African Americans in Atlanta
Atlanta has long been known as a center of black wealth, higher education, political power and culture; a cradle of the Civil Rights Movement and home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It has often been called a "black mecca".
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From 2000 to 2010 Atlanta saw significant shifts in the racial composition of its neighborhoods. (See: Demographics of Atlanta: Race and ethnicity by neighborhood) There was a decrease in the black population in the following areas:
- In NPU W (East Atlanta, Grant Park, Ormewood Park, Benteen Park), the black population went from 57.6% to 38.0%, and the white proportion rose from 36.5% to 54.8%
- In NPU O (Edgewood, Kirkwood, East Lake area), the black population went from 86.2% to 58.7%, and the white proportion rose from 11.3% to 36.9%.
- In NPU L (English Avenue, Vine City), the black proportion of the population went down from 97.5% to 89.1%, while the white proportion rose from 1.3% to 6.1%. Note that there many infill residential units were added in the King Plow Arts Center area, which falls under English Avenue but which in character is an extension of the Marietta Street Artery and West Midtown.
- In NPU D, stretching from West Midtown along the border of Buckhead and northwestern Atlanta, westward towards the river, the white proportion rose from 49.3% to 59.2% with the black proportion droping from 36.5% to 23.9%
While there was an increasing black population in these areas:
- In NPU X (Metropolitan Parkway corridor), the black proportion of the population rose from 59.5% to 83.2%, while the White, Asian and Hispanic proportion dropped about three percentage points each.
- NPU B (central Buckhead) became more diverse, with the white proportion dropping from 82.8% to 75.5%, the black proportion rising from 5.9% to 12.3%, and the Asian proportion from 3.1% to 5.3%
In Metro Atlanta, Black Americans are the largest racial minority at 32.4% of the population, up from 28.9% in 2000. From 2000-2010, the geographic distribution of blacks in Metro Atlanta changed significantly. Long concentrated in the city of Atlanta and DeKalb County, the black population there dropped while over half a million African Americans settled across other parts of the metro area, including approximately 112,000 in Gwinnett County, 71,000 in Fulton outside Atlanta, 58,000 in Cobb, 50,000 in Clayton, 34,000 in Douglas, and 27,000 each in Newton and Rockdale Counties.
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City of Atlanta
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In 2015, Metro Atlanta had the greatest numerical gain in new black residents than any metropolitan area in the U.S. (Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex was second), with more than 198,031 black residents moving there, according to an analysis of census data.
Since 1973, Atlanta has consistently elected black mayors, and two in particular have been prominent on the national stage, Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson. Jackson was elected with the support of the predominantly white business community, including the chairmen of Coca-Cola, Citizens & Southern National Bank, the Trust Company of Georgia, and architect and Peachtree Center developer John Portman. They were hopeful that a new progressive coalition would be forged between downtown and City Hall; but they were not prepared for the level of support for the goals of the black community that the mayor provided through support for minority-based businesses and for neighborhood-based organizations.
Atlanta is home to the Atlanta University Center (AUC), the largest contiguous consortium of historically-black colleges, comprising Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Interdenominational Theological Center. The first of these colleges were established shortly after the Civil War and have made Atlanta one of the historic centers of black intellectualism and empowerment.
Morris Brown College is the first institution of higher learning in Georgia founded by African-Americans.
The Georgia State University (GSU) student body is majority black and consists of more black students than any other university in the nation. GSU is the largest university in Georgia and leads the nation in conferring bachelor degrees on blacks.
Atlanta has a well-organized black upper class which exerts its power in politics, business and academia, and historically, in the religious arena. Mayors Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young were representative of the upper, not working class, and rose to national standing. The black academic community is the largest of any US city's because of the presence of the Atlanta University Center (AUC), a consortium of six historically black colleges (HBCUs). In business, Atlanta is home to the nation's largest black-owned insurance company (Atlanta Life), real-estate development firm (H.J. Russell) as well as some of the country's top black-owned investment and law firms, car dealerships, and food service companies. An old-guard black elite, graduated from AUC schools and whose status dates back to the glory days of Sweet Auburn or before, guards its social circles from "new" black money—families such as Herndon, Yates, Bond, Milton, Yancey, Blayton, Rucker, Aikens, Harper, Cooper, Dobbs and Scott. The First Congregational Church is their church of choice.
The concentration of a black elite in Atlanta can be explained by:
- the early establishment of black colleges in the city immediately after the Civil War, producing graduates who remained in the city as leaders
- the high proportion of blacks in the general population (as compared to New York or Chicago), providing a large market for goods and services
- After the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, blacks removed their businesses from downtown Atlanta to seek safety; during the same period, explicit segregationist legislation was introduced, which had the effect of producing a concentrated and dynamic separate black business community in the refuges of Sweet Auburn and the area around Ashby Street (now Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard).
