If one wants to find a few projects that surpass the Braves decision in importance, how about starting with some that happened in the aircraft industry? Bell left Marietta at the end of World War II, but the plant didn’t remain closed for long. One of the most important days in local history was Jan. 4, 1951, when the Lockheed Corporation announced it was coming to town.
October 1952 is another important date. That’s when Lockheed Plant General Manager Dan Haughton persuaded the company to build its new C-130 transport plane in Marietta. That’s what kept Lockheed here permanently.
One of my favorite dates is March 13, 1961, when Lockheed won its first billion dollar contract to build C-141 StarLifters. In addition to the economic impact, the C-141 decision played a huge role in civil rights history. Due to prodding from the NAACP and the Kennedy administration, Lockheed-Georgia voluntarily desegregated its Marietta operation in May 1961 and started an affirmative action plan to bring more African Americans into management. That action transformed the work place forever and set an example for other industries in the South.
Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, local leaders had reason to brag about a number of momentous accomplishments in the field of higher education. This is the era when the forerunners of today’s Chattahoochee Tech, KSU and SPSU opened locally.
A number of folks from the Marietta Kiwanis Club, notably the MDJ’s Bill Kinney and influential legislator Harold Willingham, were responsible for a major coup when the Board of Regents agreed on June 11, 1958, to let Cobb steal Southern Technical Institute away its original home in DeKalb.
Five years later, some of the same folks, and other powerbrokers such as Fred Bentley and MDJ editor Robert Fowler, beat out Bartow County for Kennesaw Junior College. Local voters on April 22, 1964, gave an 88 percent affirmative vote to sell the bonds that built the KJC campus. Marietta’s mayor, Red Atherton, described that action in identical language to the way the Chamber proclaimed the Braves decision. The mayor said it was “the most important local development since the government aircraft plant was built in Marietta.”
Today, KSU and SPSU have a combined annual economic impact in Georgia of well over a billion dollars — which makes this author think that the recent decision to consolidate those two great institutions is even more important, culturally and economically, than the coming of the Braves.
There are lots of visionary projects that have made Cobb County what it is today. For instance, how about the $35 million bond issue in May 1969, orchestrated by Ernest Barrett, Lex Jolley, Sidney Parker, and others to build sewer lines around the county and especially into East Cobb? Where would we be today without their foresight?
Or what about the achievement of Joe Mack Wilson, A.L. Burruss, and Johnny Isakson in sponsoring legislation in 1985 that permitted the first SPLOST referendum to improve the roads of Cobb County — and of Commission Chairman Earl Smith in persuading the voters to approve the first SPLOST referendum?
For that matter, what chance would there be that the Braves would come to Cobb County had not Wilson, Barrett, and John Williams come up with the idea in the early 1980s of a Community Improvement District for the Cumberland Mall area, and if John Williams and others hadn’t campaigned energetically to persuade businesses in the area in 1987-88 to create the Cumberland CID?
We will have to wait a while to know for sure whether the new Braves stadium equals these earlier projects in importance. Major league sports teams tend to abandon their old stadiums about as quickly as Wal-Mart tires of one location and moves to another.
But if the Braves are here to stay, historians will certainly look back in future years and say that it was, indeed, one of the top five or 10 events in Cobb County’s modern economic development.
Dr. Tom Scott taught history at Kennesaw State University for 43 years before retiring in 2011. He is the author of “Cobb County, Georgia, and the Origins of the Suburban South” (2003). His latest book, “Kennesaw State University: The First Fifty Years, 1963-2013” came out in October during the school’s 50th anniversary.