Once you’ve heard of a place called “Buttermilk Bottom” how can you resist spreading the word??! H actually stumbled upon it on the Atlanta Time Machine website, in the form of a song, and shared it with me. This song memorializes a poor black neighborhood on the edge of downtown, the floodplains, the lowlands, the bottom of Atlanta. The name may come from the smell that permeated the area caused by the backed up water in the downward sloping sewers. In the mid-20th century this neighborhood still had no telephones or electric lights. The African-American neighborhood was considered a slum and the city did not feel the need to invest improve conditions there until they found a new, more economically productive use for it.
In the early 1960s, under the banner of “Urban Renewal,” The “crime-ridden neighborhood” was torn down to make way for the Atlanta Civic Center which was built in 1967, and other “improvements” to the city of Atlanta. All that’s left of those chatty front porches, churches, corner stores and juke joints is a plaque at Ralph McGill and Piedmont, and a song that’ll get you shaking your hips.
The exact boundaries of the old Buttermilk Bottom today are unclear, the Civic Center now stands on part of the larger area which was the western end of the Old 4th Ward, in the floodplain between Ralph McGill and Peachtree. The photo above shows Mayor Hartsfield scoping out the slum near Piedmont in 1959.