The “Great Tree” of Atlanta . . . And the Not-Coincidental War Against White America

Paul Kersey, VDARE, December 16, 2012

The Thanksgiving Night lighting of the “Great Tree” outside Rich’s Department Store in downtown Atlanta used to attract scores of thousands of Atlanta residents and people from all across the Southeast. Southern journalism icon Celestine Sibley described it in Dear Store: An Affectionate Portrait of Rich’s:

From the big tree a radiance reflects on the faces of children standing below in the darkness and sometimes it makes prisms of tears on the faces of grownups.

Sibley’s book was published in 1967 to mark Rich’s centennial year. (The store was founded after the Civil War by Morris Rich, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant who grew up in Ohio). Interestingly, Sibley reports that Rich’s “Great Tree” was, from its inception as a “tradition” in 1948, never referred to officially as a “Christmas Tree”.

But Time Magazine put animage of the lighting of Rich’s tree, and the dread word “Christmas,” on the cover of its December 15, 1961 issue (The corresponding story,“Customs: But Once a year”,  was a rundown of the commercialization of Christmas by stores like Rich’s).

And there can be no denying that, originally, the ceremony had a distinct Christian theme.

Jeff Clemmons, in his recently-published  Rich’s: A Southern Institution, recalls the “spectacular” lighting of the 70-foot+  tree sitting atop the famed Crystal Bridge, with all the nearby businesses dimming their lights and the city of Atlanta shutting off streetlights and closing nearby streets:

In the early years, the lighting ceremony would be kicked off with the master of ceremonies, Welcome South Brother (WSB) Radio and TV announcer Bob Van Camp, reading the story of the birth of Jesus as told through scriptures. After his reading, the children’s choirs, located on bottom level of the bridge two stories up, would be illuminated, and they would sing a hymn or popular Christmas song selection. After the children’s choir had finished singing, each successive level of the bridge would be illuminated, and the choir on that level would perform until all four levels were ablaze and all the choirs had performed. Then, a switch would be flipped and The Great Tree would be lighted to the cheers of the crowd below. In later years, the tree would be lighted during the last few high notes of “O Holy Night,” sung either by a lone soloist or with the accompaniment of one or more of the choirs. Under the glow of the tree standing atop the four illuminated levels of the bridge, the choirs along with the gathered onlookers would sing “Silent Night,” ushering in what for many was the true start of the Christmas season in Atlanta.

But just as events like Trick-or-Treating or even Christmas Caroling are dependent on high social capital within the community not merely to prosper, but even to exist, the Rich’s Great Tree ceremony required safe streets.

Celestine Sibley in Dear Store was celebrating an era in Atlanta’s history when white people felt safe going downtown into what is now one of America’s most crime-ridden cities:

Down in the street, the crowd has been assembling for hours. Forsyth Street is roped off to vehicular traffic, and people pour into it from all directions, city people and their country cousins, rich people and poor people, the young, the old, crippled people in wheelchairs, blind people clutching their white-painted canes, clinging to the arms of seeing relatives. There are babies in their mothers’ arms and toddlers riding fathers’ shoulders. They jam the street, making it a vast lane of crowded bodies and uplighted faces.

By 1967, however, when Sibley wrote, Atlanta was already experiencing high levels of white flight from areas of the city with increasing percentages of black residents, and increasing crime.

As Tamar Jacoby noted in her 1998 book  Someone Else’s House: America’s Unfinished Struggle for Integration, the outcome of the 1970s in Atlanta—when black people became the dominant population group and took political control—was not integration, but an “uneasy coexistence”:

Even so, many whites used crime as an excuse to avoid downtown, and blacks and whites divided up the landscape like a battleground. Sometime in the 70s, localized shopping nodes eclipsed the old central hub, and by the end of the[Maynard] Jackson era, Atlanta had two downtowns: the deteriorating black downtown in the center city and the new white downtown, Buckhead, six miles to the north. With the city’s upscale restaurants, its choicest hotels and newest office towers, Buckhead paid taxes to Atlanta and in an important way helped keep it alive, but its residents had less and less to do with the blacks on the south side of town.

Rich’s “Great Tree” appeared on the Crystal Bridge for the final time in 1990. The downtown Rich’s closed in 1991.

Clemmons reports that Rich’s initial thought was to move the Great Tree ceremony to Buckhead—

…but many people protested the idea of the ceremony leaving downtown. As a result, the store worked out a deal with the owners of Underground Atlanta, a unique shopping district built around an on top of old street viaducts, and invested approximately $400,00 into the new 1991 event. Part of the $400,000 was for the purchase of the tree and new, clear lights for decorations, which would replace the multicolored lights of years past. Other portions of the money were used to build a special platform on top of a parking deck at Underground Atlanta to support and anchor the tree…

The Great Tree remained at Underground Atlanta through 1999. Unfortunately, over the nine years the event was held there, attendance had steadily decreased. By that last year, only about ten thousand people showed up for the tree-lighting ceremony, forty thousand fewer than the number who had attended it eight years earlier when it had initially moved there.

