Grant Park, founded in 1882 by Lemuel P. Grant, was the first Atlanta suburb, featuring large Victorian homes and craftsman bungalows around the large park, which also held the Atlanta Zoo and the Cyclorama, a circular painting of the Battle of Atlanta. But by the time Lupton moved there, Interstate-20 had sliced off the northern top of the community, and during the 1960s, most whites fled as blacks moved in, and many homes were subdivided into apartments. Some older white widows held on, but impoverished black residents predominated.
Bill Adams, who owns Adams Realty on Cherokee Avenue, the street that runs along the western side of the 131-acre park, grew up on Cherokee in a house his grandfather built in 1902. He played safely in the park in an Eisenhower America. But when he returned to the neighborhood in 1975, many homes had been abandoned. Out his bathroom window, he saw someone shooting up heroin. As with Inman Park’s resurgence, however, other white urban pioneers began reclaiming the neighborhood.
In 1983, Adams bought a big old home on Woodward Avenue featuring turrets and 12-foot ceilings, badly in need of repair, in the northern section cut off from the park by I-20. It lay just a block south of Memorial Drive, with historic, peaceful Oakland Cemetery across the street, but it was also near two public housing projects. “We could hear automatic weapons.” On Martin Luther King Day in 1994, Adams was shot in the leg and hip while jogging through Grant Park. Prostitutes turned tricks in the alley behind his house. In 1996, not wanting his children exposed to that activity, Adams moved his family to Decatur, but he kept his realty firm on Cherokee Avenue in the old Masonic building.
It was into this turmoil that Bob Lupton moved his FCS project in 1981, beginning his education in community-building. He took over an empty church on Georgia Avenue, where FCS offered a free clothes closet and food pantry. When Lupton spent his first Christmas Eve in a local African-American home, a well-dressed white family arrived to deliver beautifully wrapped Christmas presents. As the black children joyfully grabbed the gifts, Lupton noticed their father quietly slip out of the room. He had never before observed “how a father is emasculated in his own home in front of his wife and children for not being able to provide presents for his family.”