In the 1920s, Hunter Street (now Martin Luther King Drive) and Collier Heights became the black elite neighborhoods of choice, while today areas in far southwest of the city around Camp Creek Marketplace, neighborhoods such as Niskey Lake, are also popular. Upperclass Black Americans also reside in Eastern Atlanta in Dekalb County which is the second richest predominantly black county in the country.
- superior economic opportunities for blacks, often as assessed by the presence of a large black upper-middle and upper class
- black political power in a city
- leading black educational institutions in a city
- a city's leading role in black arts, music, and other culture
- harmonious black-white race relations in a city
Atlanta has been referred to as a black mecca since the 1970s.
Culture and Recreation
Atlanta is a major center for black music, nightlife, film, theater, history, culture, and visual arts. Some notables include the following.
The National Black Arts Festival has been based in Atlanta since the late 1980s. Throughout the year, the festival features performing arts, literature and visual arts produced by creative artists of African descent.
The Atlanta Jazz Festival in Piedmont Park is one of the largest free jazz festivals in the country and features mostly black artists. The annual event is hosted by the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs.
The Sweet Auburn Springfest is an annual outdoor festival held in the historically black Sweet Auburn district. It is one of the largest free outdoor festivals in the Southeastern United States.
The Black Writers Weekend annual conference is based in Atlanta as of 2014. The conference is the nation’s only entertainment award show and gathering for black creatives in publishing, film and TV enthusiasts.
The Juneteenth Atlanta Parade & Music Festival is one of the largest annual Juneteenth event in the nation.
The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History opened in 1994 and is located in the Sweet Auburn Historic District.
In 2009, The New York Times noted that after 2000, Atlanta moved "from the margins to becoming hip-hop's center of gravity, part of a larger shift in hip-hop innovation to the South." Producer Drumma Boy called Atlanta "the melting pot of the South". Producer Fatboi called the Roland TR-808 ("808") synthesizer "central" to Atlanta music's versatility, used for snap, crunk, trap, and pop rap styles. The same article named Drumma Boy, Fatboi, Shawty Redd and Zaytoven the four "hottest producers driving the city".
Atlanta is the setting for several movies and popular TV shows such as the Real Housewives of Atlanta, Tyler Perry's series, Atlanta, Star, and several other reality shows. Due to Perry, the Housewives, and others, Atlanta is also known as a center of black entertainment in the U.S.
The Atlanta Black Pride celebration is the largest in the world for black gay and lesbian people. The event attracts over 100,000 participants and has a major economic impact on the city. Atlanta has one of the highest concentrations of black gay and lesbian people in the nation.
The MEAC/SWAC Challenge is an annual historically black college college football game showcasing a team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and a team from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). The game moved to the Georgia State Stadium in 2018.
The Celebration Bowl is the only HBCU football bowl game in the nation. The bowl game provides a match-up between the champions of the Mideastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The annual Black College Football Hall of Fame ceremony is held in Atlanta. The event founded by Grambling State University alumni and NFL greats Doug Williams and James Harris, honors extraordinary football players who played at historically black institutions.
The annual Bronner Bros. International Beauty Show is the largest in the world that primarily focuses on black women beauty.
Atlanta is the host city for the annual Honda Battle of the Bands. The event showcases several HBCU marching bands and celebrity music artists in front of 50,000+ spectators and fans. It is the largest and most popular collegiate marching band event in the country.
Atlanta has one of the highest numbers of independent black owned bookstores and is listed as one of the top destinations for readers of African-American literature.
The Atlanta University Center serves as an important site for cultural enrichment and civic engagement.
Only New York City rivals Atlanta in the number of museums about black history, art and cultural heritage. The King Historic Site and APEX Museum are in the Sweet Auburn area just east of Downtown: John Wesley Dobbs called "Sweet" Auburn Avenue "the richest Negro street in the world" in the early 20th century. Most other African American museums are within walking distance of each other on the Atlanta University Center campus or in nearby West End, a neighborhood of Victorian houses which has become the center of the Afrocentric movement in Atlanta.
- The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site includes a museum chronicling the Civil Rights Movement, the preserved boyhood home of Dr. King, the church where he pastored, and his final resting place
- APEX Museum of black history, Sweet Auburn
- Herndon Home - the mansion of Alonzo Franklin Herndon, a rags-to-riches hero who was born into slavery, but went on to become Atlanta's first black millionaire
- Hammonds House Museum of African American fine art. Located in a historic Queen Anne-style house; celebrates the culture of the African diaspora, West End
- Spelman College Museum of Fine Art on the Spelman College campus, specializing in art by and about women of the African diaspora
- The Art Galleries at Clark Atlanta University - exhibitions of African American art
- Omenala Griot Afrocentric Teaching Museum, West End
- Old Zion Baptist Church Heritage Museum preserving the history, art and culture of the black community in Cobb County
- The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is in Pemberton Place adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park.
