Atlanta History Center reopens Margaret Mitchell House with reimagined ‘Gone With the Wind’ exhibit

Margaret Mitchell House (Courtesy Atlanta History Center)

The Atlanta History Center reopens the Margaret Mitchell House museum in Midtown today, July 10, with a new exhibit that examines more closely the popularity of “Gone With the Wind” — the novel and movie — and the influence they continue to have on American culture.

Telling Stories: Gone With the Wind and American Memory is the first exhibit at the museum since it was closed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The museum, at the corner of 10th and Peachtree streets, includes Margaret Mitchell’s apartment – nicknamed “The Dump” – where she wrote most of the novel.

The apartment includes Mitchell’s desk where she wrote about 90% of the more than 1,000-page novel first published in 1936. Photographs of her grandparents are now on a wall with each of their biographies. All had deep ties to the  Confederacy during the Civil War; both grandfathers fought for the South.

The Margaret Mitchell House museum in Midtown reopens July 10 with a reimagined ‘Gone With the Wind’ exhibit that contextualizes the author’s life and explores the impact the book and movie have had on perceptions of the American Civil War. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

In this environment, surrounded by supporters of the Confederacy, Mitchell learned what the Civil War meant, said Claire Haley, the vice president of Special Projects for the Atlanta History Center. What Mitchell learned, however, is not historically accurate, as the exhibit points out.

For example, Mitchell wrote a great deal about the “Lost Cause” ideology, the idea that the Civil War was about anything other than slavery, that became popular in the South, Haley said.

“She straddled that line a little bit in the book and does acknowledge at some points that slavery was a main cause of the Civil War, but she also really assisted the viewpoint that glorifies the supposedly romantic, benign institution of slavery, one that paints Reconstruction as this great unfair evil to white people in the South,” Haley said.

A portion of the new exhibit at the Margaret Mitchell House. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

“What we try to do through this exhibit is to show you who Margaret Mitchell was, and where she was getting these different ideas and stories that come out through ‘Gone With the Wind,’ to better understand how ‘Gone With the Wind’ influenced what people thought about the Civil War and Reconstruction for decades and still do to this day,” she said.

What’s so “crazy” about this time, said Sheffield Hale, president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center, is that while Mitchell is writing her novel on Peachtree Street, just a few miles away at Atlanta University, where W. E. B. Du Bois wrote and published “Black Reconstruction” in 1935.

The purpose of the exhibit is to show what was happening in the world Margaret Mitchell was in because of segregation and she was exposed politically, culturally, and intellectually “in this very specific sphere,” Haley said. At the same time, the exhibit shows what is happening outside of Mitchell’s sphere to make it part of the same story.

A section of the exhibit at the Margaret Mitchell Museum is dedicated to exploring how Reconstruction was portrayed in Gone with the Wind compared to reality. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

Haley said the Atlanta History Center hopes that when people walk through this exhibit, whether they love or hate “Gone With the Wind,” they leave with more knowledge about the history, the story or Margaret Mitchell.

“And maybe they have a little bit more perspective about why this book and this movie continues to be so influential … how and why it continues to be relevant in our discussions that we’re having,” she said.

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