With Thanksgiving and another holiday season here, I’m reflecting upon my years in Atlanta. Reading about the great careers of Herman J. Russell and Carl Sanders after their recent deaths led me to think about the city’s history and future.

I arrived in Atlanta too late to experience much of the sweeping changes of the 1960s. Sanders as a young progressive governor and Russell as a dynamic black business leader were among those who joined together to give Atlanta an ideal of racial tolerance and business vitality.

The legacy of the 1960s remained strong in the city I came to more than 30 years ago, pointing toward an even brighter future. Working downtown, I often deposited my paycheck at Mills B. Lane Jr.’s C&S Bank at Broad and Marietta, feeling a connection with history and its continuity whenever I walked into the ornate building’s classic lobby. Lane had retired, but his influence on the city still pulsed.

I shopped at Rich’s downtown – I still have a table purchased at the department store that once defined Atlanta’s retail culture. Atlantans gathered downtown on Thanksgiving evening for the annual Christmas tree lighting at Rich’s. The yuletide lights shone into the cold and darkness from atop the walkway that connected the department store’s two proud buildings.

Other landmarks of Atlanta’s history remained. The Ivan Allen Co. still operated a store downtown. The office products firm was another of Atlanta’s civic and commercial pillars. Company owner Ivan Allen Jr. as Atlanta’s major set a tone of racial tolerance, and with the help of a loan from Lane’s bank, rapidly built Atlanta-Fulton County stadium to attract the Braves and Falcons. 

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