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Rail Terminal Planned For Former Brick Factory Site Where Convicts Were Forced To Work

The northwest Atlanta site is mostly vacant now, but it had been the location of the Chattahoochee Brick Co., a factory that used forced convict labor. Activists had been pushing to make it into a park, with a memorial to the people who suffered under the convict-leasing system. Norfolk Southern is leasing the property for a rail terminal.
The northwest Atlanta site is mostly vacant now, but it had been the location of the Chattahoochee Brick Co., a factory that used forced convict labor. Activists had been pushing to make it into a park, with a memorial to the people who suffered under the convict-leasing system. Norfolk Southern is leasing the property for a rail terminal.
Credit Bita Honarvar / Special to WABE
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Updated Wednesday at 9:48 a.m.

Atlanta-based railroad Norfolk Southern is leasing property in northwest Atlanta for a rail terminal. The location had been the site of a brick factory that used forced convict labor, and advocates had hoped to block any industrial development there and build a memorial and a park instead.

Norfolk Southern is planning to build a facility adjacent to its tracks at the location, to transfer ethanol from trains to trucks or to storage.

The site is mostly vacant now, but it had been the location of the Chattahoochee Brick Co., owned by former Atlanta Mayor James English.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the people who worked there making millions of bricks were convicts — mostly Black men — who had been leased to the company. They worked without pay and lived in filth under horrible conditions, with frequent whippings and rotting food. People died there.

Activists had been pushing to make the site near where Proctor Creek flows into the Chattahoochee River into a park, with a memorial to the people who suffered under the convict-leasing system.

A spokesman for Norfolk Southern said the planned facility is important to the company and to its customers and is a demonstration of its belief in Atlanta’s continued growth.

Jeff DeGraff said Norfolk Southern is aware of the environmental and cultural significance of the property and plans to work with the community.

“We believe we can find solutions for the concerns,” he said.