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Atlanta's Dark History Brings Up Development Quandry

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Site along the Chattahoochee River a grim reminder of Atlanta's regrettable past

Atlanta's history is a complex web of half-forgotten pasts, memories many may want to forget, and stories important to remember, all colliding in places few rarely give a second (or even first) thought.

Now, a site that holds a particularly unpleasant history is the focus of a recent WABE report highlighting the atrocities that occurred there more than a century ago. Efforts are materializing to recognize the historic significance of the industrial lot along the Chattahoochee as it faces development.

Back in the 1800s, the Chattahoochee Brick Company, owned by a former Atlanta mayor, partook in the common practice of utilizing convict labor. While the facility produced hundreds of thousands of bricks a day, it also claimed incredibly high mortality rates, tantamount to a "death camp," according to author and scholar Douglas Blackmon, as WABE reports. There are no marked graves on the site, but many historians acknowledge the site is likely the final resting place of many who succumbed to the conditions.

According to Blackmon, many of the convicts were black — and many of them were serving time for petty crimes, such as vagrancy.

The site has been abandoned since 2011, when a brick company (not related to the Chattahoochee Brick Company) shuttered and was torn down. Soon after, the conservation organization Trust for Public Land attempted to purchase the property and turn it into a public park, but the deal ultimately fell through.

Now, a biofuel shipping company plans to turn the land into a production facility, but many feel that recognition of the forgotten history should trump the industrial zoning of the site. The city has acknowledged its support for the creation of an educational memorial and parkland, but time will only tell what happens to the site.