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Atlanta in 1942
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Atlanta Railyards and skyline in 1942
A history professor of mine, Dr. Howard, always like to take a look at the "little history" that most people overlooked. To take an in-depth look at Atlanta, I decided to pick 1942 because Atlanta was undergoing changes that would affect it through present-day. Not only were its men going off to fight World War II, airplanes were beginning to draw some travelers to Atlanta. The city tried to capture commerce for its economy that had struggled for 15 years. Georgia's agriculture and Atlanta's economic growth ended in the mid-1920's because of the boll weevil devastation and a drought. The city began to grow again in 1929 at a modest rate. Even during the Depression, Atlanta managed to eke out gains in commercial figures, although unemployment did increase.

By the end of the 1930's Atlanta had become the Southeast's airport hub and continued to hold its rail hub title. It was known as a mecca for "Negroes" (the proper word for African-Americans at the time), and a center for education for all races. With the opening of Camp Gordon and the presence of Fort McPherson, it was also a center for America's Armed Forces. Atlanta in 1942 was on the brink of greatness.

Before 1942

Early in 1941 the US military began concentrating forces near the city of Atlanta because of easy transportation (roads, rails, and air) in anticipation of the dark clouds forming over Europe. The Atlanta business community opened a "Service Center" on Walton Street to help these men with areas for reading, writing and table games. They quickly added site-seeing trips and church activities to their roster as the number of servicemen coming downtown from Fort McPherson and Camp Gordon increased. In October, 1941, the center moved to Kimball House.

On the Day of Infamy two Atlanta families lost children, Thomas Byrd (20) and William Manley (23). According to local newspapers Byrd was the first American to die at Pearl Harbor. The reaction to the Japanese attack was immediate and swift. Mayor Roy LeCraw informed the Council that he would be leaving as soon as he was assigned active duty in the U. S. Army. LeCraw then joined Colonel Lindley Camp, commander of the State Defense forces and Police Chief Hornsby in ordering all Japanese to remain in their home. Only 14 native Japanese were found, mostly working restaurants and clubs.

History of 1942 Atlanta

Rich's opened a 5-mural display highlighting the history of Atlanta dedicated by Margaret Mitchell on Friday, January 2. Among the artists contributing work were Wilbur Kurtz, who showed what Atlantans wore through the years (hopefully purchased from Rich's). John Silton contributed the Legend of Georgia and the Legend of Atlanta while Walter Gordon highlighted Georgia's Colors including red clay, golden leaves, white dogwood and crimson peach blossoms.

Cotton production soared throughout the state in 1942 as the military demanded uniforms. This sent per bale prices for cotton higher, giving farmers more money, which in turn kept Atlanta businesses humming. At Fort McPherson, Norcross farmer Frank Simmons Leavitt was photographed enlisting in the Army. His photo then flashed nationwide because Leavitt was better known as Man Mountain Dean, a famous wrestler. He was assigned to Armored forces training at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Banks prospered as businesses needed loans to expand to handle increasing military demands. Businesses also needed loans for air raid shelters for employees as Boy Scouts circulated leaflets telling Atlantans what they needed to do for blackouts. The Red Cross kicked off a huge fund drive for 1942 spearheaded by Atlanta's favorite daughter, Margaret Mitchell.

Marietta native James V. "Jimmy" Carmichael worked tirelessly on securing military manufacturing, specifically a airplane facility to build on land adjacent to the recently completed Rickenbacker Field (renamed Dobbins Air Field in 1943). The Bell Bomber factory, which broke ground in February, 1942, produced hundreds of planes for the United States, thousands of jobs for Atlanta residents and even more servicemen for the businesses in nearby Atlanta.

1942 Gulf gas station in Atlanta
Not all business boomed, Gas stations saw business dry up as rationing took much of the petroleum for the services and lack of rubber eliminated replacement tires. Taxi drivers suffered as well. Public transportation soared as Atlanta streetcar usage was up more than 25% in 1942 alone.

Atlanta' Winecoff Hotel would become famous for a 1946 fire that killed 119 people. On February 18, 1942, in a precursor to that fire, the top 5 stories of the 16-story Winecoff caught on fire just before 6:00 pm. Amazingly no one was killed but several people were injured by inhaling smoke.

