Exploring History Beneath Atlanta’s Airport

In Atlanta, there are underground trains to move you among the seven terminals and the other areas of the airport. Makes sense: the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport encompasses quite a bit of ground. It also serves more than one million passengers a year.

Atlanta Georgia airport history image

Perhaps, though, you’d like to stretch your legs after a long flight. Maybe, with the ebb and flow of all those passengers, you’ve hit a time when the trains just look too full of people for your liking. Could be you have a long layover and feel like taking a wander.

The designers of the Atlanta airport’s transport system have thought of this. So have people in Atlanta interested in arts, in history, and in letting you know about their city.

You can walk between the different terminals, sometimes on flat ground, sometimes with people mover tracks available, sometimes with stairs and escalators along the way. In some areas, as you might expect, you’ll see advertisements for area businesses and public services on the walls. In other areas, you’ll see art exhibits. These change. I’ve seen drawings by schoolchildren and photographs of Antarctica among the offerings.

A permanent exhibit, one you really ought to make time for, is along the walking concourse between terminals B and C. It will give you a bit of insight into the history of Atlanta.

atlanta airport author margaret mitchell

atlanta airport history ml king

You might already know that Margaret Mitchell, who wrote the novel Gone with the Wind, was an Atlanta resident. You may have known that Martin Luther King was, too. Did you know, though, that this place in north Georgia was a crossroads of trade and travel and the home to settlements of native peoples going back into prehistoric times?

atlanta airport native american baskets by Kerry Dexter

The tribes of north Georgia, as time went on, developed a full sophisticated society of their own. By the 1830s, though, the Atlanta area was becoming a crossroads for rail travel from other parts of the United States. That, and the discovery of gold in the north Georgia mountains, led to the removal of most of the Atlanta area’s First Peoples to the west. You can learn a bit about this history through the images, text, and stories told in the material on the walls of the Atlanta airport.

atlanta airport history first peoples art

Atlanta was indeed a crossroads of rail travel, which is one of the reasons it was important to both north and south during the American Civil War. Northern General William Sherman swore to burn Atlanta to the ground, and he did. You’ll see pictures of what this devastation looked like. It is one of the reasons the place is, all these years later, known as the phoenix city, as it did, in fact become a thriving place as people rebuilt their lives.

Early film footage of trolleys and trains and day to day life which show on monitors overhead add to the story.

atlanta airport history concourse

Another part of Atlanta’s ongoing story has to do with race relations. Civil rights leader Doctor King was a moving force in changing the city’s attitudes and laws on segregation. There were many others, with names known to history and not, who worked, and continue to do so, to improve justice and equality in the city.

altanta airprot civil rights history photo

There’s much more to the material in the area on the history of Atlanta. It is well designed; if you are passing by quickly, you will still be able to take in a few highlights of Atlanta’s story as told on these walls. If you’ve a longer time, though, the images and text will repay your time and thought — and perhaps intrigue you to learn more of Atlanta’s story.

Photographs by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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