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New commission will aim to honor downtown’s lost ‘Lightning’ neighborhood

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Long after the community was demolished, the Atlanta City Council is looking for ways to somehow remember it

An exterior shot of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium overlooks the former grounds of Atlanta’s Lightning neighborhood.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the City of Atlanta slowly bought up parcels of land, buildings, and homes on Atlanta’s near Westside to pave the way for construction of the Georgia Dome and a Georgia World Congress Center expansion.

In doing so, though, it erased Lightning, one of the city’s oldest African-American working-class communities.

For the city, it wasn’t long before the adage “Out of sight, out of mind” rang true in regards to the neighborhood and its residents.

On Monday, though, the Atlanta City Council began the process of permanently resurrecting the memory of Lightning.

Councilmembers voted in favor of creating a commission to come up with an appropriate manner to honor the lost neighborhood.

The oft-rowdy community has a strong legacy of historic churches and residents, and many still have vivid recollections of the life and people who made the Lightning what it was, as thoroughly chronicled by The Bitter Southerner earlier this year. (Some say the neighborhood’s name is a reference to “White Lightning” moonshine, while others think it stems from residents’ quickness at drawing knives in skirmishes.)

Yet, unlike the relatively young 27-year-old Georgia Dome, Lightning has received no formal recognition or historical marker.

While the council’s ordinance doesn’t specifically call for a historical marker, it does say the neighborhood “should be commemorated both for the community it was and the cautionary tale it became for the price of urban progress.”

It also states former Lightning residents “wish to finally have their neighborhood’s legacy preserved and recognized.”

When that actually will happen, though, is anyone’s guess.

Although the seven-person commission has been created, the ordinance provides no additional details such as a timeframe for taking and considering recommendations or a deadline for voting on or approving any formal recognition of Lightning.