Freedom Park’s relevance in Atlanta history dates back to the Civil War. On July 22, 1864, Sherman watched the city burn during the Battle of Atlanta from Copenhill (location of the Carter Center) very close to the same spot that the “Homage to King” sculpture stands today as a symbol of our freedom. This sculpture, by Catalan artist Xavier Medina, was erected at the intersection of Boulevard and Freedom Parkway shortly before the 1996 Olympics on a site that just five years prior was embroiled and embattled in a contentious fight that had been brewing since the 1960′s and severely heated up in the early 1980′s when the Department of Transportation reignited the proposed Stone Mountain Tollway that promised fast access through the city and almost certain destruction of Atlanta’s in-town neighborhoods.
At the literal and metaphoric heart of the matter was the Carter Center. Like most big time real estate deals, politics plays a huge part. As Governor in the 1970′s, Jimmy Carter had opposed the road. However, after his presidency, he backed the plan for a “Presidential Parkway” in and effort to find a home for and road to his Presidential Library. The city was up in arms again, and in 1981, Cathy Bradshaw helped lead the fight (along with some serious assistance from friends, neighbors and future Congressman, John Lewis) against the Georgia Department of Transportation’s proposed road which would have literally divided many of the charming neighborhoods we love today.
Bradshaw was President of C.A.U.T.I.O.N (Citizens Against Unnecessary Thoroughfares In Older Neighborhoods) the legal arm of a protest group, who together with the very visible activist arm known as the Roadbusters, ultimately (in 1991) helped put an end to the proposed road. This resolution not only ensured the preservation of treasures like Inman Park, Candler Park, Lake Claire, Poncey-Highland and Druid Hills, but it also resulted in the symbolic connection between the MLK Center and the Carter Center, proving to be a win-win-win for all. Cathy joins Gene in the studio this month to reflect on the “NO ROAD” fight and remind us about how Atlanta came together for a common cause.
Even though all sides were able to reach an agreement in August 1991, the work was far from over. It was by chance that David Blackley, a landscape architect and now President of the Freedom Park Conservancy, was at City Hall and happened upon the plans for the new road. The DOT was not known for designing beautiful, meandering parkways, opting instead for quicker, cheaper, easier straight lines. David teamed up with Cathy and C.A.U.T.I.O.N (which later evolved into the Freedom Park Conservancy) to perfect the plans for beautification and has been involved ever since, helping to give us the prideful park we have today. David and Gene discuss the design of the Freedom Park, the ongoing programming, and art in the park.
And speaking about art in the park, Gene speaks with Patricia Kerlin, responsible for helping to bring significant sculptures to Freedom Park and representing the Atlanta Public Arts Legacy Fund (APAL) which oversaw the maintenance of much of the public art on Freedom Park after the Olympics. Kerlin, an architect, brings her insight and her opinion to some of the park’s greatest pieces, some of its more controversial installments like 54 Columns by Sol LeWitt, and of course the lasting legacy of gateway pieces like “Homage to King” in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and “The Bridge” by Thornton Dial in honor of the contributions of Congressman John Lewis.
We’re also honored to have on our show this month, City of Atlanta Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, George Dusenbury, adding valuable insight and expertise to the discussion about Freedom Park and our city’s park program en masse. Prior to his role with the city, Dusenbury was heavily involved with the Freedom Park Conservancy and Park Pride among others. In addition to overseeing all of Atlanta’s 348 parks, plus the creation of new parks from efforts like the Atlanta BeltLine and others, Dusenbury also takes time to enjoy, riding his bike through Freedom Park to the Capitol several days per week.
So, now that you’ve read a little more about this important effort and amazing park, tune in to hear the full story from our experts. Oh, and get out on the path for a walk, a jog, a bike ride, or just to see some great art in Atlanta’s largest public green space.