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Decatur celebrates bicentennial through storytelling

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Decatur celebrates bicentennial through storytelling

People gathered at Agnes Scott College on Dec. 10, 2023, for a screening of Decatur's 200 Stories video, followed by a panel discussion. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Decatur, GA — Over the weekend, the city of Decatur celebrated its 200th birthday. Part of the celebrations throughout the year and weekend included sharing stories of the past, present and future of the city. 

The city launched the 200 Stories project in September 2022 to collect at least 200 stories from current and former residents, business owners, and anyone who has a connection to the city throughout 2023. The city plans to continue collecting stories next year. 

“This was a way for us to really look at our history,” Mayor Patti Garrett told Decaturish. “When you hear other peoples’ stories, it makes history become more real.” 

She added that there’s value in learning from history and that everyone has a story. In hearing peoples’ stories, it’s almost like they have a love affair with the city, Garrett said.

“We feel that it’s a special place, and we’re glad that we’re here, or we’re glad we were here, and can reflect on how it’s touched our lives,” she said. 

As part of the bicentennial festivities, the city held a screening of the 200 Stories project. Many stories were captured via audio either through StoryCorps or with students from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and some were captured on video and turned into a 30-minute video. 

“When we launched this initiative, we had no expectations of what people should talk about,” Equity and Community Engagement Director Renae Jackson said during the screening of 200 Stories on Dec. 10. “We really wanted people to show up and be their full, authentic selves.”

The video featured stories from Doris Sims Johnson, Dorsey Nobles, L’Arche Atlanta, City Arborist Kay Evanovich, the T-Walk Jumpers, The Quaranteens, and others. To view the video, click here.

After watching the video, Jackson moderated a panel discussion with several people who participated in 200 Stories, including Tom Harrison, Meldora Acie, and Quaranteens band members Nolan Salcedo, Alec Hogben and Henry Dittmer. 

Harrison lived in Decatur from the early 1960s to 1975. The memories he made were terrific, he said. His father served on the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, and his grandfather was a superior court judge on the Stone Mountain circuit. Harrison was part of the first group of students to attend Decatur High School when it opened in 1965.

“I loved hearing Ms. Sims talk about the [students] that came over from Trinity [High School] because that was a remarkable year,” Harrison said. “Being part of a community like Decatur growing up with all the history, so much family for myself with my grandparents [and] parents, it gives a sense to you that you belong somewhere.”

Harrison hopes that the vision of the neighborhoods is saved.

“You’ve got a little island here in Decatur that needs to be protected,” Harrison said. “…You’ve got to let people know that being diverse is a good thing, especially in a community like Decatur where there are so many things that can be saved and should be saved as far as the architecture.”

He added that trees should be saved too.

Acie owns Bleu Hanger, a boutique at the corner of College Avenue and South Candler Street. She used to live in Decatur and her daughters grew up in the city. Her oldest daughter is a graduate of Decatur High School. Acie said Decatur isn’t a regular city, but is one full of creatives.

“You will see murals. You will see businesses that have personality behind them. I said to myself, this is somewhere where I would want to open up a business,” she said. “I hope that’s preserved… To me, that’s what Decatur is. It’s acceptance, it’s inclusion, it’s allowing people to be who they are – color, background, what you have to offer.”

Bleu Hanger is a special place for Acie since the store was her beginning in Decatur, and it’s a place where she watched her daughters grow up.

Acie also said that the blueprint of the city should remain, meaning it should continue to allow for creativity and diversity. She would also like to see more Black women business owners.

“Everybody knows Decatur because it’s Decatur,” Acie said. “It’s not going to stay the same, but keep it creative, keep the murals, keep the different stores, like Little Shop of Stories that started here.”

The Quaranteens is a band of high school students that formed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hogben said that being part of Decatur means being able to walk everywhere.

“I walk to school. Whenever I hang out with my friends, I walk places with them that are in Decatur,” Hogben said. “I think that being able to have a form of public transport, not necessarily buses or trains, but a way for people to get around without having to own a car is a big part of Decatur.”

Dittmer hopes more people learn about and attend Porchfest. He also hopes to see more original architecture preserved in Decatur. Salcedo would also like to see young people be able to keep expressing themselves through music and art.

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