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Rebecca Burns

Rebecca Burns
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Rebecca Burns has more than 20 years experience covering Atlanta. A veteran journalist and editor, she is also the author of three books on Atlanta history. She teaches at the University of Georgia and frequently speaks to college classes and civic groups.

Waffle House real estate could be yours, for a price

There are many reasons to love Waffle House—smothered hash browns, late-night hours, cheery waitstaff—but the architecture? Amanda Kolson Hurley of the Atlantic’s CityLab recently paid tribute to the chain’s blocky, big-windowed outposts, the 1955 vision of Georgia Tech alum Clifford Nahser. Wrote Hurley, “At truck stops and strip malls all over the country, we still need that shot of primary color, a no-frills design that has stood up so well for six decades.” Hurley and other fans of the WaHo aesthetic can take heart: The company maintains a real estate sideline, connecting buyers and sellers of Waffle House properties. This summer, for instance, a 1,700-square-foot outpost on Main Street in Snellville was on the market for $225,000. With their open kitchens and airy interiors, WaHos might seem ripe for conversion to lofts, but if you want to live in one, prepare for rezoning. A common request is “those who want us to build near them,” says spokesperson Kelly Thrasher. If you hanker to live next door to a Waffle House, the company is selling a lot adjacent to one on Bells Ferry Road in Kennesaw for $125,000.

This article originally appeared in our August 2015 issue.

Destination: New Orleans

New Orleans
Photograph by iStockphoto.com

An idiosyncratic mélange of Native American, African, French, and Spanish cultures, New Orleans venerates voodoo queens, jazz musicians, and enterprising chefs. The defining civic characteristic: resilience. The city has withstood pestilence, war, occupation, and—devastatingly—Hurricane Katrina, which in 2005 flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and exposed stark social and economic inequality. In the decade since, landmarks and homes have been restored or rebuilt, but the storm’s aftermath remains evident. “If New Orleans is not fully in the mainstream of culture, neither is it fully in the mainstream of time. It lives somewhere between its past and its future,” wrote Tom Robbins in 1984, an observation that still rings true as the city marks a momentous anniversary.

Where to stay
Canal Street’s grand Roosevelt, in service since 1893, reopened in 2009 after a $145 million restora­tion (from $189). For history on a more intimate scale, 18-room Hotel St. Helene dates to the early 1800s (from $119).

Commander's Palace New Orleans
Photograph courtesy of Commander’s Palace

Where to eat
In April, St. Roch Market opened in a historic fish market that had been shuttered since Katrina. Vendors include a creperie and a full-service bar for booze—and one for oysters. In an 1880 mansion, Commander’s Palace oozes old-South charm and has launched star chefs like Emeril. Top-notch service provides as much pleasure as the zesty gumbo and decadent crème brûlée. Snag balcony seating at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau, which offers Creole fare and atmosphere to spare.

New Orleans Carousel Bar
Photograph courtesy of Hotel Monteleone

Where to drink
In a city that eschews open container laws, the better question is, where not to drink? Bourbon Street stands serve 32-ounce Mai Tais, and almost every bar offers cocktails to go. But for real excess, hop on the slowly revolving Carousel Bar & Lounge in the Hotel Monteleone. With its blinking lights and hand-painted animal likenesses, it seems to spin faster the closer you get to the bottom of that Sazerac.

Amtrack New Orleans
Photograph by iStockphoto.com

Getting there
Amtrak’s Crescent runs daily from New York to New Orleans through Atlanta. Board at Brookwood in the morning; exit on Loyola Avenue in time for dinner. Although railway travel takes a few hours longer than driving, it offers the chance to stretch your legs or enjoy lunch or cocktails in the dining car. The 518-mile journey across the Coosa River and through the Talladega National Forest ends with a spectacular finish as you cross Lake Pont­chartrain. Tip: Travel there by train and fly back (from $60 one-way).

What to see
Post-Katrina flooding left 95 percent of 1,300-acre City Park submerged in saltwater, causing millions of dollars in damage. One of the largest and oldest U.S. urban parks, it houses waterways, biking trails, an old-fashioned amusement park, and the New Orleans Museum of Art, now exhibiting Ten Years Gone, works by six artists exploring how communities recover after dis­asters.

