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Defining Atlanta From Voices in Its Past

Narrative about two Atlanta mayors elucidates the role of race in Olympic city

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Standing before the Olympics selection committee in Tokyo six years ago, then Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson delivered a brief speech in a last-ditch effort to convince officials the Southern city should be selected to host the 1996 Centennial Games.

"Atlanta stands before the world a miracle modern city rebuilt from the rubble of war," the mayor said. "With the Phoenix as our official symbol, we are a city risen from the nineteenth-century ashes of a tragic, earth-scorching conflict as old as the earth is old and as new as today's headlines. Peace, justice, tolerance, human rights, new moral values, understanding between people of different races and cultures. Atlanta ... is the embodiment of the Olympic ideal."

As the world gets ready to focus its attention on Atlanta this July, visitors and viewers will likely see some evidence of Jackson's words: a modern metropolis that has sprouted gleaming buildings, built a maze of freeways, and earned a reputation for its racial harmony and expanding black middle class.

Indeed, the issue of race, more than anything, has molded and shaped Atlanta. But to really understand its impact, one must go beyond observations or a museum visit to the pages of literature. Now joining the books that elucidate the role of race is Gary M. Pomerantz's "Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn," a skillfully written 656-pager that at least one Atlanta newspaper columnist calls required reading for journalists heading here to cover the city and the Olympic Games.

Pomerantz, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, tells the story of Atlanta through the family histories of two mayors - the white Ivan Allen Jr. and the city's first black mayor, Maynard Jackson.

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