How Atlanta celebrates its Black political heritage while being consumed by 'gentrification': journalist
Atlanta is a city that is famous for its civil rights heritage and the achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his allies. Journalist Teresa Wiltz, who grew up partly in Atlanta, discusses that heritage in an article published by Politico on September 16. Now in her early sixties, Wiltz stresses that while Atlanta celebrates its past, it has experienced so much “gentrification” that it is “barely recognizable” to someone who remembers the city as it was during the 1970s and 1980s.
“In 1973, the year I turned 12, in a reverse of the Great Migration, my family moved south, decamping from the virtually all-White environs of Staten Island, New York, for my mom’s hometown, Atlanta,” Wiltz recalls. “To be a Black kid growing up in Atlanta in the ‘70s and ‘80s was to experience a version of America almost ripped from a counter history novel. This was Atlanta as in The ATL, Hotlanta, The A, Wakanda — pick your nomenclature here — post-Civil Rights, Black Power Atlanta.”
Wiltz continues, “Atlanta was ours. Our doctors were Black. Our lawyers were Black. The hardware store owners were Black. Our bankers were Black. Our neighbors were Black. Our swimming teachers and gymnastics coaches were Black. White folks, who lived on the other side of town, had the big money. But in Atlanta, Black folks had the political power. And that meant if White people wanted to get anything done, they had to come correct. At least, that’s how we saw the power dynamics in our then-majority-Black city.”
The journalist recalls that after living on “lily White Staten Island” as a child, moving to Atlanta at 12 and spending her adolescence there “brought a newfound sense of pride in my identity.”
“I grew up in a privileged Black bubble, alongside the kids of civil rights leaders, politicians, funeral directors, doctors and lawyers, opera singers and writers — and millionaire business owners,” Wiltz explains. “Atlanta was a place where I saw myself reflected back in the power brokers of my city, and that, along with Atlanta’s rich history, gave me a sense of possibilities.”
Atlanta still has a large Black population. According to World Population Review, the city is 49 percent Black in 2022 — that is, almost half Black. And Atlanta still attracts plenty of African-American politicians and celebrities. But Wiltz laments that gentrification has changed Atlanta a great deal, pointing out that many Black families have moved to the Atlanta suburbs because they can no longer afford to live in Atlanta Proper.
“It has been decades since I moved from Atlanta; I moved away to go to college and never moved back,” Wiltz writes. “But my Atlanta roots — on my mom’s side of the family — run deep, and I pop in often to see family. When I do, the city I land in is one I barely recognize. It’s now the Hollywood of the South, sprawling and as traffic-clogged as the Hollywood of the West. And while the face of Atlanta politics remains Black, like many cities around the country, the ATL is no longer majority Black. Its Black middle-class population is migrating to the suburbs as the explosive growth of the entertainment industry mutates the city into something else.”
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