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Children of the Angels - Atlanta Children’s Eternal Flame Memorial

Updated: Mar 26

Last week, I watched the documentary "Maynard," about the life and career of Maynard Jackson, the first Black mayor of Atlanta (I highly recommend it). The documentary highlighted the murders of 28 Black children, teens, and young adults between 1979 and 1981 during Jackson's term as mayor. It was one of the saddest chapters in Atlanta's history. I was 11 years old, and I vividly remember seeing on the television the photos of victims who lost their lives.

A few years ago, I saw an exhibit entitled Atlanta Children's Memorial Portraits, curated by Dwayne Mitchell at the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in the atrium section in 2021.

After watching the documentary, I got on the internet to find out if there was a memorial to honor the victims. I was happy to see that in 2023, a beautiful memorial, the Atlanta Children's Eternal Flame Memorial, was unveiled on the grounds at the Atlanta City Hall. Former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was instrumental in spearheading the memorial. Bottoms wants visitors who come to the memorial to know that these children's lives mattered to the City of Atlanta, then, now, and for generations that are not born yet. Members of the Atlanta Children's Memorial Taskforce included Catherine Leach, whose 13-year-old son, Curtis Walker, was murdered on February 19, 1981.

The curved 55-foot-long wall was designed to make you feel like you're being embraced and held. The wall has the names of each victim and a shelf to put mementos such as votive candles, rocks, small teddy bears, and flowers.

(Photo credit: Patrick Quinn, Atlanta News First)

At the end of the memorial is an eternal flame that burns of the souls that were gone too soon and all those affected.

A curved seating area faces the memorial wall, where visitors can spend time to reflect and pay their respects. When I arrived at the memorial, I was happy that there was no one there. When I go to memorials, I like to be alone, in my thoughts and a quiet space. I thought about the pain the families still have to this day. This could have been my sister, son, grandchild, cousin, etc. I think about the parents who are now ancestors that were not able to see the memorial.

On the ground is a poem in honor of the angels in heaven entitled "A Poem for our Children," by Pearl Cleage, who is a novelist, essayist, playwright, and activist. In 2021, Cleage was named Atlanta’s first Poet Laureate.

A Poem for our Children

We remember everything.

In days when there is sunshine, or nights when there is rain,

we remember everything.

Some will say it was a long time ago, But to us,

it seems like yesterday because we remember everything.

What we wore, what music made us dance

What heartbreak made us cry.

We were young mothers back then,

Or proud new daddies,

Trying to figure out how, and understand why,

And find a way to love our babies well enough,

and long enough, and strong enough,

To make then shine like new money.

We were too young to understand that They came here shining. They came here singing.

They came here bringing the best of who we were,

The best of who we could be/would be/wanted to be, for them. Because of them,

already shining like that brand new money,

Already sweet as every kind of honey,

They were our babies, growing up so fast,

And we tried not to be afraid of a world

That might not have a space for them,

That might not make a place for them.

We were too young to know they came here,

With their own space, their own place,

Their own promise to the universe already fulfilled,

And blessed and amplified and sanctified, forever and ever, amen.

We remember everything.

Their laughter, their tears and our own,

We remember Big Wheels, always in the way,

And Laffy Taffy, and those red, white and blue popsicles

That stained their lips and dribbled down their shirts

And made their hands almost too sticky to kiss - almost.

But we were young then and even at the end of long days,

We would somehow find the time to share their love of basketball,

Or hear the early hip hop anthems they memorized in one day,

Or admire the latest shoe to catch their eye. We remember all that.

So when we think of them, we think of first smile,

First step, first sleeping through the night

We think of sunshine and Spirit, ancestors and angels,

And the things that connect us, one to one, and each to each,

in a long, unbroken chain of love and love and love and love...

We remember because they still live in us, still sing in us,

Still shine in us like brand-new money.

Our babies, one by one, and each to each, forever and ever, amen.

We remember everything.

After spending time at the memorial, I went to the historic South View cemetery, founded in 1886, the resting place of over 80,000 Blacks. A few of Atlanta's victims are at rest at South View. Some of the graves are unmarked. I was able to find Yusuf Bell's resting place.

The memorial is a lasting reminder that these beautiful souls will never be forgotten and for the families that are still healing.

Former mayor, Keisha Lance Bottom said, “I've said on multiple occasions that lives of these children and young people mattered then — they matter now. With this memorial, it will be a reminder to each of us that their lives will matter forevermore.”


Eric Middlebrooks, Christopher Richardson, Latonya Wilson, Aaron Wyche, Anthony Carter, Earl Terell, Edward Smith, Alfred Evans, Milton Harvey, Yusuf Bell, Angel Lenair, Jeffrery Mathis, Larry Rogers, Michael McIntosh, Jimmy Payne, John Porter, William Barrett, Nathaniel Cater, Terry Pue, Patrick Baltazar, Curtis Walker, Joseph Bell, Timothy Hill, Eddie Duncan, Clifford Jones, Darron Glass, Charles Stephens, Aaron Jackson, Patrick Rogers and Lubie Geter.


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