ATLANTA is a relatively young city: only incorporated in 1847, it was little more than a minor transportation center until the Civil War, when its accessibility made it a good site for the huge Confederacy munitions industry and consequently a major target for the Union army. In 1864 Sherman's army burned the city, an act immortalized in Gone with the Wind . Recovery after the war took just a few years: Atlanta was the archetype of the aggressive, urban, industrial ''New South,'' furiously championed by '' boosters '' newspaper owners, bankers, politicians and city leaders. Industrial giants who based themselves here included Coca-Cola , source of a string of philanthropic gifts to the city.
Very few of Atlanta's buildings predate 1915, and nothing at all survives from before 1868. Its characters, on the other hand politicians and newspaper people have changed little, and the ''booster'' tradition has continued to the present, peaking spectacularly when Atlanta won the right to host the 1996 Olympics . The bid to convince the world of the city's prosperity and sophistication was led by city leaders such as ex-mayor Andrew Young (the first Southern black congressman since Reconstruction, who became Carter's ambassador to the UN) and flamboyant former CNN magnate Ted Turner.
Today's Atlanta is at first glance a large American city. Its population has reached 3.5 million. The city is undeniably progressive, with little interest in lamenting a lost Southern past. Since voting in the nation's first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, in 1974, an estimated 200,000 black families streamed in from states further north in the 1980s alone. With its ever-increasing international profile, cosmopolitan blend of cultures and hip local neighborhoods, the spirit and dynamism of modern Atlanta is a far cry indeed from its much-mythologized Deep South roots.