A century or so ago, if a black resident of Atlanta wanted to stop for a drink after work, he’d have to go to the basement of a saloon, or sit behind a curtain or screen in the rear of a bar. Jim Crow laws, which controlled everything from what African Americans could wear (no capes) and how they got to upper floors of the Candler Building (the freight elevator), kept the races from sharing a cold beer or shot of rye side by side.
The Negro Building was the first designated space, since Emancipation, for the showcase of African-American achievement in a white-dominated setting. Without it, the Exposition committee could have not received federal backing, and those funds appropriated from Congress, are what helped make the fair an international success.
Sometime after midnight, in the early morning of December 16, 1939—more than five hours after settling into their seats—the city’s elite flowed out of Loew’s Grand Theatre, overjoyed at the spectacle they’d just witnessed. Margaret Mitchell emerged, enormously relieved. Hollywood had not destroyed her story after all.