Cafe Du Monde New Orleans
Photograph by Lauren Taylor Watt

Souvenir
A jolt of the java beloved since 1862. cafedumonde.com

This article originally appeared in our August 2015 issue.

What has Atlanta Public Schools learned from the cheating scandal?

Cheating scandal
Photograph by Wedig and Laxton

A bright banner hanging above the schoolhouse door reads: “Congratulations: Most Improved Test Scores.” And for Hope-Hill Elementary School on Boulevard, compliments are in order. The school’s rating on the state College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) rose 20 points—a 44 percent jump between 2013 and 2014, the biggest surge for any school in the Atlanta Public Schools system. This is all the more impressive considering that Hope-Hill, where 95 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, was slated for closure a few years ago due to low performance and dropping attendance.

A decade ago, stellar turnarounds such as this earned APS national praise. But now—in the wake of a cheating scandal that resulted in a trial, convictions, and TV footage of former educators handcuffed and headed for jail—gains at APS seem to come with an asterisk: Are they too good to be true?

“It makes me sad that we even have to ask that question,” says Maureen Wheeler, who became Hope-Hill’s principal two years ago. “We have done a heavy lift in two years, but that thought is still looming out there.”

Wheeler implemented a school-wide improvement program focused on teacher training. She upended conventional classroom methods and now has teachers specialize by subject, which usually doesn’t happen until middle school. “It’s been a lot of hard work,” she says.

And though no misdeeds were reported at Hope-Hill during the cheating investigation, Wheeler proactively implemented strict protocols during testing periods. She removes herself from the testing environment so she won’t seem to be interfering. Test materials are monitored at all times. Everyone clears the building at 3 p.m. (Testimony by staff at schools where fraud happened revealed after-hours “cheating parties,” during which teachers gathered to erase and correct wrong answers on tests.)

At the macro level, APS still faces the shadow of the cheating debacle. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen took over last year, filling the position that had been vacated by Beverly Hall, who was indicted along with 34 subordinates but died of cancer before the trial’s end. Addressing the APS board in January while the trial was underway, Carstarphen said it was “no secret” that APS “has a tarnished reputation for its adult culture,” adding, “we are going to have to earn that back and establish a clear child-centered agenda.”

Carstarphen and the APS staff face a twofold challenge: implementing real improvements in a scandal-rocked system that underperforms most of the state, and finding ways to help students who were harmed by the systematic cheating of years past.

Maria Carstarphen
Heading into her second year at the helm of APS, Maria Carstarphen emphasizes a “child-centered agenda.”

Photograph by Ben Rollins

To achieve the former, APS instituted ethics training programs—100 percent of staff had taken part by December 2014—and Carstarphen replaced teachers and principals. She might have to shuffle more staff: This summer the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the principal of South Atlanta School of Law and Social Justice, a “theme” high school, faced allegations of falsifying more than 100 report cards, eliminating Fs from student transcripts. (The principal’s contract has not been renewed.)

“When recovering from a crisis, three things are essential: communicate, be transparent, and be visible,” says Barbara S. Gainey, a crisis communication expert and chair of the communication department at Kennesaw State University. On these measures, APS’s new regime flubbed the latest scandal; reportedly, the administration knew about the faked grades for almost a full academic year before the newspaper reported on them. After the news broke, Carstarphen dragged her heels talking to the AJC or other media. (She declined an interview request for this story, only forwarding statements through the APS press office.)

Such a lack of transparency in the wake of a new scandal could undermine APS’s efforts to rehabilitate itself after the old one. “While a crisis is something we tend to see as negative, it’s also an opportunity to do something positive, make changes that are needed, and talk about those changes. You can learn from your mistakes,” says Gainey.

APS is attempting to learn from the 2009 scandal. It commissioned an independent study by Georgia State University researchers, whose analysis demonstrated that more than half of the students in APS classes flagged for high numbers of test score erasures and corrections (i.e., signs of cheating) in the 2008–09 school year were still APS students in the fall of 2014. There was “robust evidence” that for those 3,728 students, cheating led to later problems with English and language arts, according to GSU professor Tim Sass, who headed the study. Negative effects of cheating on math tests were “mixed,” according to Sass and his team, whose analysis also revealed that teachers were more likely to correct tests by the less able students, compounding the chance that those students would fall behind. And teachers were most likely to cheat on tests by African American students.

