A Look Back: This Month In Atlanta History

Sarah Bernhartd
Sarah Bernhartd in La Dame Aux Camelias

By Ann Taylor Boutwell

Feb. 5, 1932: The Women’s Interracial Committee of Atlanta met in Egleston Hall at North Avenue and West Peachtree Street. Atlanta University and Spelman College faculty gave presentations on African American achievements in art and poetry. Founded in 1921, the women’s committee evolved from the Atlanta-based Commission on Interracial Cooperation founded in 1919. It opposed lynching, mob violence, peonage, and focused on educating white southerners on the worst aspects of racial abuse. In 1944, the interracial committees merged with the Southern Regional Council, created by black and white, male and female leaders.

Feb. 12, 1946: Atlanta native Helen Douglas Mankin, a 49-year-old attorney and graduate of Washington Seminary, won a special election becoming the first woman from Georgia elected to Congress. Mankin defeated 17 male opponents winning the Fifth District seat in the House of Representative by a narrow margin – a margin accounted for by the African American vote. It was the first time African Americans in the 20th century had exercised influence on the balance of power in a Georgia election. In 2007, her name was honored as a Georgia Woman of Achievement.

Feb. 16, 1881: The West Point train from Mobile pulled into the carshed at Atlanta’s Union Depot. Aboard, ensconced in a private curtained car, was the legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923). While the troupe had nearby hotel accommodations, the 37-year-old celebrity remained in her car parked alongside the carshed. Later, a carriage took her to DeGive’s Opera on Marietta Street where she portrayed the role of Marguerite Gautier in Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame Aux Camelias (The Lady of the Camellias).

The roller coaster at the old Lakewood Fairgrounds  is imploded during "Smokey and the Bandit II"
The Greyhound roller coaster at the old Lakewood Fairgrounds is imploded during “Smokey and the Bandit II”

Feb. 19, 1980: At the old Lakewood Fairgrounds in southeast Atlanta, the 64-year-old “Greyhound” roller coaster was demolished for a sequence in the film “Smokey and the Bandit II.” The 2,950 foot roller coaster stood 60 feet high and contained over 2000,000 feet of oak and pine. “Greyhound” made its first run at Lakewood in 1915 and closed in 1974.

Feb. 23, 1965: Jack Googer becomes the first African American to eat peacefully in Lester Maddox’s former Pickrick Restaurant (now the Gateway Cafeteria) Two weeks earlier, Maddox had closed the Pickrick when the Federal court ruled that he would be fined $200 a day under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if he continued to turn blacks away.

Dr. Dwelle
Dr. Dwelle

Feb. 27, 1883: Born in Albany, Ga., Dr. Georgia Rooks Dwelle was the daughter of Eliza Dickerson and Rev. George Henry Dwelle, former slaves. In 1904, when Dwelle earned a liberal arts degree from Atlanta’s Spelman College, she became the school’s first graduate to enter medical school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville. Dwelle returned to her home state and received the highest score on the Georgia State Medical Board examination that year. She became one of only three African American women physicians in Georgia at that time, and practiced in Augusta for two years before moving back to Atlanta in 1906 to set up an obstetrical and pediatrics practice.

Ann Boutwell 3Historian Ann Taylor Boutwell is a docent at the Margaret Mitchell House & Museum. Contact her at annboutwell@bellsouth.net.

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