Rich’s finally moved the tree to its Buckhead store in 2000. That worked—the first year, an estimated 75,000 to 110,000 people attended the tree-lighting ceremony at its new location, which they obviously felt was safer and more easily accessible than Underground Atlanta.

Today, Rich’s is no more, having merged with Macy’s to stave off bankruptcy in 2003. But the tradition continues: on Thanksgiving Night 2012, the “Macy’s Great Tree”, a 60-foot white Georgia pine, was beautifully illuminated just as The Voice contestant Chris Mann sang the traditional finale “O Holy Night.”

But gone is the singing of “Silent Night”; gone is the reading of the story of the birth of Jesus; gone are the various choral groups signing traditional Christmas hymns. They have been replaced with generic secular “holiday” songs.

Gone, too, is the old Atlanta—where families could gather downtown in safety to see something innocent and beautiful.

And gone is historic America.

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  • You Are Now Enriched

    When we drive through Atlanta, even Buckhead, we see mostly blacks and asians. We see White girls with their black bucks, and in the stroller is a mongrel, and she is bestial-preggo with the next. Everything is hideous and disgusting. White children will think it’s normal, and that’s the death of the White race- normalized voodoo. What better should you expect from soddomUSA?

  • IstvanIN

    This is the new America. I had my first picture with Santa taken at the Gimbles in Philadelphia on Market St. That store was torn down around 1980 and has been a hole in the ground ever since. The new Gimbles, JC Penney, Lit Brothers, Strawbridge and Clothier are all closed. The old John Wanamaker was converted to a Macy’s and is still open, probably because it is across from City Hall and gets city workers there. The Gallery at Market East has a K-mark (as they call it) and a bunch of ghetto stores. It truly is sad what Africanization does to civilization.

    • Slayer88

      I agree Philly is ruined, we are looking for a new home in another state as we speak. Escaping diversity, however, is no easy task these days.

      • saxonsun

        When visiting Burlington, Vemont last summer, we noticed multiple families of black muslim somalis! Vermont. Good luck.

      • WhiteFalcon1

        …as is Cleveland! Sad, really, what a great town that used to be…

  • I live in Houston. Most of the skyscrapers downtown have several vacant floors.
    Several miles to the north is a city called the Woodlands. It is vibrant, thriving, and growing. In fact, this suburb has grown big enough to have its own skyscrapers. Eventually, diversity will make its way over here, like it will worm its way to Buckhead. The first phase will be an influx of white californians and new yorkers.

    • The__Bobster

      It is vibrant, thriving, and growing.

      You need to learn the new definition of “vibrant”.

    • TeutonicKnight67

      Wearing your regional chauvinism on your sleeve again eh DB? Once again for the record…all NYers are not liberal just like all Texans are not paragons of whiteness. Most NYers relocate because of rampant liberalism and the attendant high tax rates.

  • bigone4u

    Atlanta’s story has its clone in most every major American city. The sad truth is that everything that blacks get close to ends up in tatters.

    • Genetics my man. Plain ole genetics. When you get a city, town, county, nation, etc where the African negro makes the majority, then you get Africa. And that will never change.

    • StillModerated

      everything that blacks get close to ends up in tatters …

      No, bigone4u, they are all simply isolated incidents, with absolutely no correlation to each other. To correctly reach any other conclusion is racist. How about a nice vacation doing mission work in Haiti?

  • odius liberal


  • Fire Eater

    Metropolitan Atlanta is a third-world JUGGERNAUT aimed at the decent White people of Georgia.

    “Buckhead is safe?” I can tell you as an Atlanta refugee to the great White Northeast (Georgia), BANKHEAD goes to Buckhead to prowl and prey. Bankhead being Zimbabwe-by-the-Chattahoochee on Atlanta’s southwest side…had such a bad image locally that image-concious Chamber of Corruption types had it re-named “Donald P. Holloway Parkway”…same black criminals, dangerously innocuous name.

    As for the “White” population of Atlanta, contrary to what some insist, they are not our kind of people: Almost all are hostile outliers like feminists, yuppies, gays and rabid leftists.

    Writer references an “uneasy coexistence” between black Atlanta and the rest of the state…that is accurate. Statewide GOP officeholders tend to stand back and let the non-Whites “do their own thang” in Atlanta, Dekalb and Clayton; including re-electing Sheriff Victor Hill who is under felony indictment.

    Liberals have complained that the use of the term “Atlanta” by GOP politicos elsewhere in Georgia is dogwhistle for the “n” word. I say they are right.

    • yes, I had always heard that “Buckhead” was a gay community

  • ageofknowledge

    Who wants to go out caroling and get “jacked” by a street criminal? I don’t.