HUNGRY CLUB FORUM AT THE BUTLER YMCA
Many top local, state and national business
leaders, political activists, educators, community leaders and Sweet Auburn
residents informally gathered for many years on Wednesdays at 12 Noon for lunch
at the now-closed Butler Street YMCA, located in the Auburn Avenue Historic District.
The lunch was called the Hungry Club Forum and gave an opportunity for a previously
selected lecturer to inform and update the mainly eager African American
audience. The speakers generally gave a speech on their topic of concern to the
crowd who poured into the gym to hear ramblings, protests, and serious talks
against injustice and oppression or a new community program to help nearby
residents or the Atlanta community. Many new, veteran politicians and civil
rights leaders eagerly awaited an opportunity to speak at the forum. In
addition, the YMCA was important to the Sweet Auburn community because it
offered room and board to mostly homeless African American men and provided
low-cost organized summer youth and sports programs.
In the 21st century Atlanta is promoted as a “city not too
busy to care.” Ironically, about 1.5 miles away from the Sweet Auburn Avenue
Historic District is Woodruff Park, near the Georgia State University main
campus downtown where there are people sitting around who are down on their luck
– the oppressed, hungry and marginalized. At the park about 40, mainly African
American homeless men, gather daily to play checkers, use the bathroom and methodically
sit with a melancholy stare on benches and a downward glance at the sidewalk
because they lack hope. The park was
recently used for the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration ushering in 2018 which
means the men will undoubtedly have to move from that temporary housing or
sitting location to another place soon. The popular homeless shelter at Peachtree
and Pine, near the Atlanta downtown area and somewhat within walking distance
of the park, was a regular shelter for many without housing but was closed summer
But city officials believe “continuum of care” programs which work to tackle
homelessness, by employing back to work programs, healthcare, drug treatment
programs and transitional housing with coordination and assistance from
non-profits and several millions in grant funds can better assist Atlanta’s
homeless population. City of Atlanta officials want to phase in new care
programs for the homeless.
It was segregation which caused many African Americans to live and work
only in certain areas of the city of Atlanta mainly on Auburn Avenue. However,
the demise of the Auburn district is mainly due to integration, building of interstate
highways nearby, abandonment, crime, vagrancy, and gentrification according to
some leaders. Preservationists and an Auburn Avenue housing non-profit are
working to reserve and continue upkeep of the district with assistance from the
National Park Service.
More than 20 years ago, former Georgia State University (GSU) president
Dr. Carl V. Patton and his advisors envisioned and began planning for Georgia
State to expand its campus into the Auburn Avenue historic district. Their
expansion plans for the area are being realized. There are new shops designed
to attract visitors including millennials and other youth and the Georgia State
University logo can be seen emblazoned on the corner of Auburn Avenue and
Courtland on the former African American owned Atlanta Life Insurance Company
building. There are small White businesses and restaurants which dot the area
ushering in more diversity and the once popular African American tourist and
walking attraction on Auburn Avenue is now reduced to only a shell of itself.
However, the Sweet Auburn Historic District can probably survive and eventually
thrive with help from business leaders, politicians, preservationists,
associated with the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture
and History. The library is across the street from the
former Atlanta Life building on Courtland and Auburn Avenue. The APEX Museum is
a parking lot away from the nearby research library.
The research library
hosts weekly and monthly events on local and national African American life. An
upcoming event, to be held at the Auburn Avenue Research Library features GSU Assistant History Professor
Dr. Maurice J. Hobson, author of The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and
Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta, University of North Carolina Press, the last day of this month. Hobson’s free community book signing,
and lecture are part of the library’s launch of “Sweet Auburn Reads,” a new
community book reading group. Hobson previously was scheduled to make an
appearance at the library with his book, Fall 2017.
Hobson conducts his research looking through a New South lens and he
departs from the widely reported viewpoint that the city of Atlanta is a Black mecca.
He argues that privilege, class and previous family wealth and access to top
colleges and universities have allowed certain Atlanta born and bred Black
elites to succeed since Reconstruction. Whether an individual agrees with
Hobson’s viewpoint or not, the city of Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue has a rich and
varied historical background. The city of Atlanta allows anyone to dream? Dreams
do and can come true…
1Michael Omi and Howard
Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the
1990s (New York: Routledge, 1994), 7.
2Omi and Winant, Racial Formation, 8.
3Omi and Winant, Racial Formation, 9.
4Juguo Zhang, W.E.B. Du Bois: The Quest for the Abolition
of the Color Line (London: Routledge, 2014), xi.
5Zhang, The Quest, xiv.
L. Johnstone, Religion
in Society: A Sociology of Religion (Upper Saddle River, NJ,
Prentice-Hall, 2001), 285.
in Society, 286.
in Society, 30.
in Society, 30.
10Dan Moore, Sweet Auburn Street of Pride: A Pictorial
History (Atlanta: CreateSpace Publishing, 2010).