Sacrificed for the Super Bowl: The Wiping Out of an Atlanta Neighborhood

Mercedes-Benz Stadium with Georgia Dome remains in the foreground. Image by elisfkc (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Thirty years ago, the entire community of Lightning, on Atlanta’s west side, was demolished to build the Georgia Dome. The dome was then destroyed in 2017 to make way for Mercedes-Benz Stadium, host of this year’s Super Bowl LIII. At The Bitter Southerner, Max Blau compiles an oral history of a long-gone, forgotten neighborhood, told by the residents that were displaced.

To Atlantans, Monroe holds the title that always designates a native: He’s a “Grady baby,” born in Grady Memorial Hospital, the public institution that has cared for Atlantans of all classes since 1892. He is also a son of the west side. To west-siders, he’s a native of historic neighborhoods like Vine City or even Bankhead.

All are stand-ins, though, for where he’s really from — which is nowhere, looking at the current map of his hometown.

Ivory Young, the late Atlanta City Councilmember, said in a filmed interview with the Historic Westside Cultural Arts from 2015 that “the Georgia Dome, and the phase four expansion of the Georgia World Congress Center, took place on an approximately 90-acre tract. … In the shadow of all that downtown infrastructure, [Lightning] was a neighborhood with a lot of value.”

Michael Julian Bond: The first [business] to go away was the old lumber yard [run by the Frank G. Lake Lumber Co.]. It seemed permanent.

Rev. Jerome Banks: They got rid of all the companies. The Atlanta Casket Company. Bailey Coffee Company. They closed down [the factories]. Those buildings stood empty for months.

Michael Julian Bond: There were churches who had a dwindling population. By this time, in the mid-’80s, most of the residents of Lightning were gone. There were houses still.

Rev. Jerome Banks: Most of the residents [left] were renters. So [state officials] were talking to landlords. Residents got notices that you got to move. We moved because of that. I don’t think nobody would’ve left if we weren’t forced out.

Velma Coachman: My parents held out. Everyone in Atlanta knew they were buying us out. They didn’t want to give people in Lightning a fair price. They wanted the land. They were trying to run us out. Sell the home — or else.

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