Here's part of the story:
|Not the type of people the Atlanta "Great Tree" lighting attracted in Underground Atlanta|
Celestine Sibley in Dear Store was celebrating an era in Atlanta’s history when white people felt safe going downtown into what is now one of America’s most crime-ridden cities:
Down in the street, the crowd has been assembling for hours. Forsyth Street is roped off to vehicular traffic, and people pour into it from all directions, city people and their country cousins, rich people and poor people, the young, the old, crippled people in wheelchairs, blind people clutching their white-painted canes, clinging to the arms of seeing relatives. There are babies in their mothers’ arms and toddlers riding fathers’ shoulders. They jam the street, making it a vast lane of crowded bodies and uplighted faces.By 1967, however, when Sibley wrote, Atlanta was already experiencing high levels of white flight from areas of the city with increasing percentages of black residents, and increasing crime.
As Tamar Jacoby noted in her 1998 book Someone Else’s House: America’s Unfinished Struggle for Integration, the outcome of the 1970s in Atlanta—when black people became the dominant population group and took political control—was not integration, but an “uneasy coexistence”:
Even so, many whites used crime as an excuse to avoid downtown, and blacks and whites divided up the landscape like a battleground. Sometime in the 70s, localized shopping nodes eclipsed the old central hub, and by the end of the [Maynard] Jackson era, Atlanta had two downtowns: the deteriorating black downtown in the center city and the new white downtown, Buckhead, six miles to the north. With the city’s upscale restaurants, its choicest hotels and newest office towers, Buckhead paid taxes to Atlanta and in an important way helped keep it alive, but its residents had less and less to do with the blacks on the south side of town.Rich’s “Great Tree” appeared on the Crystal Bridge for the final time in 1990. The downtown Rich’s closed in 1991.
Clemmons reports that Rich’s initial thought was to move the Great Tree ceremony to Buckhead—
…but many people protested the idea of the ceremony leaving downtown. As a result, the store worked out a deal with the owners of Underground Atlanta, a unique shopping district built around an on top of old street viaducts, and invested approximately $400,00 into the new 1991 event. Part of the $400,000 was for the purchase of the tree and new, clear lights for decorations, which would replace the multicolored lights of years past. Other portions of the money were used to build a special platform on top of a parking deck at Underground Atlanta to support and anchor the tree...Rich's finally moved the tree to its Buckhead store in 2000. That worked—the first year, an estimated 75,000 to 110,000 people attended the tree-lighting ceremony at its new location, which they obviously felt was safer and more easily accessible than Underground Atlanta.
The Great Tree remained at Underground Atlanta through 1999. Unfortunately, over the nine years the event was held there, attendance had steadily decreased. By that last year, only about ten thousand people showed up for the tree-lighting ceremony, forty thousand fewer than the number who had attended it eight years earlier when it had initially moved there.
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