Marietta shines light on historic Black-owned homes

The 1956 Hunter House is first to receive historic marker

Charlie Hunter Sr. was 12 years old in 1912 when his family heeded the warnings for all Black residents to leave Forsyth County or face the white mob that was already burning down their homes and businesses.

“The family loaded up the wagon, put everything they owned and possessed on the wagon, got the horses hitched up and left the county,” said Charlie Hunter Sr.’s son, Curt, recalling the story his late father told him.

Nearly 1,100 Black residents were driven from their homes in Forsyth County after the murder of a white woman resulted in a racial cleansing that lasted decades.

As an adult, Charlie Hunter Sr. dreamed of replacing the family’s lost homestead. So he and his wife, Katie, bought a plot of land and built a home on Pine Street in then-segregated Marietta. He started a restaurant in the Black business district just up the street from his home.

“He became a fixture in the community, an anchor, and was probably the epicenter of African-American business activity in Marietta, if not the entire county,” Curt Hunter said of his father.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Today, the home still belongs in the family and is the first in a historic Black neighborhood to receive a home marker from Cobb Landmarks, in partnership with the Marietta History Center. Amy Reed, the center’s director, said the goal is to showcase “the stories of everyone in our history.”

The Hunter House, as the marker reads, was built in 1956. The ranch-style brick home, decorated just as it was when Charlie and Katie Hunter lived there, is now occupied by their daughter, Mary Hunter Mullins. She said the marker is a great acknowledgment of all the hard work her father put into creating a legacy for his children.

“In my spirit, I could see that he was happy, and he was probably smiling in heaven,” she said of her late father.

Segregated Marietta

Curt Hunter, who was born in the late 1940s, said he recalls going to the historic Strand Theatre on Marietta Square as a boy, although he wasn’t allowed to enter under the bright marquee. He bought his tickets and entered through a side door to sit in the balcony, the only section for Black attendees.

He saw “Whites only” signs on restaurants and shops, and knew he had to be careful to avoid certain parts of town.

“It was a difficult time. It was dangerous, too, as you might imagine, although it wasn’t like Forsyth County,” Curt Hunter said. “But being the ‘wrong’ skin color could be pretty frightening.”

Unlike some other towns in the South, Marietta in the 1950s and 1960s had a thriving Black business district, which made it attractive for families looking for a fresh start in the segregated, Jim Crow South.

“I think it was an attractive place for Black families just because of the Black community that was so strong within themselves,” Reed said. “But they certainly faced hardship and discrimination with the white communities.”

Charlie Hunter’s business started as a cafe, Hunter’s Lunch & Lounge. Katie cooked most of the food at home, and the children worked the registers and scooped ice cream at the candy counter.

Later, he owned a strip mall with the restaurant at the center. He rented out storefronts to other businesses at the heart of the Baptist Town, which is what the Black neighborhood was called at the time. It had a few restaurants and shops owned and frequented by the Black community.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

“One of the reasons my father was so successful was because African Americans had no place to go,” Curt Hunter said. “Those restaurants had a built-in clientele because African Americans could not go to established restaurants.”

Mary Hunter Mullins, now 78, said Baptist Town was a tight-knit, safe community. Neighbors kept their doors open, and the pastor came over for family dinner.

When she was young, both Black and white children played together until sundown, and she didn’t know about segregation until she was older, Mary Hunter Mullins said.

“It wasn’t like segregation in your mind. You might have heard it through grown-ups, but we just didn’t have any of that,” she said.

Yolanda Mullins, Mary’s daughter, researched the family history for the home marker. She said she wasn’t raised to be wary of white people, and she didn’t experience racism until she was an adult.

“So even though we are talking about a segregated time, which often has a negative connotation, still within our community, it was loving,” Yolanda Mullins said.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Untold stories

Charlie Hunter Sr. built a second house on the property to pass down to his son and daughter-in-law, Charlie Hunter Jr. and Fannie. Fannie Hunter still lives in the house and will be the next to receive a historic home marker.

When Charlie Hunter Sr. retired, he also passed the business on to Charlie Hunter Jr. and Fannie. The couple ran it for years and eventually passed it down to their daughters, Charlene and Shelia Hunter. Shelia Hunter said she fondly remembers working at the cafe as a girl for her grandfather.

“I used to work the ice cream stand and candy counter, and he seen me just randomly giving people money. I wasn’t counting. I was just giving back money,” she said, laughing. “He took the time and showed me how to count coins and exchange bills.”

The business stayed in the family for over 70 years, Curt Hunter said.

Credit: Sam Baskin

Credit: Sam Baskin

Retired Judge Jim Morris, who serves on the history center’s Diverse Cobb Advisory Committee, has volunteered with Cobb Landmarks for years and led the research into eligible homes for the project.

“It just struck me when I got involved that there’s not a single marker in a traditional Black neighborhood in Marietta,” he said.

When he talked with the Hunter family and began digging into the family’s history, he knew there was a meaningful story to be told. Many stories of Black history in the area are unknown, even by the history center, Morris said.

“It was very much a white-centric history museum, and they have made a broad effort to improve its coverage,” he added.

Morris helped the Hunter family learn more about their history, but very little could be found in newspaper archives because the papers then mostly focused on the white community, Morris said.

Hunter’s Lunch & Lounge was listed in The Negro Motorist Green Book from 1960 to 1967, when it stopped being published. The Green Book was a guide to which businesses were safe for Black travelers to visit, and the cafe was one of the few Marietta locations listed through the years.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Yolanda Mullins said discovering more of their history brought the family closer together and gave them a greater sense of pride. The marker serves as a symbol of Charlie Hunter Sr.’s legacy, Shelia Hunter said.

“I look at it as a reminder to future generations. They can come by and just remember that we were a part of this history in this Black neighborhood,” Shelia Hunter said. “Our forefathers, they strived in this area, and they left a legacy.”

The Hunter House is full of framed photographs taken through the decades. Yolanda Mullins said her mother, Mary, has kept the decor on the wood-paneled walls the same as it’s always been.

“We don’t usually like to talk about the past, and we want to focus on the future, but it’s important to remember our past and where we came from,” Mary Hunter Mullins said.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Learn more about this story

Atlanta in the Negro Motorist Green Book (From Atlanta History Center)

Increasingly diverse, Forsyth County faces racist past (From the AJC)

Marietta Black Heritage Walking Tour (From marietta.com)