APS began a “remediation” program in the 2009–10 school year, after test erasure cheating was first revealed. The program provided help to every student who scored low on that year’s tests, a system-wide effort that continued for a few more years, operating under the assumption that helping all struggling students would also benefit those who’d been “cheated.”

Future efforts will be more targeted. The GSU study spotlighted the students most likely to have been hurt by cheating—a cohort of seventh through 10th graders. APS is tailoring efforts to help that group, such as increasing evening and weekend tutoring and adding a dropout prevention program.

A fixation on testing and pressure to post ever higher scores spurred cheating in the first place. Students who “passed” tests and were promoted to higher grades without mastering course work or getting extra help experienced setbacks “equivalent to one to two times the difference between having a rookie teacher and a teacher with five years of experience,” according to the GSU researchers.

Billy Hungeling—chair of the Hope-Hill Foundation, which raises funds to support the school—says no one questions the progress the school has made, nor do they ignore how much further it has to go. “Cheating is not a concern I have heard,” he says. “But parents worry about the administration, APS system costs. They want the administration to get out of the way.”

Carstarphen has submitted a charter system application to the state, which would allow for more individual school autonomy. Meanwhile, Principal Wheeler says she’s thinking about the future, not past problems at APS. Her focus: improving daily instruction. While the school made gains, “our scores are not real strong,” she says. (Hope-Hill scored 63.2 points on the CCRPI assessment in 2014, while Mary Lin Elementary in Candler Park, two and a half miles away, scored 91.5.) “If we don’t focus on what happens in the classroom every day, the only ones we hurt are the kids,” Wheeler says.

Scorecard
Researchers at Georgia State University analyzed the results of APS classrooms with high levels of cheating in 2009 to track the ripple effect through fall 2014. What they learned about how cheating hurt students:

51%
of students in classes flagged for high erasure rates on the 2009 CRCT standardized tests were still enrolled in APS in fall 2014—5,888 students in total.

5% 
of English/language arts tests in 2009 had more than 15 wrong-to-right erasures. For math, the rate was more than double—11 percent.

98%
of students with 10 or more wrong-to-right erasures were black (the overall black enrollment of APS is 75 percent).

7,064
APS students likely had at least one test score changed on the 2009 CRCT.

25%
of students considered “off track” for graduation from high school in 2014 had tests that had been corrected at least 10 times in 2009.

This article originally appeared in our August 2015 issue.

A drone’s eye view of Sunrise Yoga at Avalon, Alpharetta

The center of a mixed-use development is not the first place one thinks of seeking enlightenment. But downward dog usurps shopping sprees during Sunrise Yoga classes on the grassy plaza of Avalon in Alpharetta. Early-morning and outdoor yoga classes have been held across Atlanta, from Woodruff Park to Centennial Park to the plaza at Atlantic Station. Namaste, y’all. Drone elevation: 94 feet

This article originally appeared in our August 2015 issue.

Why the Leo Frank lynching resonates a century later

Photograph courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center
Photograph courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center

In the early hours of August 17, 1915, Leo Frank, former manager of Atlanta’s National Pencil Company, was hung to death from a tree in Frey’s Grove, just outside Marietta and near the former home of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old National Pencil employee who had been murdered two years earlier. Frank had been found guilty of Phagan’s murder—and sentenced to death by hanging. The trial drew national attention fueled by a New York Times campaign claiming Frank’s innocence and counterattacks in the Jeffersonian, published by Georgia segregationist Tom Watson. Although the U.S. Supreme Court did not overturn Frank’s conviction, his sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment. It was from the state prison in Milledgeville that a group spirited Frank away and took it into their own hands to carry out the original sentence.

Steve Oney
Photograph by Kristen Buckingham

Steve Oney is the author of And The Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, the definitive (742 pages; 17 years of research) account of the Frank case. Oney, who has written about this grim episode of civic history for Atlanta magazine in the past, will speak about the impact of the Frank case in a Georgia Historical Society event at the Strand Theatre in Marietta on August 13 at 8 p.m.

We chatted with Oney about the lingering resonance of the Frank case and parallels between the social and political climate of Georgia in 1915 compared to today.

