avenue resident James Tate, businessman Wesley Chapel Redding and child welfare advocate Carrie Steele Logan.

“You would probably agree that 100 years is not a very long period of time,” sculptor Brian Owens said. “If you went back 100 years from the date of my birth you would arrive well before the Civil War. It is difficult to think in these terms because our lives are so short. But this is how close we are to our past.”

Owens said that historic figures like Tate remind him that his life is built from the lives of others. He uses this philosophy to push him forward. When born “hitting the ground running,” he said, he does not have a right to fail when figures like Tate made so much from so little.

Expelled Because of Their Color

Location: Georgia State Capitol
Artist: John Thomas Riddle Jr.

This bronze sculpture is a memorial to 33 black legislators that were expelled from the Georgia General Assembly in 1868, according to Atlanta PlanIt. Despite the abolition of slavery, Civil Rights Act and 14th Amendment having recently been made law, the Georgia General Assembly was able to remove these 33 legislators on the pretense that their race made them incapable of holding office, according to Atlanta InTown.

Al Such / WABE
”Expelled Because of Their Color” commemorates the 33 black legislators removed from the Georgia General Assembly in 1868. Photo by Al Such / WABE.

Booker T. Washington Lifting the Veil of Ignorance

Location: Booker T. Washington High School
Artist: Charles Keck

This 1927 statue is the only replica of an original which stands at Tuskegee University. The statue, which has an inscription that reads, “He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry,” depicts Washington lifting a veil from the face of a slave. Washington was born into slavery and went on to become the first president of the Tuskegee Institute.

Through His Eyes

Location: John Wesley Dobbs Plaza
Artist: Ralph Helmick

This statue honors civil rights leader John Wesley Dobbs who was a leader in voter registration and political thought as well as a famous orator who coined the phrase “Sweet Auburn.” The interior of the mask inspired by 12th century Nigerian life-sculpture contains text and quotes, and the eyes of the mask are open allowing a viewer to see Auburn Avenue literally through Wesley’s eyes. The piece was installed for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Related Video: The Unofficial Mayor of Auburn Avenue

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mural

Location: Auburn Avenue
Artist: Louis Delsarte

This 2010 mural chronicles the entwined story of King and the civil rights movement. It includes references to events such as Emmett Tills assassination and Bull Connor’s attacking police dogs. The faces of Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Nina Simone can be seen on the mural.

Andrew Young Statue

Location: Andrew Young Tribute Plaza
Artist: John Paul Harris

This statue of Ambassador Andrew Young depicts Young with open arms as a symbol of welcoming to the people of Atlanta. According to Atlanta PlanIt, the statue was purposefully kept off of a pedestal.

“He’s a man of the people,” artist John Paul Harris said. “If you want to be able to see this and relate to it, we needed him to be closer to the ground. That’s why he’s down there, so the people can be with him.”

Behold
The “Behold” monument is located outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Photo by Mark Goebel / Creative Commons License / flickr.com/photos/sangre-la

Behold

Location: Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site
Artist: Patrick Morelli

This statue, inspired by Alex Haley’s book “Roots,” overlooks the final resting places of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. According to Morelli in an interview with Colonie Library, he was inspired when he presented a 15-inch version of the statue to Coretta Scott King to build this 10-foot version, which took 10 years to complete.

The Promised Land

Location: MLK Jr. Natatorium
Artist: Corinna Mensoff

This steel work references Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech wherein he said, “I’ve been to the mountaintop … And I’ve seen the Promised Land.”

The bridge depicted in the center of the work resembles the Edmond Pettius Bridge in Alabama, which was a symbolic obstacle to cross in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. The profiles of King and his wife Coretta Scott King are hidden within the mountain crags of the work.

Related Story: How Atlanta Preserves Public Art From 1996 Olympics

Charles Lincoln Harper Statue

Location: Ashby Garden Park
Artist: Ed Dwight

This statue of civil rights activist Charles Lincoln Harper was created early in the career of sculptor Ed Dwight.

“Harper’s story was amazing to me,” Dwight said. “Since blacks in Atlanta could not attend school past the 8th grade.” Harper fought for higher education standards for black students. According to Dwight, many of Harper’s former students assisted in the posing of the statue.

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