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A Historical Look Back: Juke Joints

Like the bars of today, juke joints catered to the rural work force that began to emerge after the emancipation. Primarily African-American establishments, juke joints were opened in the southeastern United States during the era of the Jim Crow Laws. Since black sharecroppers and plantation workers were barred from white establishments, juke joints provided a space for these people to kick back after a long week of work. The word “juke” means disorderly in Gullah, meaning that these gathering spots were considered very rowdy for this era, frowned upon by many people during this time. People socialized with friends while eating, drinking, and gambling in these ramshackle buildings. During the era of prohibition, moonshine was a popular item distributed in these establishments, creating even more criticism from the outside community. Despite the criticism they received, juke joints affected the cultural structure of the southern United States, giving African Americans a place to get away from the pressures of society, and eventually giving them a voice.

The most influential aspect of juke joints was definitely the music. Some of America’s most popular music has its roots in the juke joints of the south. Originally, the music of juke joints relied on two instruments: the fiddle and the banjo. As time progressed, however, so did the music’s style. Ragtime and dance music of the late nineteenth century began in these establishments. Soon after that, the blues, barrel house, and the slow drag dance music of the rural south began to emerge. The music of today has many different influences, but the legacy of the juke joint is very clear in popular music today.

The legacy of juke joints has extended far beyond its influence on popular music. Commercial establishments such as our very own Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint were inspired by the juke joints of the south. Today, some of the better-preserved juke joint buildings are popular sites for tourists, serving as museums of history and culture in rural areas of the south. Juke joints have come a long way since their humble beginnings in rural crossroads, but these establishments have shaped the culture of southern America, and continue to do so today.

200 Peachtree: Then & Now


When built, the building was referred to as a Temple of Commerce that was both mammoth and magnificent. To the sounds of trumpets and an excited public the building opened its doors on March 21, 1927 as the retail store Davison-Paxon affiliated with R. H. Macy and Company of New York. At the time, it was the largest retail department store south of Philadelphia and one of the largest in the world. It marked the largest investment in retail business enterprise in the United States.


Even before the building went up, the corner of Peachtree and Ellis was of notable activity; occupied by the lavish Austin Leyden residence, then the Richards’ house which served as the University Club, the original Capital City Club and even as the Yaarab temple. The corner was bustling with industry and the building was established as a historical landmark; six-stories high, each floor containing 47,000 square feet of space, its foundation was built on a rib of solid granite that extends from Stone Mountain to the highest point in the city. The building is a modified Renaissance design in tapestry, brick and limestone with a steel and concrete frame; it was one of the first stores in the county to put in air conditioning, and had the largest expanse of display windows in the world. Built for an estimated $6 million it established Atlanta as the pivotal center of the retail industry in the South.


For 58 years, Davison’s, as it became known, was a leader in Atlanta’s marketplace and was the catalyst for all industry to move north of the railroad tracks. In 1984 Davison’s changed its name to Macy’s in a consolidation with the retail giant and the building underwent a two-year renovation. The designer kept the building’s spacious columns, thirty foot ceilings, and added seven 14- foot crystal chandeliers to the magnificent space.


Today, the building is taking on yet another leading role in the downtown marketplace. The building has been renamed 200 Peachtree and aids in the revitalization of the Peachtree Corridor with new restaurants, retail, exhibit and special event space. The building will return to its splendor and again be a hub of Atlanta commerce and prosperity.  As it was said in the Atlanta papers in 1927: “This surely will be an object of pride to every citizen of Atlanta with civic welfare in his heart.”

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