A century later, why does this case resonate so strongly?
The lynching resonates 100 years after the fact for a couple of reasons. One, there was never a lynching like the Leo Frank lynching. He was abducted from the state prison without a shot being fired and transported in the dead of night from Milledgeville to Marietta by a circuitous route and hanged the next morning at dawn. And except for losing a night’s sleep, no one involved was inconvenienced.

So the magnitude was great. Leo Frank was most likely the most famous prisoner in America at the time, and the case had been on the front pages of the newspaper for almost a year, and the people who did this did so with impunity. This was not just an assault on the county jail. This was really an assault on the state of Georgia and really on the very notion of civilization. And they got away with it.

And you can never forget the influence on two of the most antithetical organizations of the early 20th century. It revived the Ku Klux Klan—which held its first cross burning on the top of Stone Mountain shortly after the Frank lynching—and the Anti-Defamation League, which while founded in 1913, didn’t really have a sense of purpose, and the Leo Frank lynching gave it a sense of purpose.

Finally, our times today are not that different than in 1915. People in 1915 were anxious about the shift from the agrarian to the industrial age. People are anxious today about the shift from the industrial to the information age. And maybe more so, people in 1915 lived in competing media echo chambers–were there were two versions of the truth. In 1915 it was the New York Times versus the Jeffersonian, Tom Watson’s paper, and today it’s the mainstream media versus at times the highly partisan blogosphere.

Circling back to the sheer audacity of the lynching: Nobody  ever was charged. Your book clearly identifies members of the group behind it. How late is too late to prosecute?
You can’t prosecute the dead. In identifying and writing about them as carefully as I tried to–that’s as close as you can get to justice. They got away with it. It was a perfect crime. They got away with it in part because they scammed the system. They ran the coroner’s inquest, they ran the grand jury, and they essentially took over the state prison commission. There were no federal civil rights laws in 1915, there was barely an FBI; there was some precursor organization. Once a crime cleared a grand jury in whatever county it occurred in, it was done. Once Cobb County decided to indict no one in the lynching of Leo Frank, it was officially over.

It’s fascinating the way it was planned, the way that seven or eight leading citizens of Marietta put it together and delegated authority down the line and chose a group of lieutenants who actually ran the lynch party. The lieutenants chose the 20 or 30 guys who served as muscle. It was like the Raid on Entebbe; it was very well oiled machine.

As you note in the book and have discussed elsewhere—including a 2009 column for the Los Angeles Times—the Frank case was almost as much about class and economic inequality as racism and anti-Semitism. Do you see those themes playing out today in discussion about the symbolism of the Confederate flag and “heritage” versus fear of outsiders?
There is some of that. The Frank case was unusual in the South where race generally trumps class in these things. But the Frank case reversed that. The all-white jury was generally more sympathetic to Jim Conley, the state’s star black witness, than they were to the Cornell-educated defendant.

That’s one of the fascinating things about history. Who knows a hundred years from now what we accept as commonplace today will look strange? A hundred years ago, wealthy people in Atlanta thought that child labor was healthful for the child laborers, that it got them off the streets, that it provided an income, that it enhanced their lives. So someone like Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old who’d already been working a year or so in a factory, had no hope of going to high school—forget about college. She was a wage earner at age 13, and that was thought to be good.

Child labor was promoted by the Candlers, who owned the Coca-Cola Company, and really by the entire ruling class of Atlanta. But in the back of people’s minds, they knew it wasn’t good. That a crime like the murder of Mary Phagan at a child labor factory occurred, inflamed all of these usually unstated feelings.

Whether that could happen again, I don’t know. We are so distracted now as a nation. Even cases like Trayvon Martin, they have currency for a brief period and then they fade away. The Leo Frank case never faded away.

Is part of that due to the obvious fact that Leo Frank was white? In Georgia, 450 documented lynchings took place between the 1880s and 1930s—and 95 percent of the victims were black. Is part of the reason Frank was so famous because he was a white person?
I think that’s part of it. But the Frank case was different. Most lynchings happened almost simultaneously with the crime the victim was alleged to have committed. The Frank case took two years to play out. The Frank lynching was not a spontaneous outburst of mob hostility. It was a carefully orchestrated assault on the state prison by a number of powerful people who decided for a variety of reasons that they were going to lynch this guy. The reasons ranged from political to personal to anti-Semitism. A number of toxic influences dovetailed to concocting this outrageous plan.

