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Georgia’s Famous Figures

Blacka nd white photo of James Brown

As Georgia is often considered the home of the civil rights movement, it will come as no surprise as many of the leaders of the movement came from our beautiful state. Many would argue that it’s also the epicenter of soul and funk music, producing numerous world-renowned musicians that have pioneered styles and influenced generations for years to come.

Martin Luther King Jr.

The name Martin Luther King Jr. is almost synonymous with Atlanta. We are certainly proud to say he was born, raised, and is buried in Atlanta. Sweet Auburn, the area where he grew up, and the historic districts included in the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park were central to the lives of African Americans in the city in the 19th and 20th centuries. This area is not only significant to the backstory of the icon of the civil rights movement, but also to a whole community of Black Georgians.

The legacy left behind by the Nobel Peace Prize winner is celebrated at the National Historical Park. With access to his childhood home, the church where King was baptized and gave his first sermon, and The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, visitors can truly walk in the footsteps of a man who changed so much for so many.

At Roundabout Atlanta, the National Historical Park is an important stop on our Atlanta Black History & Civil Rights Tour. Join us to learn how King and others have contributed to the fight for racial equality, an ever-important topic.

Little Richard

The iconic “Architect of Rock ‘N’ Roll” who inspired countless musicians was born right here in Georgia. His hits “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” are named by musicians such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding (another Georgia citizen), and Elton John as having shaped their own musical styles. In addition to inspiring other artists with his music, his flamboyant dress sense paved the way for future icons such as Prince.

Starting out like so many singing gospel in church, he went on to use this style in his unique take on rock ’n’ roll. He broke down boundaries as one of the first Black artists to bridge the gap of segregation as his music was widely played among both white and Black communities. His disregard for sexual stereotypes was another example of his tendency to defy restrictive social norms.

Jimmy Carter

The 39th President of the USA built his career around his dedication to the state of Georgia. He served as both Georgia state senator (1963-67) and Georgia governor (1971-75).

Known for his own part in the civil rights movement, in his inaugural address as governor in January 1971, he said “the time of racial discrimination is over. … No poor, rural, weak, or black person should ever have to bear the additional burden of being deprived of the opportunity for an education, a job or simple justice.” His entrance to office marked the emergence of a “New South”, a progressive attitude noted by Time magazine.

Margaret Mitchell

The author of Gone With the Wind was described by Harry Truman to be “an eternal book”. The world-renowned novel received as much criticism for its depiction of slavery as it did praise for its storytelling. It has come to influence many peoples’ perception of the American Civil War, another contested issue due to the fictionalization of many aspects of history. The stories passed down to her by relatives inspired her to set her only novel in Georgia.

Join Roundabout Atlanta to visit the museum in the house where she wrote the book. The first-floor apartment which she nicknamed “the Dump” has been converted into a museum where visitors can explore the controversies that her book and the film brought up.

Tyler Perry

Although not born in Georgia, Atlanta is now where he calls home. The actor, writer, producer, and director is famed for his television series, plays, and character Madea. Perry chose Atlanta as the site for his film and TV studios. A  major film studio, it is one of the largest in the country and showcases forty buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, twelve purpose-built sound stages, 200 acres of green space, and a diverse backlot.

Perry’s studios and the director himself showcase Black talent. His purchase of the studios in 2015 has opened up filmmaking away from the Hollywood saturated market, bringing it over to Atlanta, creating space for budding actors, directors, and writers who don’t fit into the Hollywood system. We explore Perry’s role within the context of Black culture in our Atlanta Black History & Civil Rights Tour.

Ray Charles

The pioneer of soul music was in fact born in Albany, Georgia. A city that commemorates him with the Ray Charles Plaza at the center of which stands a revolving bronze statue of him. Despite growing up just over the border in Florida, the Peach State had a strong influence over the musician, demonstrated in his no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, “Georgia on My Mind”.

Throughout the 50s he experimented with mixing R & B, gospel, jazz, and blues to create a groundbreaking new sound. Frank Sinatra named Charles “The only true genius in our business”. He is yet another Georgia citizen who stood up to the injustices of segregation. In 1961 he was due to perform at a dance at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta. Charles canceled the performance after discovering that Black attendees would be confined to the balcony and the dance floor would be open only to white people.

James Brown

Despite the “Godfather of Soul” starting out his life in South Carolina, we Georgians can undoubtedly claim him as one of our own due to him having spent most of his childhood in Georgia. “The Father of Funk” has a statue in his hometown of Augusta. In this very city, he learned to play the piano, guitar, and harmonica to entertain servicemen in the hope of getting a few coins out of them.

An hour and a half outside of Atlanta lies the city of Toccoa, where Brown was imprisoned for robbery. During his three-year incarceration, he formed a gospel group that attracted the attention of Bobby Byrd. Brown joined Byrd’s band and the group even played for Little Richard who was a big influence on Brown’s music.

We hope we wet your appetite with all the fascinating and trailblazing figures that come from Georgia. If you would like to find out more about some of the people we mention in this article or visit any of the places we reference, why not get in touch? We offer custom tours around Atlanta where we build an itinerary around your interests!

– your Roundabout Atlanta team

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