The budding October chill signals a final battle in Atlanta on the horizon. It is one tortuous fight between those Atlantans whose memories of summer heat stay long implanted in their heads and the obvious mounting of leaves converting to the autumn army. The last and final push for Summer’s nostalgia to reign comes in the form of the Sweet Auburn festival.
Each year, the festival swells with over 300,000 visitors over the course of the weekend (October 1-2). Aesthetically, the mass is diverse, but the majority of the festival goers are black people, seeking refuge in diverse culinary bites, including turkey legs, funnel cakes, and seafood; recycled African art standards; and sound bites from local music artists. Not to mention the temperature from the last roar of summer, heat from the mass of bodies, and the everlasting gob of people watching.
Attending Sweet Auburn, to be quite blunt, offers nothing excitingly new or renewed each year. The structure of the festival is quite linear and offers no dynamism for the lengthy trek from King’s home to the intersection of Auburn Avenue and Piedmont. However, that perhaps is the greatest, sweetest thing about the Sweet Auburn festival. The tried and true are the strong.
John Wesley Dobbs said of Auburn Avenue that the money made it sweet during its height in the early 20th century. And that’s why people called it Sweet Auburn, because of “The Grand”, as Dobbs was affectionately called, and after a poem by Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village (1770):
Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain, Where health and plenty cheer’d the laboring swain…
According to the Spirit of Sweet Auburn, a number of Atlanta corporations, prominent companies and historical organizations rest their companies’ heads on the comfort of Sweet Auburn. And since 1880, black people and organizations in Atlanta have prospered on this street, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, True Colors Theatre Company, National Black Arts Festival, Royal Peacock, Ebenezer Baptist Church, 100 Black Men of Atlanta, et. al. And lest I neglect the birth home of the recently Washington, DC memorialized and infinitely, historically relevant Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rests on the sweet street as well.
As a native Atlantan and babe of the elders of this city, this state, Auburn Avenue and its cohorts have stayed strong through numerous forms of social, political, and economic climates. Regardless if the style ever changes, or if they always sell vendor licenses to the same funnel cake makers, you witness performances from artists you’ve never seen in the city in all of your time here, Sweet Auburn remains tangibly and intangibly sweet.