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Grace-full Moves in Atlanta

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    An Atlanta couple is restoring the home of civil rights activist Luther Judson Price. (AP/Michael Warren)
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    Luther Judson Price was a South Atlanta, Georgia, postmaster and civil rights activist. (AP/Michael Warren)
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    This Old House host Kevin O’Connor, left, and homeowner Kysha Hehn, second right, prepare to install the front door of the Price house. (AP/Michael Warren)
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    Kevin O’Connor addresses the camera during the restoration for the PBS home improvement show. (AP/Michael Warren)
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    Kysha Hehn waits to record another scene of the show. (AP/Michael Warren)
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    This photograph shows Farrow Allen at the September 26, 1954, unveiling of a portrait of Allen’s grandfather Luther Judson Price. (AP/Michael Warren)
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Most contractors wanted to raze a ramshackle building in South Atlanta. One couple opted to save it. Now the home of an early civil rights advocate is a showcase—and a space for moving forward.

Abandoned and collapsing, 75 Gammon Street had become an eyesore. Still, Kysha and Jonathan Hehn fell for the two-story home built around 1900. The couple bought the house, hoping to restore it and live there with their two children.

Producers of PBS’ This Old House show contacted the Hehns about helping with and chronicling the massive restoration.

The Hehns agreed. But they wanted more than how-to’s. The house was a historical trove. The couple desired that each show segment teach something about black history—like the slavery connotations of the term “master bedroom” juxtaposed against the preferred contemporary “primary bedroom.”

Born enslaved, Luther Judson Price married Minnie Wright in 1889. The couple built the Gammon Street house several years later. It sat between Gammon Theological Seminary and Price’s general store and post office. Luther served as postmaster.

Together, the Prices led voter registration drives for black Americans and organized support for the Republican Party.

The area prospered even as some Southern white people hampered efforts to help their black neighbors rise from slavery’s economic, political, and social legacy.

In September 1906, a mob made mostly of white people ransacked the neighborhood. They claimed they had heard rumors that Price had supplied weapons to Atlanta rioters. Price narrowly escaped with the help of “a lot of white people in Atlanta who had contact with him,” says his grandson, Farrow Allen.

The Hehns plan to acknowledge traumatic aspects of the home’s history. But Kysha says visitors should also know “there were birthdays here. There were celebrations here.”

Her view echoes the idea behind the Ghanaian symbol of “Sankofa.” The Hehns found a wrought-iron Sankofa on window bars of the house.

“It’s a bird that’s facing forward, but its neck is craning backward . . . There’s an egg on its back, and the bird is picking up the egg, symbolizing how she’s carrying the wisdom of the past and bringing it forward to the youth,” Kysha explains.

The restored home will be a space where the community can meet, share stories, and learn about a family that pointed the South toward justice.

 “The most graceful way to move forward is to be gentle and honest with the past, with pieces of our history that we cannot change,” Kysha says, “. . . with the intention of creating a more peaceful and compassionate world for everyone.”

Why? In a world broken by sin and its resulting despair and trauma, the way forward is through remembrance that’s held up in the light of grace and forgiveness.