Seal of the City of Atlanta
|See also: Timeline of Atlanta|
Slavery in the state of Georgia mostly constituted the main reason for early African American residency in the Atlanta area. The area that included Decatur was opened to settlement in 1823 following the forced abandonment of the area by the Cherokee Nation; with the ceding of the area under the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, plantations of rice and, later, cotton were installed in the area. Most slaves were brought from major ports such as Savannah and Charleston.
In 1850, the area which would become Atlanta, previously known as Terminus and Marthasville, had a population which included 493 African slaves, 18 free blacks, and 2,058 whites. The general population of the area had only recently skyrocketed from a mere total of 30 residents in 1842 due to the building of two Georgia Railroad freight and passenger trains (1845) and the Macon & Western (1846, a third railroad) which connected the little settlement with Macon and Savannah.
Civil War and Reconstruction
African American slaves in the Atlanta area became divided in their loyalties to the then-current status quo as the American Civil War took place between the Confederacy, of which Georgia was a constituent member, and the Union states; the slavery regime also became harsher against both slave and free African Americans, who were severely restricted in their movements by both local and state government in order to prevent desertion of the African Americans to the Union side. However, many slaves from Atlanta took the chance to escape with Union soldiers under William Tecumseh Sherman in his March to the Sea following the razing of Atlanta to the ground; they followed his men to the Atlantic coast of Georgia, where they were granted land under Sherman's Special Field Orders, No. 15 (later rescinded under president Andrew Johnson).
In 1865, the Atlanta City Council vowed equal protection for whites and blacks, and a school for black children, the first in the city, opened in an old church building on Armstrong Street. The Methodist Episcopal Church's Freedman Aid Society founded a coeducational school for African American legislators that would later become Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) in Atlanta. In 1870, following the ratification of the 15th Amendment by the state legislature, the first two African American members were elected to the City Council, while Radical Republican Dennis Hammond sat as mayor.
According to the US Census and Slave Schedules, from 1860 to 1870 Fulton County more than doubled in population, from 14,427 to 33,336. The effects of African-American migration can be seen by the increase in Fulton County from 20.5% enslaved African Americans in 1860 to 45.7% colored (African-American) residents in 1870. In a pattern seen across the South after the Civil War, freedmen often moved from plantations to towns or cities for work. They also gathered in their own communities where they could live more freely from white control. Even if they continued to work as farm laborers, freedmen often migrated after the war. Fulton was one of several counties in Georgia where African American population increased significantly in those years.
Post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow
In the aftermath of Reconstruction, which mostly ended in 1877, African Americans in Atlanta were left to the mercies of the predominantly white state legislature and city council, and were politically disenfranchised during the Jim Crow era; whites had used a variety of tactics, including militias and legislation, to re-establish political and social supremacy throughout the South. By the turn of the century, Georgia passed legislation that completed the disenfranchisement of African Americans. Not even college-educated men could vote. However, while most black Atlantans were poor and disenfranchised by Jim Crow, the gradual nationwide rise of the black urban middle class became apparent in Atlanta, with the establishment of African American businesses, media and educational institutions.
Booker T. Washington, principal of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, delivered a speech to the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition which urged African Americans to focus more upon economic empowerment instead of immediate socio-political empowerment and rights, much to the anger of other civil rights leaders, including W. E. B. Du Bois, a graduate of Fisk University and Harvard, who would become one of the major civil rights activists of the first half of the 20th century.
Competition for jobs and housing gave rise to fears and tensions. These catalyzed in 1906 in the Atlanta Race Riot. This left at least 27 dead, 25 of them African American, and over seventy people injured. Neighborhoods became more segregated as Blacks sought safety in majority-Black areas such as Sweet Auburn and areas west of Downtown. As racial tensions rose, particularly resentment from working-class whites against better-off Blacks, segregation was introduced into more areas of public life. For example, Atlanta's streetcars were officially segregated in 1910, with Blacks forced to sit at the rear.
In 1928, the Atlanta Daily World began publication, and continues as one of the oldest African American newspaper in circulation. From the 1920s to the 1940s, the Atlanta Black Crackers, a baseball team in the Negro Southern League, and later on, in the Negro American League, entertained sports fans at Ponce de Leon Park; some of the members of the Black Crackers would become players in Major League Baseball following the integration of the Negro Leagues into the larger leagues. Sweet Auburn would become one of the premier predominantly African American urban settlements to the current day.
Civil Rights Movement
Since the rise of the civil rights movement, African Americans have wielded an increasingly potent degree of political power, most resultant in the currently unbroken string of African American mayors of the City of Atlanta since the election of Maynard Jackson in 1973; the current mayor of Atlanta is Keisha Lance Bottoms. All elected mayors of Atlanta are and have been members of the Democratic Party.
In May 2018, Atlanta area resident and Spelman College alumna Stacey Abrams became the first black woman to win a major party nomination for governor in the United States. In November, she lost the controversial 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election by less than three percentage points. Due to the election being so close, Abrams committed to running for office again. In February 2019, Stacey Abrams became the first black woman to give an official State of the Union address.
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