It’s been more than 10 years since your book was released. What’s been the most consistent reaction? Has there been a reaction that surprised you?
Not yet. The people of Marietta were accepting of my presentation of the lynching. There has not been anyone yet to come forth to this day and say, “Dad didn’t do it,” or, “My granddad didn’t do it.” I thought there might be some pushback. That was one surprise.

The whole subject makes people uneasy. There are no winners in it; everything turns out wrong. Which is one of the reasons I’m interested in it. It defies expectations on a lot of levels. And as a consequence, the world of the South as it was in 1915 comes into complete relief.

For me, the Frank lynching is like a huge lightning bolt that lit up the skies of Georgia for a very brief period. During that time, things as they were stood in stark relief. Then the dark returned and life went on. That’s what drew me to writing the book: I saw the Frank case as a tool for illuminating the South from 1913 to 1915.

Is there a major point of the book that has been overlooked, or you don’t get asked about enough?
The state culpability in the Leo Frank lynching is a really big deal. I make the case in my book–it’s impossible to prove but I make a very strong case—that it was a state sponsored crime.

Prior to the Frank lynching, there was a typhus outbreak at the state prison. And the prison committee of the state legislature went down to Milledgeville to investigate. Suddenly the warden and the staff were on tenterhooks.

The prison committee was headed by John Tucker Dorsey of Marietta, and he was one of the planners of the lynching.

After the meeting between the committee and the prison officials, the typhus investigation went away and the legislature funded $30,000—which was a lot of money back then—for a new wing of the prison. I make the case in the book that this was a payoff for the warden and the others at the state prison to look the other way as the lynch party waltzed in—unopposed—and got Frank out of there without a shot being fired. They were gone within a half hour or maybe less.

To me that’s something that not enough attention has been paid to.

Also, I think Leo Frank was innocent, but there was some disturbing stuff. At least 10 girls—if you add up the coroner’s inquest and the trial testimony—testified to his so-called “bad character.” Were these all suggestible teenagers? Was it a case of mass hysteria like the Salem Witch Trials? Or was there something there? We’ll never know. But it’s bothersome.

It was only shortly after the Frank lynching that the KKK held a cross burning on Stone Mountain. This past weekend there was a Confederate flag rally at the mountain. As issues like this bring the South and Southern history back into the spotlight, has much changed in terms of media coverage of the South?
It’s somewhat the same. The Northern press coverage of the Frank case prior to the lynching really was overkill. Much of the coverage was biased—reporters didn’t even talk to the prosecutors or police—it was a foregone conclusion that Leo Frank was innocent. Today things are more complex.

But today there is a foregone conclusion from the outside that all Southern iconography is suspect. And I don’t think it is. The monuments of the South are not merely monuments to a corrupt and racist regime. They are about loss.

Hence, the easy assumption in press coverage today—that statuary should be taken down—reminds me a little of the easy assumptions made in covering the Frank case, that Leo Frank automatically was innocent when, in fact, there was a case against Leo Frank. It’s a subtle point to make.

Polarization is still there. The Frank case to me is ground zero for some of that.

It seems to me that the public in general equates the KKK with being anti-black and is less aware of its history of anti-Semitism. What’s your take on that?
A number of things went into the kickstarting of the modern Klan. In 1915, there was the Frank lynching and release of Birth of a Nation. A couple years later, when black troops came back after World War I, they’d had a taste of freedom in Europe and that was very threatening to people in the South.

I think most people think that the KKK was entirely anti-black. The revived KKK of 1915 was as anti-Semitic as racist. Here’s the thing, we’re talking about this and making the assumption that someone is interested in these topics, but most people in Atlanta don’t know about the Leo Frank lynching.

Sadly, I would have to agree. Having written about the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, I would say people I encounter mostly have not heard about that episode—in which whites massacred blacks in downtown Atlanta—nor of the Frank case. And certainly they’re not aware of the history of lynching in Georgia in general.
Atlanta is always moving forward; it’s always rushing ahead. It always has been. That’s part of the city’s seal—Resurgens. It’s the notion of burying the past.

