Historic Black District in Atlanta Tops Endangered List

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Atlanta's Auburn Avenue commercial district, once the heart of the nation's black business community, is lined with historic treasures such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth house -- and also with crumbling, boarded-up buildings.

That makes it the most recognizable and jarring of the places listed statewide as "in peril" in a report released Monday by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, the nation's largest nonprofit state preservation group.

While thriving black-owned businesses from the 1920s to the 1950s earned the mile-and-a-half-long stretch the nickname "the richest Negro street in the world," many middle-class and wealthy residents left after desegregation in the 1960s.

With homelessness and crime rampant, activists started to try to revitalize the historic houses, but the commercial district on the avenue's west end has lagged behind.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which releases an annual list of America's 11 most endangered historic places, has long sought to protect black heritage in the South -- putting on its list all historic black churches in the region in 1996 and all black colleges and universities in 1998.

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