These streets in Atlanta are named for civil rights leaders

These streets in Atlanta are named for civil rights leaders

Atlanta is often hailed as the “cradle of the civil rights movement.” Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, the city was the epicenter of the movement for equality, integration and voting rights.

The legacy of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and John Wesley Dobbs is hardwired into the city’s DNA — and also its street grid.

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Around the country and world, there are hundreds of streets, schools, buildings and more named for King, and while that’s true here in Atlanta, too, there are also a number of other leaders recognized throughout the cityscape.

Across Atlanta, streets have been renamed for civil rights leaders, many of whom have deep ties to the city. Here’s a look at some of those leaders who helped pave the way.

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Martin Luther King Jr Drive

In addition to King’s birth home, the King Center and national historic park along Auburn Avenue, there is also Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The road weaves across the west side, running parallel for a while to part of Ralph David Abernathy Freeway, named for one of King’s closest confidant.

According to reporting from Fast Company, there are more than 1,000 streets across the world named for King. In 2018, there were 955 in the U.S. alone.

In 2016, the Atlanta City Council passed legislation to improve Atlanta’s street named for the civil rights leader.

“Atlanta is the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The street bearing his name should represent his legacy and stand as a source of pride and excellence for all who travel on it,” former Mayor Kasim Reed said in 2016.

Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard

The boulevard that runs through Atlanta’s West End was renamed from Gordon Street to honor Ralph David Abernathy in 1991, according to the city.

Abernathy is often called King’s “right-hand man” and “best friend.” Former Georgia Rep. Tyrone Brooks has said, “I tell students all the time … I say, ‘Don’t mention Martin Luther King Jr. without mentioning Ralph David Abernathy.”

Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy, right; Coretta Scott King in center, man on left is not identified. (Noel Davis/AJC staff) 1968
Photo: Noel Davis/AJC Staff

After King’s death, Abernathy continued many of the initiatives the two had worked on together. He also became the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He died in 1990 in Atlanta.

John Lewis Freedom Parkway

One of the most recent leaders to have his name displayed on street signs in the city is Congressman John Lewis. In 2018, Atlanta renamed the prominent Freedom Parkway in Lewis’ honor, recognizing his many contributions to the civil rights movement. 

“John Lewis is synonymous with freedom,” Atlanta City Councilmember Andre Dickens said at the time.

Lewis, who was born in 1940 in Alabama, has represented Georgia’s 5th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1987.

John Lewis Freedom Parkway runs through Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, encompassing Freedom Park and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.

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Xernona Clayton Way

In 2011, Clayton became only the second woman to be honored with a street and plaza designation in the city. (The first was “Gone With The Wind” author Margaret Mitchell).

The honorary Xernona Clayton Way and plaza is at the intersection of Peachtree and Baker streets in downtown Atlanta. In Hardy Ivy Park downtown, there is a commemorative plaque recognizing Clayton’s work in civil rights and broadcasting.

“Xernona Clayton’s contributions to civil and human rights for more than 50 years have shaped the Atlanta that we know and love, and for that we owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude,” former Mayor Kasim Reed said in a 2011 statement.

Xernona Clayton at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.co

Benjamin E. Mays Drive

Benjamin E Mays was born in South Carolina in 1894, he died in Atlanta when he was nearly 100 years old. Throughout his century-long life, Mays was a notable educator and leader.

Through his time as president of Morehouse College, Mays helped lead some of the college’s most distinguished students. Martin Luther King Jr. called Mays his “spiritual mentor” and “intellectual father,” according to the college.

The road named in Mays’ honor runs across the city’s west side. There is also Benjamin E. Mays High School in southwest Atlanta

Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway

In 1998, the former Bankhead Highway was renamed in honor of Donald Lee Hollowell. 

The late civil rights icon successfully sued the University of Georgia, making it possible for students to integrate the school.

Louise Hollowell and her husband Donald Lee Hollowell standing at road sign " Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway" - Bankhead Highway has been renamed in his honor. Photo taken December 3, 1998. (CQ) (NICK ARROYO/AJC staff)
Photo: HANDOUT/AJC

In 1966, he was appointed the regional director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by President Lyndon Johnson, which made him the first black regional director of a key federal agency, according to previous reporting from the AJC. He died in 2004.

Andrew Young International Boulevard

The downtown throughway was renamed for Young in 2001, as part of the celebrations of his 69th birthday, according to the Georgia World Congress Center’s website.

In addition to Young’s work with Martin Luther King Jr., he’s also a former Atlanta mayor, U.S. representative and Ambassador to the United Nations.

He’s also credited with helping to bring the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta, which is why the street named in his honor is situated downtown, according to GWCCA.

» RELATED: For Black History Month: What's in a street name?

John Wesley Dobbs Avenue

John Wesley Dobbs is often called the “unofficial mayor” of Auburn Avenue. The civil rights leader was the co-founder of the Atlanta Negro Voters League. 

In 1994, Dobbs’ grandson, Maynard Jackson — Atlanta’s first black mayor — honored his grandfather by renaming Houston Street to John Wesley Dobbs Avenue, according to New Georgia Encyclopedia

Hosea Williams Drive

Along with John Lewis, Hosea Williams led the 1965 march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Williams, a civil rights leader, reverend, businessman and philanthropist, died in 2000.

The Atlanta Street named in his honor cuts across the city’s east side, through Kirkwood and Edgewood.

The intersection of Kirkwood Road and Hosea Williams Drive. (Jenni Girtman/ info@atlantaeventphotography.com)
Photo: Jenni Girtman/info@atlantaeventphotography.com

Today, Williams’ daughter, Elisabeth Omilami carries on her father’s legacy through her work at Hosea Helps, which has operated in the city for decades.

Jesse Hill Junior Drive

The street named for Jesse Hill Jr. runs north to south in downtown. It was once known as Butler Street, but has been renamed in Hill’s honor.

Hill was the first black president of Atlanta’s Chamber of Commerce and also the Georgia Board of Regents.

He was a political adviser to many of Georgia’s high-ranking officials. When he died in 2012, former Mayor Kasim Reed called him an “essential leader for the transformation of the city of Atlanta.”

Joseph E. Boone Boulevard

Formerly known as Simpson Road, the street was renamed in 2008 to honor Joseph E. Boone, who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2003, Boone was awarded the Civil Rights Legend Award and in 2006 he was given special recognition by Congress. He died at 83 in 2006.

William Holmes Borders Senior Drive

In the heart of Sweet Auburn, is a road named for one of the neighborhood’s most notable reverends. William Holmes Borders was the pastor of Wheat Street Baptist Church and an iconic leader in Sweet Auburn’s history.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was still a child, Borders, along with others in the neighborhood like John Wesley Dobbs, were laying the ground work for the civil rights movement.

Borders was known for his fiery sermons and a young MLK is said to have sometimes been listening in the balcony.

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