Atlanta, city, capital (1868) of Georgia, U.S., and seat (1853) of Fulton county (but also partly in DeKalb county). It lies in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northwestern part of the state, just southeast of the Chattahoochee River. Atlanta is Georgia’s largest city and the principal trade and transportation centre of the southeastern United States.
Atlanta owes its existence to the railroads, the routes of which were determined by geography. Lying as it does at the southern extremity of the Appalachian Mountains, it became the gateway through which most overland traffic had to pass between the southern Atlantic Seaboard and regions to the west. In 1837 a spot near what is now Five Points, in the centre of the present-day city, was selected for the southern terminus of a railroad that was subsequently built northward to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The location was known first as Terminus and then as Marthasville; in 1845 it was renamed Atlanta for the Western and Atlantic Railroad. Several other rail lines had converged on the city by 1860.
During the American Civil War Atlanta became a supply depot, a site of Southern war industries, and the keystone of Confederate rail transportation east of the Mississippi River. It was thus the prime military objective of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s invasion of Georgia from Chattanooga (see Atlanta Campaign). The city fell to his Union troops on September 1, 1864, and was converted into a military camp. On November 15 Sherman departed on his devastating “March to the Sea,” but not before much of the city had been burned.
During Reconstruction Atlanta was a centre of federal government activities in the South. It was the site of the convention that drew up the Georgia constitution of 1868, and under the Republican state administration it became the state capital (chosen permanently by popular referendum in 1877). Atlanta came to epitomize the spirit of the “New South,” having risen from the ashes of the Civil War and become an advocate of reconciliation with the North in order to restore business. This spirit was dramatized by three Atlanta expositions: the International Cotton (1881), the Piedmont (1887), and the Cotton States and International (1895). At the last one, educator Booker T. Washington made his historic declaration (the Atlanta Compromise) urging African Americans to seek economic security before political or social equality with whites.
The spirit of the city has tended to be liberal within the framework of Southern conservatism, though its customs have been influenced by the Protestant church traditions of the Bible Belt. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., was born and raised in Atlanta; his boyhood home, Ebenezer Baptist Church (where he and his father once preached), and his grave site adjacent to the church are preserved at the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site. In 1973 Atlanta became the first major city in the South to elect an African American mayor, Maynard Jackson.
The contemporary city
Atlanta is still the focal point of an important network of rail lines and interstate highways. Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, 10 miles (16 km) southwest of downtown Atlanta, is one of the world’s busiest airports. The first rapid-transit commuter rail opened in 1979, and by the early 21st century the system had expanded to include several more lines. Atlanta remains the financial and commercial capital of the Southeast and is its most important distribution centre. Printing and publishing, high-technology industries, telecommunications, airline services, military and government services, and banking and insurance are supplemented by industries producing aircraft, beverages, automobiles, electronics and electrical equipment, chemicals, processed foods, and paper products. Atlanta is also the focus of federal government activity in the Southeast and is the headquarters of the 6th Federal Reserve District. The city itself is relatively small but is surrounded by a sprawl of low-density suburbs.
Atlanta is a major educational centre, with more than 40 degree-granting institutions in the metropolitan area. The city has a prestigious consortium of historically black colleges, notably Morehouse College (1867), Spelman College (1881), and Clark Atlanta University, the latter formed in 1988 by the merger of Atlanta University (1865) and Clark College (1869). Others schools include Emory University (1836), Georgia Institute of Technology (1885), Georgia State University (1913), and Oglethorpe University (1835). Atlanta is also the chief medical centre of the Southeast and is home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Atlanta’s notable buildings include the State Capitol (1889) and the Cyclorama (1885; in Grant Park), which contains a gigantic painting and diorama of the Battle of Atlanta. Peachtree Center is a complex of hotels, offices, and shops at the heart of downtown. The Woodruff Arts Center (1968) includes the High Museum of Art, a concert hall, an art school, and a theatre. Centennial Olympic Park was built for use during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.
