As we remember the contributions of Black students, faculty, and staff at Georgia Tech, we also remember the significance of the spaces and places they occupied along this journey.
The communities in and around Atlanta have played a pivotal part in the advancement of civil rights and racial justice. There are sites right here on Georgia Tech’s campus — and many more nearby — that reflect milestones from a continued path toward greater equity and inclusion. Here’s a look at a few of them.
A location that was a painful and tangible symbol of white resistance to the civil rights movement has been redeveloped and transformed into a space for reflection and contemplation for the entire campus community. It is part of Georgia Tech’s EcoCommons. A contemplative grove inhabits the former site of the Pickrick Restaurant, which, during the post-World War II era, was situated off of Georgia Tech’s campus. Segregationist Lester Maddox owned the restaurant. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Maddox refused to serve Black customers, and he threatened at gunpoint those who tried to enter. He opted to close his restaurant permanently rather than abide by federal law, and his actions made him a popular figure among segregationists — so popular that he was elected Georgia’s governor two years later.
Top left: The Pickrick from Hemphill Avenue (date unknown). Top right: 1964 photo of Lester Maddox and his son chasing a Black patron from the Pickrick. Bottom left: 1932 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Hemphill Avenue. Bottom right: The Pickrick from Hemphill Avenue (1956).
Georgia Tech purchased the building when campus expanded in the 1960s and used it as a job placement center for many years. A historical marker stood on the site to note what had happened there. The building was razed to make way for the environmental restoration project now known as the EcoCommons. Design elements of the EcoCommons pay tribute to this part of Atlanta’s, and the nation’s, history.
Where the building once stood, you will find a wall with three openings representing the three men who attempted to break down the walls of injustice. A raised steel edge outlines the former restaurant. Three benches offer a place for contemplation and conversation. New historical signs explain the significance of the location, and the design of this portion of the EcoCommons aims to inspire reflection and connections with nature and with others.
Located in Harrison Square near Tech Tower is a sculpture called The Three Pioneers. Dedicated in 2019, the installation commemorates the first three Black students to attend Georgia Tech in 1961: Ford C. Greene, Ralph A. Long Jr., and Lawrence M. Williams.
Just steps away from The Three Pioneers in the shadow of Tech Tower you can find Continuing the Conversation. Unveiled on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., this sculpture depicts Rosa Parks at age 42 —the year her refusal to give up her seat on a segregated bus sparked the Montgomery bus boycott — and at age 92, the year of her death. There’s an empty space between the two depictions, inviting those passing by to join the conversation.
A bronze sculpture at the bottom of the stairs in the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons depicts Ronald Yancey, Georgia Tech’s first Black graduate. Yancey graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1965.
Inside the Georgia Tech Athletics building just off Techwood Drive, you’ll find pictures and memorabilia representing a multitude of Black student-athletes who rose to the pinnacle of their respective sports, including trailblazers Jan Hilliard and Eddie McAshan. Hilliard, a basketball player, was Tech’s first Black female student-athlete. McAshan was not only the first Black football player on scholarship for Georgia Tech, but he was also one of the first Black quarterbacks to play for a southern collegiate football program.
The Campus Recreation Center on Georgia Tech’s campus is a stunning architectural feat, and was designed by Tech’s first two Black architecture graduates. Bill Stanley, ARCH 1972, and his wife Ivenue Love-Stanley, ARCH 1977, led the design of the Aquatic Center used for the 1996 Summer Olympics. After the Games, the aquatic center was encased to be used for the campus community. At the time of construction, the upper-level basketball courts represented the world’s largest suspended concrete structure.
MLK Home and Historic Site
At 501 Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, you can visit the house where Martin Luther King Jr. spent the first 12 years of his life. There, you can also learn about the legendary civil rights leader’s journey from a child in Jim Crow-era Atlanta to his position as co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church, his work on behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the March on Washington — and all of his other achievements along the way.
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights
This museum and cultural institution connects the U.S. civil rights movement to human rights activism around the world. You can explore the stories of brave civil and human rights defenders who used their power as individuals and as a part of larger movements to bring about social change.
Writer: Steven Norris
Editor: Stacy Braukman
Graphic Design: Brice Zimmerman
Photography: Rob Felt, Brice Zimmerman
Originally published Feb. 12, 2021