Where to explore African American history and culture in The Classic City.
Athens is a hip college town located only an hour’s drive from the bustling capital of Atlanta, Georgia. Centered around eclectic neighborhoods, a walkable downtown and an expansive University of Georgia campus, the small town makes for a perfect weekend getaway.
Take a Walking Tour
Take your first steps in Athens on a walking heritage tour with Classic City Tours. Experienced guides tell you about how The Classic City was founded, pointing to some of the most important buildings downtown, including the oldest surviving residence (Church-Waddel-Brumby House) and one of the first theaters (The Morton Theatre) built, owned and operated by an African American.
Drive Through African American History
Athens was an important educational center for the Black community in the 1860s. The first Black students were admitted to the university, and the first private school for Black students was established here. A self-guided driving tour of Athens’ African American history will take you through the historic Reese and Hancock neighborhoods, to Athens first Black Baptist church and the Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, among other sites.
You can also take a historic Black Athens tour with local artist and historian Broderick Flanigan. Centered around Hot Corner (an early center of Black commerce), Flanigan shows you his Hot Corner Legacy Mural, talks about the impact of African Americans on Athens, and highlights Black and minority-owned businesses.
Flanigan’s studio in the Triangle Plaza neighborhood also hosts community meetings and art shows on topics such as equality and economic justice, police corruption and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Be sure to check out the murals on the walls of buildings surrounding his studio that feature the faces of Black Athens matriarchs, including Jessie Barnett, Evelyn Neely, Miriam Moore and Virginia Walker.
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Stay at Hotel Graduate Athens
Set in a 19th-century foundry and farmhouse, the funky UGA-themed boutique hotel features vintage-style décor in spacious apartment-style rooms. Brick walls, Persian rugs, wooden floors, plaid sofas, and Bulldog memorabilia create an atmosphere of southern charm meets college hipster. There’s also a cafe, ballroom, outdoor pavilion and splash pool for guests and visitors. The Foundry at Hotel Graduate Athens is a local hotspot for live music and drinks.
Bar Hop Through Town
Athens is home to several craft breweries and after five, it is “happy hour” across town. Start at the taproom of Creature Comforts Brewing Co., which offers creative combinations and a wide range of beer styles for every taste. Fenwick Broyard, who is the brewery’s VP of Talent and Culture, says, “We have a Get Comfortable program through which we give back a portion of our profits to address the pressing needs of our community and support organizations that are run by and are serving African American populations.”
If you are still thirsty, grab an ale at Akademia Brewing Company, a pint at British pub Royal Peasant, a craft cocktail at Expat, or chose from 45 hops on tap at Five Points Growlers.
Athens has a number of chef-driven affordable restaurants, offering a variety of cuisines from Mexican and southern to soul food and Caribbean.
Some of Flanigan’s favorites are Friday fish frys at Food For The Soul, soul food at Dawg Gone Good BBQ and vegan macaroni and cheese at Rashe’s Cuisine. “Rashe Malcolm severs amazing Jamaican fusion cuisine using produce from my community gardens and helps distribute produce to those in need. I like to support businesses that offer opportunities to marginalized youth and pay fair wages,” says Flanigan.
If you are dining on a budget, try the vegetable plate at Mannaweenta Ethiopian restaurant or enjoy afternoon high tea at The Café on Lumpkin.
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Spend Time Outdoors
For downtime in Athens, visit one of the popular music venues, year-round festivals, farmers markets and outdoor spaces. Activist, artist and entrepreneur Knowa D. Johnson organizes several events in Athens throughout the year, including music festivals, a MLK King Day parade and a bi-monthly Athens Black Market in College Square, where you can enjoy live music while shopping from local African American vendors selling food, clothing, accessories, skin care products and art.
Johnson recommends supporting local independent musicians, including his own band – Knowa Johnson and The Aquatic Souls, which plays tribute to soul legends. You can watch live music at The Foundry, The World Famous, Hendershots or 40 Watt Club, which was the primary performance space for Athens bands such as R.E.M.
Spend a day strolling through 313-acres of nature trails and themed gardens at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Watch hundreds of blooming orchids in the fall, and learn about different herbs and equatorial plant species at The Conservatory.
Have a picnic on the International Garden lawn under magnolia trees, or find a cool spot around vibrant azaleas. The new Porcelain and Decorative Arts Museum features eight galleries filled with impeccable tea sets, sculptures, and ceramic from the expansive private collection of Deen Day Sanders (of Days Inn of America).