Most contractors wanted to raze a ramshackle building in South Atlanta. One couple opted to save it. Now the home of an early civil rights advocate is a showcase—and a space for moving forward.
Abandoned and collapsing, 75 Gammon Street had become an eyesore. Still, Kysha and Jonathan Hehn fell for the two-story home built around 1900. The couple bought the house, hoping to restore it and live there with their two children.
Producers of PBS’ This Old House show contacted the Hehns about helping with and chronicling the massive restoration.
The Hehns agreed. But they wanted more than how-to’s. The house was a historical trove. The couple desired that each show segment teach something about black history—like the slavery connotations of the term “master bedroom” juxtaposed against the preferred contemporary “primary bedroom.”
Born enslaved, Luther Judson Price married Minnie Wright in 1889. The couple built the Gammon Street house several years later. It sat between Gammon Theological Seminary and Price’s general store and post office. Luther served as postmaster.
Together, the Prices led voter registration drives for black Americans and organized support for the Republican Party.
The area prospered even as some Southern white people hampered efforts to help their black neighbors rise from slavery’s economic, political, and social legacy.
In September 1906, a mob made mostly of white people ransacked the neighborhood. They claimed they had heard rumors that Price had supplied weapons to Atlanta rioters. Price narrowly escaped with the help of “a lot of white people in Atlanta who had contact with him,” says his grandson, Farrow Allen.
The Hehns plan to acknowledge traumatic aspects of the home’s history. But Kysha says visitors should also know “there were birthdays here. There were celebrations here.”
Her view echoes the idea behind the Ghanaian symbol of “Sankofa.” The Hehns found a wrought-iron Sankofa on window bars of the house.
“It’s a bird that’s facing forward, but its neck is craning backward . . . There’s an egg on its back, and the bird is picking up the egg, symbolizing how she’s carrying the wisdom of the past and bringing it forward to the youth,” Kysha explains.
The restored home will be a space where the community can meet, share stories, and learn about a family that pointed the South toward justice.
“The most graceful way to move forward is to be gentle and honest with the past, with pieces of our history that we cannot change,” Kysha says, “. . . with the intention of creating a more peaceful and compassionate world for everyone.”
Why? In a world broken by sin and its resulting despair and trauma, the way forward is through remembrance that’s held up in the light of grace and forgiveness.
Cool! I've seen that show
Cool! I've seen that show before.
While I don't mean at all to demean the things Price and his family must have went through, one thing jumped out at me as not entirely accurate. I had been watching a home renovation show and they kept calling it a "primary bedroom." I was used to hearing "master bedroom" so my mom looked it up. We found that they have switched to the term "primary" over "master" because of the belief that it is a slave term. Further research shows that it probably was not. While slavery ended around 1860, the term "master bedroom" first appeared in a magazine somewhere in the 1900's (I don't recall exactly which decade). "Master bedroom" more likely referred to the "master" of the house in a different way, as in "owner of the house," not "master of the slaves." While we can't entirely disprove that that is what the terminology was meant to convey, because of the time gap it is highly unlikely that it was a slave term.
Like I said, I don't at all mean to say that Price and his family didn't suffer. I just remember hearing that "master bedroom" was a slave term and immediately accepting it. I was surprised when we found evidence to the contrary. I just want everyone to have the ability to decide for themselves what they believe, rather than taking it at face value.