Two USO Service Centers opened for business in Atlanta on May 22, 1942 at 16 Courtland St., one for white soldiers, the other for black soldiers. Soon the Salvation Army, the YMCA, the YWCA, the Jewish Welfare Board and the USO set up more programs for all servicemen, although the segregation requirements were always kept in mind. Dances were held on a regular basis and the organizations had a registration process in place to issue cards to "junior hostesses." Only registered girls were allowed into the dance hall.

Atlanta also got a title it did not like: Syphilis Capitol of the South. Surprisingly, Atlanta reached out to extend treatment to prostitutes rather than trying to drive them away. Second, the city built a new clinic spending more than $100,000. Finally, it created three additional smaller, satellite clinics.

The USS Atlanta, a light cruiser christened by Margaret Mitchell in 1941, was credited with sinking a Japanese destroyer during the Battle of Guadalcanal and helped to sink a Japanese light cruiser before striking a Japanese torpedo. The ship, which had been the pride of the city, was so badly damaged it had to be scuttled.

As men left for the war an interesting change was noted in Atlanta. Blacks and women began filling the jobs formerly held by white males. While integration was still years in the future, some historians note the changes that occurred in 1942 and later during the war as the start of the Southern integration movement.

Southern black leaders noted these changes and called a meeting at Durham, North Carolina in October. Two noted Blacks from Atlanta attended the meeting, Dr. Benjamin Mays and Dr. Rufus Clement, the presidents of Morehouse College and Atlanta University, respectively. The group's report highlighted the social and economic inequities "defended by the Whites." Among the inequities highlighted in the report were the poll tax, white primaries, intimidation of voters, exclusion from jury pools, lynching, same pay for the same work, and equality of service on common carriers.

As a sign of the positive changes that were about to take place, in December, 1942 the Georgia Bar welcomed Atlanta attorney Rachel Pruden Herndon into its ranks. She was the first black female so honored.

Description of 1942 Atlanta

Railroads dominated downtown Atlanta and crossing them created a traffic nightmare until Alabama Street was raised and a viaduct built over the tracks. This is the site of present-day Underground Atlanta. Two buildings closely associated with the railroad in Atlanta were Kimball House (large building on right in photo), a hotel (1885-1959) that once housed the Georgia state government and the Weather Bureau, and Union Station, (1930-1972) in a combination of architectural styles above the railroads.

The Peachtree Arcade (1917-1964) covered a block between Broad and Peachtree Street and was Atlanta's first enclosed shopping center. Down Peachtree Street the unusual V-shaped Candler Building, tallest building in 1942, sported the Coca-Cola Spectacular. Also in this area were the Hurt Building, the William Oliver Building and the Winecoff Hotel. On Marietta Street the headquarters of Citizens and Southern National Bank (today known as Bank of America) occupied the three bottom floors of the Empire Building (1901-).

The "negro community" was centered around Auburn Avenue and the area was dubbed "Sweet Auburn." Life in this community centered on three churches, Wheat Street (Wheat Street was the original name of Auburn Avenue), Ebeneezer Baptist, and First Methodist, but to assume that all Blacks lived in this area would be wrong. Small enclaves of Blacks existed throughout the city including upscale neighborhoods like Vine City and Washington Park, both west of downtown.


Five roads ran through what is today the City of Atlanta, the most famous being Peachtree Road. Built by Lt. George Gilmer, a future governor of Georgia, Peachtree Road ran from Fort Daniel on Hog Mountain to Standing Peachtree, site of an old Creek Indian settlement. An existing road from the Old Federal Road at Flowery Branch was also considered to be part of this road. Peachtree Street connected this road, which runs north and west of downtown, to the rail terminals in the city center.

The second road, Decatur Road, ran from Decatur, Georgia to Montgomery's Ferry on the Chattahoochee. Early in the history of Atlanta this became Decatur Street and Whitehall Street and is known today as Dekalb Avenue. Marietta Street went northwest to the city of the same name while McDonough Road ran south to McDonough.

