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Sacred Spaces: Atlanta

The Temple - Hebrew Benevolent Congregation (Credit: Deirdre Colgan)

The Temple - Hebrew Benevolent Congregation (Credit: Deirdre Colgan)

Introduction
Named "Standing Peach Tree," by the Native American Creek and Cherokee Indians, what is now Atlanta was a landmark amidst waterways used to navigate the region. We found only the imprint of Peachtree Creek, which remains visible in the palimpsest of the city. Today, roads named Peachtree wind through and around the monuments that we have selected for our focus in this guide to sacred spaces.

"Progress" literally railroaded into the city around 1840, and Atlanta would soon become the name of this terminus, the feminine form of the burgeoning Western & Atlantic Railroad. In its wake the water disappeared underground along with the city's original inhabitants. When Cherokee and Creek Indians were violently removed from this "Enchanted Land," their religion was also taken away. An Emory University bookstore assistant conveyed to us that "in America, people don't like to use the term 'Ethnic Cleansing' -- but that is exactly what happened in this area in the 19th century." This is shocking information to absorb.

As the city developed, neighborhoods were segregated under stifling Jim Crow laws. This chasm was bridged by the efforts of activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. "Sweet Auburn" was then thriving, and neighborhood churches served as de facto community meeting spaces, within the landscape of segregation. Once freed from their societal bonds, connections binding fellow outsiders began to unravel. Formerly thriving theatres and performance venues are now shuttered. We want to question: how does a city preserve a site of conscience like this, sacralized to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., who decides how it happens, and at what expense? We were underwhelmed and believe there could be a much better active solution honoring King's memory.

Cannon Chapel @Emory University ( by architect Paul Rudolph) (Credit: Deirdre Colgan)

Cannon Chapel @Emory University ( by architect Paul Rudolph) (Credit: Deirdre Colgan)

The spaces we chose to feature in this selection are those where we found a willingness to discuss the transformation of this American city. Each offers a space of healing, cultivating resources for residents and visitors alike.

Deirdre Colgan
Executive Director, Sacred Space International
Chicago, 2010

Download the Atlanta Sacred Spaces Guide
The guide includes maps and three suggested tour routes. The following Sacred Spaces are featured:
• Al-Farooq Masjid of Atlanta
• Central Presbyterian Church
• Ebenezer Baptist Church
• Emory University Cannon Chapel
• First Church of Christ, Scientist
• First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta
• Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site
• Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
• The Temple -- Hebrew Benevolent Congregation
• Wheat Street Baptist Church

Download the Atlanta guide here (PDF).

Tell us about your experience on the tour or your favorite Sacred Space in Atlanta. Create a page in the God in America Faithbook or submit a video to WGBH Lab's Open Call or leave us a comment below.

About Sacred Space International
Sacred Space International was founded in 2002 by Suzanne Morgan to promote interfaith education and dialogue through the understanding of religious architecture. Morgan, a retired architect with expertise in liturgical design, started the organization in response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent climate of social tension, cultural misunderstanding and fear. She conceived the idea of religious architecture as a catalyst for interfaith dialogue and education. Without promoting any single faith or tradition, the organization seeks to use the common language of architecture as an educational means to foster reciprocal respect, awareness and appreciation of the different traditions that comprise our pluralistic society.

Visit Sacred Space International's website for more information.

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Major funding for God in America provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John E. Fetzer Institute, Inc.  Additional funding provided by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. God in America is produced for PBS by WGBH Boston.
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Published October 11, 2010

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