FULTON COUNTY, Ga. (CBS46) – For decades, photographer Sue Ross captured the vibrancy of the West End, especially its community pride. One of her favorites photos shows then-Mayor Andrew Young and former councilman Thomas Cuffie all smiles following a park clean up.
“We came out here and took some pictures in the park, on the swings and you know just showing the public that we can have a good time in west end park,” she said.
The photo is now memorialized on the walls of the historic Hammonds House Museum as part of an interactive exhibit celebrating the neighborhood. Artist Shanequa Gay said she wanted to preserve the character and history of the neighborhood through the stories of the people that live there.
“I think preservation is important and I do understand change is key,” said Gay. “But there is something beautiful about this area, about the West End. Outside of this scholarship, religion, there are memories here.”
Gay, who grew up in college park, fell in love with the West End as a child where she was a fixture at her grandmother's house on Oak Street.
“I feel like I received a cultural shifting when I came to the West End. Which was kind of amazing. I learned a lot of what Atlanta represented,” she said. “I wanted to be able to reflect the people I grew up with.”
The brightly painted walls feature the community's themes as a religious hub - with the Nation of Islam selling bean pies – to academia with an homage to the Atlanta University System with former professor and civil rights legend W.E.B. Du Bois painted as a drum major.
And then there's the street life with the water boys who greet drivers off the interstate to a room dedicated to community giants like activist Rev. Albert Cleage, founder of the Shrine of the black Madonna.
Gay said the ‘Lit without Sherman’ exhibit is a play on words referencing General William Sherman’s Union troops capturing Atlanta during the Civil War and burning it down.
The exhibition will be featured in a book for purchase to be published next year.
“Atlanta was lit but the West End is lit without Sherman – that it was not burned down,” she said.
Gay wants visitors to walk away with a greater appreciation about the West End's rich heritage.
“I think it's important to speak about how wonderful the West End is right now in this moment of a change of shift happening. One so that we have a dialogue later,” she said.
“Lit without Sherman: A Love Letter to the West End” runs through Dec. 22 at the Hammonds House Museum, click here for more details.