Thirty years ago, in 1994, work commenced to tear down historic Herndon Memorial Stadium on the campus of Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia to make way for a field hockey facility for the 1996 Olympics.
What may surprise many, even today, is that the demolition to tear down the old and rebuild what eventually became the new Herndon after the 1996 games. The demolition was completed and managed by a Black-owned company named DUNCO, INC. The company was incorporated in 1979 and owned by Fleetwood M. Dunston, Jr. from Coinjock, Currituck County, North Carolina and Cora Cocoa Johnson-Dunston, Chesapeake, Virginia. They were both graduates of the Atlanta University Center. Fleetwood M. Dunston, Jr., Morehouse College, 1967 and Cora Cocoa Johnson-Dunston, Atlanta University School of Social Work, MSW, 1975. Fleetwood Marshall Dunston, Jr. was an established businessman in Atlanta, who owned an office furniture dealership that specialized in interior design and space planning services. He also was a diplomat and the first Honorary Consul for the country of Barbados in Georgia. In construction, Fleetwood and Cocoa were believed to be the “lone ranger” among Black-owned firms engaged in the lucrative construction niche called demolition and historic preservation. They owned their own heavy equipment machines and did their own work. “That’s because most firms didn’t have access to lease or rent the kind of heavy machinery necessary for this kind of specialized work,” says DUNCO co-owner and Project Director, Cocoa Johnson-Dunston.
“Cocoa” has called Atlanta home since leaving her native Norfolk, Virginia. Upon graduation from HBCU Norfolk State University in 1971, she was a juvenile probation officer and statistician. She matriculated to Atlanta University to obtain her Master’s degree when she met her enterprising husband-to-be and inquired about his helping her find meaningful work for incarcerated women. Her second chance ideology made a difference for both men and women who needed and wanted assistance. Fleetwood and his business relationships helped Cocoa make significant changes for many lives. The story was written by The Inquirer, May 11, 1996, during the interview at her office at Colony Square.
When Herndon Stadium hosted its final football game between Morris Brown and Hampton University on November 13, 1993, (Hampton defeated the Wolverines 49-14), the Dunston team of Fleetwood and Cocoa began and completed the demolition of the 46-year-old Herndon Stadium that stood above the “sensitive” MARTA Rail system in Vine City during the summer of 1994.
It was no snap! No structural damage to MARTA’S Rail System, surrounding properties, injuries or casualties!
Unfavorable conditions, record setting rain, inclement weather and the use of heavy equipment, backhoes, loaders, tractors and trucks in muddy surroundings made the process difficult but not undoable. The successful demolition of the Herndon Stadium project made way for other contracts throughout Atlanta, and much of the southeast. DUNCO, INC. also reached out to the downtrodden, unemployed and even some former inmates to work on Herndon Stadium and other projects and provided them union-scale salaries and career training. Cocoa experienced cruel prejudices and sexism as she continued to effectively and safely manage her projects. Prayers sustained her and her experiences built the fortitude to continue and finish every project. The projects completed by Cocoa established a history as one of a very few “sistahs” able to work as an executive and in a hands-on capacity. DUNCO, INC. performed as a general contractor on many projects, some bonded, some not. The objective was to get our equipment, boots on the ground, work for men and women who needed it and foster growth from each experience, succeed expectations. Herndon Stadium demolition and site work was a classic example! We did it all. Fleetwood M. Dunston, Jr. introduced Cocoa to a side of business that fostered growth and development, “a kid glove approach,” often, a strong arm in a velvet glove, because construction is a tough business, a quick mind and level head, calm is best practice. Fleetwood was a polite, strong, intelligent man, a positive model for DUNCO.
After 48 years as friends, business partners and later husband and wife, Fleetwood passed away on August 18, 2022 from a disease known as SEPSIS. According to the Cleveland Clinic, SEPSIS is the body’s “improper response to an infection.” The disease dates back over 2,700 years to 400 BC but researchers today contend treatment is still “difficult at best.” Identifying sepsis early and treatment is crucial to saving lives. Cocoa Dunston, who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Fleetwood making DUNCO, INC. work, applied the same work ethic, caring, learning and treating her husband as they both fought against many unknowns regarding sepsis. Today Cocoa continues to talk about sepsis awareness and education to inform the citizenry about sepsis in the United States and abroad. Sepsis can affect anyone, rich, poor, young old, no one is exempt. AFADD, INC. was established in 2014 as a domestic non-profit organization. The website: https://afaddusa.org provides information about sepsis that can help people understand and prepare for a disease that has plagued mankind for over 2,700 years. Nelson Mandela said it best, his quote: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Cocoa’s mission is to promote awareness and education about sepsis and end its 2,700-year reign and save lives.
Last updated on January 7, 2024