Atlanta neighborhood remembered for historical significance - New York News

Atlanta neighborhood remembered for historical significance

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ATLANTA -

Back in the days of segregated Atlanta, decent housing was difficult to find. A city alderman, a developer and several community organizers put their heads together to form a neighborhood of their own.

Collier Heights is nestled in northwest Atlanta, just 12 minutes from downtown. That's where Atlanta builder Herman Russell built his dream home.

"He wanted to build his dream home and through the network of black professionals that he was a part of," said Michael Russell.

In 1998, Michael moved back into the home with his wife and two sons. The six-bedroom house sits on two acres, complete with a basketball court, tennis court and a large entertainment space. It also includes an indoor pool that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was known to swim in.

"During that era...blacks couldn't go to the Hyatt and Marriott where we all go now to entertain," said Michael Turner.

History books said that nowhere else in the nation were African-Americans developing their own communities like the one in Collier Heights. Vernell Hall, now 92, was there.

"When I came out here, Baker Road all over in there, Bankhead Highway -- it was all white. All of that area was white," Hall said.

Tired of moving from place to place, the then-Atlanta school teacher gave her husband a pretty stiff ultimatum.

"We had been trying to find a place that we could be comfortable in," she said. "I told him that we would either have to get a place to call our own or I was going back home to Americus."

The cluster of subdivisions that formed Collier Heights was founded in 1948 or 1949. Hall still lives in the same ranch home almost 60 years later.

Dr. Louis Reese bought into the Collier Heights concept as well.

"I was the first black ophthalmologist in Georgia," Reese said.

Reese and his family moved in 1956. The still-practicing 90-year-old ophthalmologist says segregation led him to Collier Heights.

"For those who remember those days down Hunter Street until you got to the bridge and then it turned to white only on the other side of the railroad bridge," Reese said.

Lena Webb used to be a tour guide for the historic community. Her parents bought a house in the 1960s that she still lives in today.

"Most of the homes were built by blacks for blacks. That was the selling point I guess, in the tours I use to do," Webb said.

Now the nation has recognized the significance of what happened in Atlanta 65 years ago. In 2009, Collier Heights was added to the National Registry of Historic Places.

Homeowners beamed with pride.

"I'm proud. I've always been proud of the neighborhood. It's really interesting and deserving that this neighborhood with all the history that it has been recognized for what it is: a unique neighborhood developed by African-Americans and has maintained its African-American heritage," said Michael Russell.

Collier Heights is now applying for designation as a historic neighborhood in the city of Atlanta. Homeowners say if that happens, the neighborhood can never be torn down.

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