Michelle Nunn returns to her nonprofit roots as head of CARE USA

Michelle Nunn
Photograph by Mike Colletta

After a shellacking by David Perdue in the 2014 Georgia U.S. Senate race, Michelle Nunn wanted to take her time deciding what to do next. Her son, Vinson, was less patient. “He seemed to have a need to give me career counseling and job advice,” she says. “He wanted me to move more quickly in finding a new job.” The middle schooler sat his mom down and suggested she review her skill set. “You’re good at basketball—but too old to do something in that,” Vinson pointed out. “You’re good at reading. And you’re good at helping people.”

Indeed. For seven years, before she resigned to campaign full time to succeed Saxby Chambliss, Nunn was president and CEO of Points of Light, an organization that marshals large-scale projects by matching volunteers and donors with nonprofits and service projects. Points of Light merged in 2007 with the Hands On Network, which grew out of Hands On Atlanta, founded by Nunn and her friends in 1989 with a similar mission of promoting volunteerism. That experience as a nonprofit executive, combined with her elevated national profile from the political campaign, put her on the shortlist of potential candidates to replace Helene Gayle—the medical doctor and onetime CDC staffer who since 2006 has led Atlanta-based CARE USA, the largest division of the international humanitarian organization. Nunn starts her new job this month.

For decades CARE was known for disaster assistance—its workers were early on the scene following April’s deadly earthquake in Nepal—and poverty relief; the organization has provided food, healthcare, and other services to more than 600,000 people in South Sudan since 2013. For the past decade, CARE has focused efforts on aid to women and girls.

Although Nunn’s nonprofit management bona fides are obvious, how did running a nationally scrutinized Senate race prepare her for the new job? “The mobilization dimension of the campaign, getting people involved and talking them into the spirit of citizen engagement, I think that ties into CARE’s work and its mission to galvanize global citizenship,” she says. More pragmatically, “grassroots organization, fundraising, and the policy issues of the campaign relate to the work of CARE,” Nunn adds.

Fundraising will be a major task for Nunn. CARE’s revenues dropped from $679 million in the fiscal year that ended in 2009 to $471 million in 2013, largely due to U.S. government grants being slashed by more than $100 million. Although she ran as a Democrat (and is the daughter of former U.S. senator and Democratic stalwart Sam Nunn), Nunn is known for an ability to cultivate relationships—and raise cash—across political lines; Points of Light was founded by former president George H.W. Bush.

During the Senate race, Nunn stressed her Georgia roots and decades of work in Atlanta. Her international experience includes a six-month stay in Rishikesh, India, while in the divinity program at the University of Virginia (“studying everything from Hinduism to Gandhi”), and a three-year fellowship with the Kellogg Foundation studying social change and traveling—with CARE—to Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Gayle advised her successor to value “being a good listener and spending the appropriate amount of time out in the field and visiting sites, which is the heart of the work.” Nunn plans to bring Vinson and his younger sister, Elizabeth, on some of those trips. “It is life-changing to have a perspective of the global community in your formative years,” she says. “Hopefully they will also thank me—in 10 or 20 years—for providing them with that.”

Care Package

90
Number of countries where CARE operated in 2014

880
Projects supported by CARE in 2014

72 million
People served by those projects

200
Workers at the Atlanta offices of CARE USA, which employs 5,000 worldwide, making it the largest of 14 national members under the umbrella of Geneva-based CARE International.

$471 million
Total contributions and grants for CARE USA declared on 2013 tax documents

$419,596
Compensation for Nunn’s predecessor in the fiscal year ending June 2013. Nunn’s salary has not been disclosed.

What’s in a name?
A U.S. consortium founded in 1945 as the “Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe” shipped food and supplies—the now culturally ubiquitous “CARE packages”—to post-war Europe. CARE grew to include chapters in countries ranging from Norway to Thailand and to provide services such as disaster relief and human rights advocacy in addition to anti-poverty programs. The name was changed to “Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere” in 1993.

This article originally appeared in our July 2015 issue.

