The Georgia Board of Regents (BOR) has approved the decision to demolish the historic Ajax building located on 881 Hemphill Avenue. The building’s removal is intended to increase the amount of campus green space and to remove a structurally unsound building.
The Ajax Building was originally a well known restaurant named the Pickrick, famous for its fried chicken. Former governor Lester Maddox originally owned the Pickrick, and it was under his stewardship that the restaurant became the subject of a major racial controversy.
In defiance of civil rights legislation, he filed a law suit to continue his segregationist policies at the restaurant. People gathered at the restaurant to protest Maddox’s refusal to comply with the legislation.
There were several confrontations between Maddox and the protestors, one of which ended with the future governor confronting them while brandishing a handgun. Maddox ultimately lost the lawsuit, and rather than integrate his business, he decided to sell the restaurant to his employees.
Congressman John Lewis of Georgia’s fifth congressional district originally disagreed with the decision to destroy the building. During the Civil Rights Movement, Lewis served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and played an important role in the effort to end segregation. To protest the decision by the BOR, Lewis sent a letter to interim president Gary Schuster.
“Atlanta needs to preserve sites which illustrate the opposition to leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.,” Lewis wrote in the letter. Contained in the letter were also suggestions to turn the building into a civil rights trail.
Tech students are divided on the issue. “John Lewis is wealthy, let him buy it and save it himself if he wants,” said one Tech student who wished to remain anonymous.
“It’s an important landmark for civil rights and it shouldn’t be demolished,” said another student who asked to not be named.
Schuster responded to Lewis’ letter by telling Lewis that the BOR reached the decision because they had determined the building had become unsound.
Additional green space for the eco-commons would also be beneficial for the university. Additionally, Schuster pointed out that the confrontations actually occurred in the parking lot of the Ajax building.
“There will be a plaque placed on the location commemorating the event,” Schuster said. “The plaque will contain further information regarding the confrontation. However, Tech will definitely restore the space to the eco-commons…. The congressman understands the reasoning behind the decision and now fully supports it.”
When contacted, Lewis was unavailable for comment. Although the BOR has approved the building’s demolition, the decision still needs authorization from Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue.