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The Butler YMCA (1920)
The founding of the Butler Street YMCA in 1894 is celebrated on this date.
Located in Atlanta, this facility was informally known as The Black City Hall of Atlanta. J.S. Brandon was the original planner with a group of young people who met in the basement of Wheat Street Baptist Church to formalize the group. Brandon was the Y’s first president, and his sister-in-law, Hattie Askidge, was elected organist. The main activity during the Y’s early years was song and prayer on Sunday afternoons.
In 1909 W.J. Trent became president and started a campaign to raise money to build a headquarters. In 1918, the YMCA property on Auburn Avenue was sold for $7,200.00, and new property was purchased on Butler Street for $10,609.00. Built by Alexander D. Hamilton, the new structure cost $115,000 and contained over 10,000 square feet. The architect was Hentz, Reid, and Adler, and the builder was Alexander Hamilton. The YMCA’s architectural style still retains many elements of the Georgian Revival style.
This building became a center of social life on the Avenue by providing recreation and supervised activity space for younger Blacks and a meeting place for older Blacks. In 1920, Major Robert Russa Moton, principal of Tuskegee Institute, dedicated the Butler Street YMCA. Two years later, The Phyllis Wheatley YWCA launched its first membership drive. In 1942, the YMCA initiated The Hungry Club Forum, which began as a secret organization and became an openly recognized and extremely effective forum between Black and White leaders.
The club's motto is: "Food for taste and food for thought for those who hunger for information and association." Many of Atlanta's young Black men belonged to the Y and used it as a recreation center. Vernon Jordan and Martin Luther King, Jr. were leaders influenced as youths by their membership.
The building houses 48 dormitory rooms, seven classrooms, a small auditorium, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, shower baths, a café, and restrooms. It is the only minority YMCA in America that has been allowed to operate independently.
In the 1990s, an addition was built across the street. The Butler Street YMCA continues to function into the 21st century.
The African American Atlas
Black History & Culture an Illustrated Reference
by Molefi K. Asanta and Mark T. Mattson
Macmillan USA, Simon & Schuster, New York