Atlanta is home to a number of professional sports franchises, two of which moved into the city in the wake of its postwar population boom of the 1950s. Major League Baseball’s Braves relocated to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1965, and the National Basketball Association’s Hawks moved there from St. Louis in 1968. Other teams in the major professional sports leagues include the Falcons of the National Football League, the Dream of the Women’s National Basketball Association, and Atlanta United FC of Major League Soccer.
The Atlanta History Center has a museum and two historic homes and hosts a storytelling festival each February. The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum displays artifacts from Carter’s presidency, and the adjoining Carter Center is a human rights organization. The house where novelist Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind is preserved, and Underground Atlanta is a restored section of 19th-century buildings near the State Capitol. Atlanta’s other cultural institutions include museums of science and of natural history; ballet, opera, and theatre companies; and a symphony orchestra. Annual events include a dogwood festival (April), a jazz festival (May), and an arts festival (June).
Under the Köppen classification, Atlanta has a humid subtropical climate (Cfa) with four distinct seasons and generous precipitation year-round, typical for the Upland South; the city is situated in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8a, with the northern and western suburbs, as well as part of Midtown transitioning to 7b. Summers are hot and humid, with temperatures somewhat moderated by the city’s elevation. Winters are overall mild but variable, occasionally susceptible to snowstorms even if in small quantities on several occasions, unlike the central and southern portions of the state. Warm air from the Gulf of Mexico can bring spring-like highs while strong Arctic air masses can push lows into the teens °F (−7 to −12 °C).
July averages 80.9 °F (27.2 °C), with high temperatures reaching 90 °F (32 °C) on an average of 47 days per year, though 100 °F (38 °C) readings are not seen most years. January averages 44.8 °F (7.1 °C), with temperatures in the suburbs slightly cooler due largely to the urban heat island effect. Lows at or below freezing can be expected 36 nights annually, but the last occurrences of temperatures below 10 °F (−12 °C) were December 24, 2022, and January 2014, eight years apart. Extremes range from −9 °F (−23 °C) on February 13, 1899 to 106 °F (41 °C) on June 30, 2012. Average dewpoints in the summer range from 63.7 °F (17.6 °C) in June to 67.8 °F (19.9 °C) in July.
Typical of the southeastern U.S., Atlanta receives abundant rainfall that is evenly distributed throughout the year, though late spring and early fall are somewhat drier. The average annual precipitation is 50.43 in (1,281 mm), while snowfall is typically light and rare with a normal of 2.2 inches (5.6 cm) per winter. The heaviest single snowfall occurred on January 23, 1940, with around 10 inches (25 cm) of snow. However, ice storms usually cause more problems than snowfall does, the most severe occurring on January 7, 1973. Tornadoes are rare in the city itself, but the March 14, 2008 EF2 tornado damaged prominent structures in downtown Atlanta.
Religion in Atlanta, while historically centered on Protestant Christianity, now encompasses many faiths, as a result of the city and metro area’s increasingly international population. Some 63% of residents identified as some type of Protestant according to the Pew Research Center in 2014, but in recent decades the Catholic Church has increased in numbers and influence because of new migrants to the region. Metro Atlanta also has numerous ethnic or national Christian congregations, including Korean and Indian churches. Per the Public Religion Research Institute in 2020, overall, 73% of the population identify with some tradition or denomination of Christianity; despite continuing religious diversification, historically African American Protestant churches continue prevalence in the whole metropolitan area alongside historic Black Catholic churches. The larger non-Christian faiths according to both studies are Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism. Overall, there are over 1,000 places of worship within Atlanta.
Arts and culture
Atlanta is noted for its lack of Southern culture. This is due to a large population of migrants from other parts of the U.S., in addition to many recent immigrants to the U.S. who have made the metropolitan area their home, establishing Atlanta as the cultural and economic hub of an increasingly multi-cultural metropolitan area. This unique cultural combination reveals itself in the arts district of Midtown, the quirky neighborhoods on the city’s eastside, and the multi-ethnic enclaves found along Buford Highway.
Atlanta is best known for its barbecue, hamburgers, Southern fried chicken, and lemon pepper wings. Buford Highway is home to many ethnic cuisines such as Mexican and Asian foods.