Posted by Jason Kaplan on

In 1836, the Georgia General Assembly decided to build a railroad that could link Savannah, GA to the U.S. Midwest. A location was chosen as the line's terminus and a stake marked "Terminus" was driven into the ground (now called the Zero Mile Post). A few years later, homes and stores were built around the post and the settlement grew. Between 1845 and 1854, four additional rail lines arrived, and before long, the rapidly growing town became a rail hub for the entire Southern United States.

Today, the Zero Mile Post is what we call Atlanta—the first great American city to be located near zero major waterways.

But Atlanta is significantfor more than just its origin story. During the Civil War, Atlanta served as animportant railroad and military supply hub for the Confederate Army. As aresult, many factories were built to support the manufacturing need, which madeit a major target for Union troops.

The first truefactory was a sawmill, opened in 1844 by Jonathan Norcross. (A future mayor ofAtlanta.) By 1860, the city had four large machine shops, two planing mills,three tanneries, two shoe factories, a soap factory, and clothing factories.

These factories were crucialto the economic development of the south. But they also had a dark side.

Being a confederate city,about 20% of the population was enslaved. Consequently, many factory workerswere unpaid slaves—forging the very materials used in the fight against theirfreedom.

Ultimately, the Uniontroops overwhelmed the Confederate troops, and in 1864, Atlanta was evacuatedand destroyed

From the ashes, Atlantawas rebuilt from the ground up. Freed slaves flocked to the city in search ofopportunity and the population increased rapidly. As a result, Atlanta became amajor center for education, business and industry—particularly among black Americans.

In the 1900s, Atlantaserved as a major organizing center for the Civil Rights Movement, led by Dr.Martin Luther King and students from Atlanta's universities. Through peacefulsit-ins, marches, and protests—the nation paid attention, and some of the firstexamples of desegregation occurred in Atlanta.

Though Atlanta often founditself on the wrong side of history—where most saw ashes, leaders in the citysaw opportunity. Those who shaped the city through good and bad, and theirbeliefs, are an important part of American history—and should not be forgotten.

Visit American FieldAtlanta on October 31-November 1.

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