In 1942 Atlanta was still centered on Peachtree Street, self-proclaimed as the Great White Way because of the abundance of street lighting. Marietta Street was the center of the areas industrial section, although throughout the city heavy industry could be found. It was improved by the federal government and designated US 41, the road from Copper Harbor, Michigan to Miami, Florida and only completed in Georgia in 1938. From downtown, US 41 followed McDonough Road south.

In 1942, however, railroads were still the heart of long-distance passenger travel and commerce. Terminal Station at Spring and Mitchell Street served the Central of Georgia, Atlanta and West Point RR, Seaboard Air Line and Southern Railway. Union Station, at 2 Forsyth St. served Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast Railroad, Louisville and Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis, and the Georgia Railroad. Peachtree Station, 1688 Peachtree Street served Southern Railway.

Airplanes had become common carriers in Atlanta and two airlines, Delta and Eastern served Atlanta Municipal Airport (now Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport) south of the city of Hapeville on US 41.


Movies seem to be the most popular form of entertainment and the two most noted theaters were the Fox and Loew's Grand. Some of the better known restaurants were Arcade, Brass Rail, Ellen Rice Tea Room, Herren's, and Venable's. You could "dine and dance" at the Empire Room at the Biltmore; The Paradise Room, Henry Grady; Rainbow Roof, Ansley Hotel, and Wisteria Garden.


Ponce de Leon Field
Home of the Atlanta Crackers
For baseball Atlantans would take the trolley ($.10 per token, 2 for $.15) down Ponce de Leon to the ballpark (Spiller Field) where the Atlanta Crackers or the Atlanta Black Crackers would play. Although the Crackers did not have a minor league affiliation until 1950, they played a schedule of nearby minor league teams and some of the better college teams. In 2009 the original Atlanta Crackers moved from Richmond, Virginia (over a series of moves they become the Braves Triple A farm team there) to Gwinnett County, Georgia, a homecoming of sorts.

Two local colleges also had teams, Georgia Tech (Rose Bowl Field) and Oglethorpe University (Hermance Stadium), which was also used for football games. Georgia Tech played at Grant Field and local high school games were held at Ponce de Leon park.


"The Voice of the South," Atlanta's WSB went on the air on March_15, 1922, broadcasting to an estimated 100 radio fans in downtown Atlanta, most of whom were surprised by a jazz rendition of the Light Cavalry Orchestra. Its 100-watt power overrode most of the weak northern radio stations the hobbyists were trying to hear. By 1942 WSB was the 50,000 watt "Powerhouse of the South."

The reason for the secrecy surrounding the first broadcast of WSB was competition. They beat rival WGM (WGST in 1942) to the air by 2 days. Both were owned by competing newspapers, the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution. WJTL was begun by Oglethorpe College and in 1935 became WATL. As the concept of radio "networks" came about to share costs of producing programs, WGST affiliated with the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), WATL affiliated with the Mutual Broadcasting System and WSB became associated with the National Broadcasting System (NBC).

Because of overlapping coverage in the NBC system and different consumer tastes, NBC and a second company created two feeds, NBC Red and NBC Blue to cut the cost of production. To take advantage of the new feed, the Atlanta Journal began a sister station to WSB, WAGA, to carry NBC Blue.

Event Listing

Southeastern Golden Gloves Boxing Tournament
MacDowell Festival

Georgia Federation of Music Clubs Contest

Atlanta Garden Club Flower Show
Opening Southern Baseball Association Season
Grand Opera Season
Dogwood Festival
Confederate Memorial Day

Horse Show
Music Week
State Marble Tournament
Uncle Remus Festival

Auto Races at Lakewood
Southeaster Chess Tournament
Soap Box Derby

Old Time Fiddlers Convention
Dog Show

Southeastern Fair

Cat Show

Joel Chandler Harris Memorial Service
Roller Derby

After 1942

On May_3, 1943, the Atlanta City Council responded to the Durham Report (or the Durham Group) passing a recommendation by Ralph McGill that stated "[we will] cooperate in any sound program aimed at the improvement of race relations."
In 1943 the Army announced syphilis was no longer the problem it had once been in Atlanta.

The USO Centers remained at 16 Courland St. and stayed open 24 hours a day until 1945. They closed their doors in 1948.

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