Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and former mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, at right, look over the Atlanta Children’s Eternal Flame Memorial on the grounds of City Hall. The memorial honors the victims of the Atlanta Child Murders killed between 1979 and 1981. (Dyana Bagby)

More than 40 years ago, dozens of children and young adults were abducted and found dead in metro Atlanta, including the areas of Brookhaven and Buckhead, in what has become known as the Atlanta Child Murders.

On June 27, a memorial, “Atlanta Children’s Eternal Flame Memorial,” was unveiled at Atlanta City Hall. The memorial, a 55-foot long remembrance wall with the names of 30 victims slain between 1979 and 1981, is a stark reminder of one of the city’s darkest periods.

“We did not want to capture the world’s attention in this way, but we did,” Mayor Andre Dickens said at the ceremony. “At least 30 of our young children and young adults had been abducted and killed and were missing. The horrific events were given a name, which was the Atlanta Child Murders.”

Dickens was a young boy during this time, he said, but he remembers the entire city on edge and Maynard Jackson, the city’s first Black mayor, searching for ways to keep children safe.

“That was a time of growing up that really fortified us and brought us all together,” Dickens said.

The Atlanta Children’s Eternal Flame Memorial stands along Mitchell Street at Atlanta City Hall. The 55-foot-long remembrance wall creates a place for reflection and healing with the name of each victim mounted next to an accompanying shelf for mourners to place special mementos. (Dyana Bagby)

In 2019, former mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the Atlanta Children’s Memorial Task Force to create a memorial for the victims. She also announced a new review of DNA evidence from the case.

“I’m so honored to have played a part in making sure that this memorial will be here for an eternity so that every single person who passes the grounds of Atlanta City Hall remembers that those children mattered to us then, they matter to us now, and they will matter to us for generations not yet born,” Bottoms said at the ceremony.

“We remember that they were your children; they weren’t just names,” Bottoms said. “They were human beings that you loved dearly.”

She also said that “progress has been made in analyzing the DNA.”

“I know that there’s still many answers to be had, but it’s my hope that one day soon, Mayor Dickens will be able to share that information with the public as well whatever information may be available, so that it can continue to bring solace and comfort to the families whom are here today,” Bottoms said.

“It just warms my heart to know he won’t be forgotten and he will be remembered from this memorial,” said John Bell, whose son, Yusef Bell, age 9, was killed in 1979.

The “Atlanta Children’s Eternal “Flame Memorial” was created by internationally renowned artist Gordon Huether.

Seating faces the expansive wall, where visitors can spend time, contemplate, and pay their respects. The wall’s composition of Corten steel gives the memorial a strong, enduring impact as it weathers into a rust-colored patina. At the far end of the memorial, a flame burns as an enduring tribute to the victims and all those affected.

Centered within the semi-enclosed space is a granite inlay engraved with poet, playwright and novelist Pearl Cleage’s A Poem for Our Children.

Huether said in an interview with Rough Draft from his studio in Napa, California, that creating the memorial was “emotional” and “intense.”

“I wanted to create a tribute to the victims and to their families,” Huether said. “A testament that these lost lives still matter. I wanted to create a space that was healing, comforting, and would give the viewer a sense of closure.”

Huether said he researched the Atlanta Child Murders by watching documentaries, YouTube videos, and reading articles. He also met with family members of the victims when he came to Atlanta to present his idea for the memorial. 

“It was a deep dive into the subject,” he said. “I would go to bed thinking about it, dream about it, and wake up with it.”

The artist said the power of the memorial is in its minimalism.

“The oval shape of it is designed to make you feel like you’re being embraced and held. On the shelves, you can leave a votive candle, flowers or a teddy bear,” he said.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.