Sweet Auburn was the commercial, cultural, and spiritual center of African American life prior to the civil rights movement. Approximately two miles in length, Auburn Avenue had a concentration of black-owned businesses, entertainment venues, and churches that catered to the underserved black population.
Although the district was comprised of mostly small businesses, several churches helped build and maintain heritage in the district. Auburn Avenue was home to what historian Gary Pomerantz describes as Atlanta’s “three-legged stool of black finance.”
Atlanta’s first black-owned office building was constructed in 1904 by businessman and politician Henry A. Rucker. In 1905, former slave Alonzo Herndon founded Atlanta Life Insurance.
Herman Perry’s Standard Life Insurance soon followed, as well as Citizen’s Trust Bank, which extended credit to black homeowners and entrepreneurs underserved by the city’s white lending institutions.
Sweet Auburn was also the place to connect on social issues of the day, as well as the latest black entertainers and information for the black culture.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Odd Fellows, the Masons, National Urban League and the Top Hat Club (late the Royal Peacock) were anchors in the district.
The bustling retail trade and wealthy businesses owners earned the street a national reputation for African American finance and entrepreneurial zeal.
Today, Sweet Auburn has seen increased development, with new bars and restaurants popping up, although there are still some vacancies.
The historic neighborhood now has a streetcar and is a popular spot for tourists, with millions of travelers visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site each year. Sweet Auburn was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.