A drone’s eye view of the Chattahoochee River

Because the Chattahoochee snakes to the west—rather than through the heart of the city—the river is not linked to Atlanta in popular imagination the way that, say, Boston is paired with the Charles, St. Louis with the Mississippi, or Chattanooga with the Tennessee. There are no iconic photos of rowers gliding by city landmarks, no stately bridges crossing the water.

But the symbiosis between Atlanta and the Chattahoochee runs deeper than any pretty picture. The river, which stretches from the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Georgia to the Apalachicola Bay in Florida, is one of the oldest in the country, providing drinking water for 70 percent of Atlantans—450 million gallons a day. Its wooded banks shelter red-tailed hawks, river otters, great blue herons. Hikers explore the trails that overlook its shores; anglers reel in trout, bass, and bream from its depths. And in the sweltering days of summer, revelers lazily ride its steady current. They drift along on anything that floats—sturdy craft rented from local outfitters, high-tech kayaks, rubber dinghies, even drugstore pool loungers. Drone elevation: 76 feet

This article originally appeared in our July 2015 issue.

Fireworks sales are now legal in Georgia. Here’s what you need to know

Fireworks
Photograph by Ryan Hayslip

Just in time to make your neighborhood Independence Day gathering really take off, fireworks sales are now legal in Georgia. A new law goes into effect July 1 and means we can stock up on bottle rockets closer to home, consigning to history those pilgrimages to Shelton’s.

$5,000
Initial fee businesses and nonprofits will pay the Safety Fire Commissioner to sell from a permanent location. Yearly renewal: $1,000.

Midnight
The latest you can set off fireworks—except for July 3 and 4, December 31, and January 1, when it’s permissible to keep the explosions going until 2 a.m.

$500
One-time fee for a temporary sales license.

5%
Excise tax on fireworks. This is on top of all other taxes.

18
Legal age to buy fireworks. However, 16- and 17-year-olds can “possess or transport” and “sell or offer to sell” pyrotechnic gizmos if assisting a licensed distributor (i.e., clerking).

11,400
Georgians—40 percent of them children—treated at the ER for fireworks injuries in 2013. Public health officials and firefighters protested the law.

1,500
Number of jobs that the bill’s supporters claim will be created by keeping fireworks sales in-state, thus saving Georgians treks to the border. Every neighboring state except North Carolina allows fireworks sales.

What’s Allowed
Bottle rockets, Roman candles

What’s Verboten
Firecrackers, sky-launchers, balloons or rockets powered by explosives, bombs

Facetime
Fireworks can only be sold “face-to-face,” meaning no boom in online or mail-order business.

This article originally appeared in our July 2015 issue.

New bill allows breweries to offer take-home “souvenirs”

Liquor law
Photographs by Calvin Lockwood and Caroline C. Kilgore

A modified version of Senate Bill 63 goes into effect this month and allows breweries to offer beer for on-site consumption or in six-pack equivalent take-home “souvenirs.” (Distilleries can also package 750ml in “keepsake” products with tours.) “It’s not perfect, but we absolutely plan to take full advantage of this legislation,” says Mark Allen, who owns Lazy Guy Distillery in Kennesaw and crafts corn whiskey and small-batch bourbon.

This article originally appeared in our July 2015 issue.

Video: A drone’s eye view of Stone Summit Atlanta

Stone Mountain is 825 feet high. The walls of Stone Summit Atlanta—the climbing gym a few miles from Spaghetti Junction—range from 20 feet to 60 feet. Don’t let those dimensions fool you; the nooks, crannies, overhangs, and ledges contain paths requiring Olympian levels of mastery. The 30,000-square-foot climbing wall includes routes that score 5.14 for technical difficulty—a rating assigned to pitches on the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. “That is a level very few people in the world would have been able to accomplish,” says gym co-owner Daniel Luke. (The hardest climb ever, ascending the limestone face of Spain’s La Dura Dura, ranks 5.15c.) Opened in 2010, the gym is the seventh largest in the U.S., according to Climbing Business Journal. Sister facility Stone Summit Kennesaw is the fifth. Of course, when you’re scaling a wall in Stone Summit, you don’t contend with sun, wind, frostbite, or grizzly bears. But you might encounter packs of preteens; in recent years the facility has hosted the USA Climbing national youth championship, an event that draws some 400 competitors. Drone elevation: 37 feet

This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.

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