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Smyrna signals intent to demolish longstanding building that housed 'Aunt Fanny's Cabin' restaurant with racist themes

The restaurant, once one of the most-well known in the Atlanta area, mythologized local historical figure Fanny Williams into what the city called a 'caricature.'

SMYRNA, Ga. — Smyrna announced on Thursday its intent to demolish a longstanding building that once housed "Aunt Fanny's Cabin," a restaurant that was infused with overtly racist "Old South" themes and was for a time one of the most well-known establishments in the Atlanta area.

A release posted to Smyrna's Instagram account said the city council would soon vote on a task force recommendation to demolish the building "if there is no acceptable proposal for transferring and removing the building."

In addition to its problematic history, the building was found structurally deficient, requiring "significant financial resources" to make it safe for public use.

The "Aunt Fanny's Cabin" restaurant operated from the 1940s to the early 90s, according to the city's release. An online history at the website tomitronics details how it thrived on " casual racism that characterized much of the restaurant’s décor and operation."

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That included "African-American waiters with sign boards hung around their necks to announce the menu" which "re-assured the almost exclusively white clientele that all was still right with the world even as the shackles of segregation were beginning to weaken all across the South."

The history quotes a Black local talk-show host, C. Miles Smith, who once said it was "pitiful" and that "the overt thing of the little Black menu boys and nannies (waitresses) is very insulting to Black people."

The restaurant's central mythology also made what the city of Smyrna called a "caricature" out of a local historical figure, Fanny Williams.

Williams' name and image were appropriated for the restaurant by the restaurant's founder, a woman whose family employed Williams for a time as a domestic worker - at a time when such employment offered by wealthy white families often served to "fulfill their fantasies of the Southern Mammy of slavery days," as The Washington Post once reported.

The real Fanny Williams, Smyrna's release said, "had significant accomplishments through her association with Wheat Street Baptist Church, an historical African-American activist church in Atlanta where she was a member."

"In Cobb County, she is reported to have endured the Ku Klux Klan attempting to burn a cross to intimidate her over her activities which included being one of the major fundraisers for Marietta's 'Negro Hospital,' which broke ground in 1947," the city said.

Smyrna said it wishes to honor Fanny Williams the person, "not the racist theme and myths of the former establishment."

"Though sometimes viewed in more glowing terms by an almost exclusively white patronage with fond memories of 'great food' and a 'family atmosphere,' these establishments are symbols and sentiments of a time that does not represent or honor the dignity of all, and certainly does not represent our community," the city said.

Smyrna said in weighing the future of the building, it was evaluating "not only the soundness and safety of the structure, but also the appropriateness of its existence as a public property in a community that respects and protects rights and dignity."

Following a city council vote, Smyrna said, the city will make a final determination about removing the building from its place next to the Smyrna Museum on Atlanta Road.

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