Wallace P. Reed, History of Atlanta, Georgia, 1889

History of Atlanta, Georgia exemplifies the basic booster narrative of a city’s rise to greatness. That story has been particularly poignant for Atlanta’s memorialists because the city so quickly rose from the utter destruction it suffered toward the end of the Civil War. For Reed, the city’s history was an opportunity for a moral lesson. The author embraced the notion that “history is philosophy teaching by example,” and his History of Atlanta sought to demonstrate how hardworking people (imbued with the “Atlanta spirit”) can make something out of nothing. Unlike John R. Hornady, whose 1922 history of Atlanta does not mention the Native Americans, Reed did take time to tell “the story of the adjustment of the difficulties between the early white settlers and the original proprietors of the region around Atlanta,” which he explained in similarly euphemistic and circumlocutious terms. The war was the central event in Atlanta’s history for Reed, as he devoted six chapters to the siege and capture of the city. The remaining portion of the book addresses the subsequent development of Atlanta’s legal and medical professions, education, churches, literature, finance, railroads, and manufacturing. Reed laid strong emphasis on economic aspects, implying that Atlanta’s history was primarily that of its lawyers, bankers, and industrialists. This focus fits well with the narrative of Atlanta’s struggle for greatness, since a persistent pursuit of economic growth powered the city’s “rebirth” following the war.

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