Early efforts at missionary work in Georgia began with John U. Eldredge in 1843, who preached in Georgia as he traveled from Alabama to North Carolina. No other work was in Georgia until 1876 with the arrival of John Morgan, who in fulfillment of a dream 10 years earlier, converted many people in Haywood Valley and organized a branch there in 1876. Haywood was located in northwestern Georgia and was near Rome, a city 60 miles north of Atlanta. In 1879, it became Southern States Mission headquarters.
In November 1877, about 80 Church members left Georgia and moved to San Luis Valley, Colo. Another group of Georgian Saints moved to Colorado in 1884. Until the end of the 19th century, groups of Church members from the South continued to migrate westward.
Missionaries were initially treated well in the South, but before long, their successes led to violent opposition. Joseph Standing was killed by a mob near Varnell’s Station on 21 July 1879. His companion, Rudger Clawson, later president of the Quorum of the Twelve, escaped serious injury.
Notwithstanding the threats of mobs to missionaries, some pioneer member families joined, stayed in Georgia, and built up the Church. One prominent convert, Judge Wyatt N. Williams was baptized in Buchanan in July 1879, a few days after Standing’s murder. Williams subsequently donated land and built a chapel in Haralson County at a place called “Mormon Springs,” near his mill and cotton gin. Because of persecution, a branch was not initially organized but many families joined the Church in Buchanan.
In the early 1900s, Southern States Mission presidents directed that missionaries begin focusing their work more in the cities during the winter and less in the countryside. The first convert in Savannah was Julia Mozell Love, baptized in 1901. The first Sunday School in Savannah was created 26 March 1922, in the home of Arthur B. and Annie Laura Davis. A small meetinghouse, known as the “Little White Chapel,” was completed in 1929.
In 1908, a branch was organized and a meetinghouse constructed in Atlanta. It was replaced in 1915 with a larger building. Heber J. Grant, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, visited Atlanta in 1911 and addressed an overflow congregation in a local Universalist church. A new meetinghouse was erected there in 1925.
One of the prominent pioneer leaders in Atlanta was Homer Yarn. In 1916, he became the first local leader of a Sunday School in Atlanta and served as Atlanta Branch president from 1923 to 1937. When the Georgia District was organized in 1937, he was called as district president. He also served as counselor in the mission presidency from 1939-57.
On 5 May 1957, Elders Mark E. Petersen and LeGrand Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve organized the first stake in Georgia, the Atlanta Stake (later changed to Tucker Stake) with William L. Nichols as president. The stake boundaries covered the northern two-thirds of the state and had 3,000 members in wards in Atlanta (2), Columbus, Macon, and Empire, and branches in Buchanan, Athens, Givson, Milledgeville and Palmetto. In June 1971, the Southern States Mission was renamed the Georgia-South Carolina Mission, then later the Georgia Atlanta Mission. In July 2003, it was divided, creating the Georgia Atlanta North Mission.
In 1983, the Atlanta Temple was completed and dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley, then second counselor in the First Presidency. It was the first temple built in the South.
Under the direction of Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy, the Church made strides into the inner city of Atlanta in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Five branches were established in the central sections of Atlanta among minorities, including Asian and Hispanic people. The Atlanta Georgia District functioned from 1991 to 1996 until the units were absorbed into surrounding stakes.
The year 1996 brought the Centennial Olympic Summer Games to Atlanta and hundreds of Church members volunteered during the games. President Hinckley visited Atlanta 17 May 1998 and spoke to more than 13,000 members.
In 2002, membership reached 62,301. In 2005, membership reached 69,441.
Sources: Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; Arthur M. Richardson and Nicholas G. Morgan, Sr., The Life and Ministry of John Morgan, 1965; “William L. Nichols to Preside Over New Altanta Stake,” Church News, 11 May 1957; LaMar C. Berrett, History of the Southern States Mission, thesis, July 1960; Vera Edna Browning Kimball, The Southern Miracle, 1984; Gerry Avant, “Georgia Enters Era of Temples,” Church News, 24 April 1983; Mike Cannon, “Inner-city District Gathers Many of Diverse Cultures into ‘Gospel Net,'” Church News, 29 May 1993; Sarah Jane Weaver, “Through Service, Members Find, Share Olympic Spirit,” Church News, 27 July 1996; Richard D. Hall, “LDS Display Touches Olympic Visitors,” Church News, 3 August 1996; Gerry Avant, “Savannah,” Church News, 5 May 1998; “‘We Are Biblical Church,’ Atlanta Members Told,” Church News, 23 May 1998; Gerry Avant, “A Higher Place: Choir Lifts Audiences,” Church News, 30 June 2001.