Georgia’s first “Negro” State Park was created on Allatoona Lake in 1950, when John Loyd Atkinson, a Tuskegee Airman in World War II, sought a recreational facility for black Americans. The nearest African American recreational site, American Beach, was a 700-mile round trip from Atlanta. He had tried unsuccessfully on his own to get permits to establish a park, but with the creation of Lake Allatoona, Atkinson’s campaign was rewarded. Georgia State Parks leased 1,457 acres that became Red Top Mountain State Park, plus an additional 345 acres to create George Washington Carver State Park.
As Morehouse College graduate Martin Luther King, Jr. was studying for his divinity degree, and five years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her Montgomery bus seat, Atkinson won the battle to establish the first recreational park for black families, and became the first black man to be hired as superintendent of a Georgia State Park. Though his victory was bound by segregation, it was a triumph that allowed his people to gather in the safe harbor of a shared dream. As Atkinson predicted, families from Atlanta, Birmingham, and Charlotte flocked to George Washington Carver Park, fondly known as “The Beach”, for church picnics, family reunions, and to see the famed St. John’s Ski Bees each Summer.
In 1970, the park was removed from Georgia’s park system and its lease was transferred to Bartow County. In support of Bartow County’s efforts to preserve the park’s Civil Rights History, the Georgia Department of Economic Development – Tourism Division has awarded a Tourism Product Grant of $5,000, which will be matched by Bartow County as a first step in sharing the important history of Bartow Carver Park. The plan is to create and install three exterior and four interior interpretive signs by May 2017. Bartow County Government, the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Bartow History Museum will work collectively to create the signs detailing the park’s original grill, bathhouses, beach, caretaker’s house, and pavilion. More importantly, photographic images and shared first-person histories will transport today’s visitors to George Washington Carver Park, where one of Georgia’s first victories in the Civil Rights Movement was achieved.
The George Washington Carver Pavilion at Bartow Carver Park, the beach and grounds are available for rent. For reservations call the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 770-387-1357.