Rooted in History: Sweet Auburn Neighborhood Thrives

A Neighborhood Thrives Along Auburn Avenue

In the early 1900s, Sweet Auburn was a place for neighbors to meet and discuss social issues. Often congregating on Auburn Avenue, where Henry Rucker built Atlanta’s first black-owned office building, residents would also gather to hear the latest news related to black culture and entertainment.

Lined with small businesses and several churches, Auburn Avenue was also the commercial, cultural, and spiritual center of Black life before the Civil Rights Movement. It came to be known as home to Atlanta’s emerging Black middle class.

Sweet Auburn was coined in the 1920s by civil rights activist and businessman John Wesley Dobbs, who influenced leading voter registration and helped gain Black political power. Dobbs felt that Sweet Auburn reflected the prominence as a national center of Black commerce.

ATLANTA, GA – Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue. (Nancy Mangiafico/AJC staff) 1980

The history of the Sweet Auburn neighborhood runs deep. It is one of Atlanta’s most important historical Black communities. Home to the Ebenezer Baptist Church where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as Pastor, the NAACP, Big Bethel A.M.E. Church, and The Royal Peacock Club, an elegant club that hosted national performers including, B.B. King, The Four Tops, and Gladys Knight.

The Civil Rights Movement and Beyond

Leading the national crusade for civil rights was Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was born in his maternal grandparent’s home at 501 Auburn Avenue. Following the 1960s civil rights era, the Sweet Auburn neighborhood began to decline, as many business owners moved their shops to the west side of Atlanta. Just as the NAACP and local voting-rights organizations lobbied for an end to segregation, this once vibrant neighborhood began to decline sharply.

In 1976, Sweet Auburn was designated as a National Landmark, and in 1992 the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized that it was one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.   

Thrive Sweet Auburn Builds a Future While Embracing History

Last April, in partnership with Project Community Connections, Inc. (PCCI), Mercy Housing Southeast opened a brand-new affordable housing community, Thrive Sweet Auburn. Located in Atlanta’s historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood, and surrounding the iconic Coca-Cola billboard, this mixed-use community is home to nearly 200 families with low incomes, veterans, and formerly unhoused individuals.

Mercy Housing Thrive Sweet Auburn exterior
Thrive Sweet Auburn opened its doors in the Historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood.

On the ground floor of this affordable housing community, sits 12,000 square feet of commercial space that is home to PCCI, a local nonprofit working with unhoused individuals looking for supportive services ranging from job placement to healthcare needs. Sharing this space is First Step Staffing.

In recent decades, Sweet Auburn and neighboring Old Fourth Ward have become heavily gentrified, making Mercy Housing’s work to create affordable housing that much more important. Being in town, this community is also accessible to amenities like public transportation (MARTA), job centers, healthcare (Grady Memorial Hospital), and recreation.

On the Horizon for Sweet Auburn

Mercy Housing Southeast’s dedication to Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood is moving forward with the development of another new affordable housing community, Henderson Place. Working closely with Historic District Development Corporation (HDDC), one of Atlanta’s oldest surviving community development corporations and the only nonprofit organization, dedicated to preserving affordable housing in the Old Fourth Ward district. The HDDC was formed to facilitate the renewal of and improvement of the community without pricing lower-income residents out of the neighborhood.

Coming soon to the Sweet Auburn Neighborhood – Henderson Place

Named after Ms. Valena Henderson, a long-time Old Fourth Ward resident who actively participated during the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King, Henderson Place will be a mixed-use redevelopment with 76 apartment homes for families. Residents will also have access to onsite service-enriched programming helping them to achieve their goals.

The history of Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn and Old Fourth Ward neighborhoods dates to the late 1800s and has been defined by some of the most important events and landmarks in the country’s Civil Rights era. Mercy Housing is dedicated to embracing the history this neighborhood is rooted in through our continued work in creating new affordable housing communities within this storied community.

Download Black History Month Custom Background

Since the theme for Black History Month this year is African Americans and the Arts, we asked our in-house graphic designer, Tré McClendon (an accomplished artist and illustrator in his own right) to create a custom background that staff can use in virtual meetings.


We invite you to celebrate with us by downloading the background and using it in your virtual meetings or set it as your wallpaper.

Illustrated from left to right:
Harriet Tubman: abolitionist and social activist
Frederick Douglass: abolitionist and orator
Bessie Coleman: aviator, the first woman of African American and Native American descent to earn her pilot’s license
Jackie Robinson: professional baseball player, the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era
Rosa Parks: Civil rights activist known as the “first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement
Barack Obama: 44th President of the United States and the first African-American U.S. president

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