Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta

Article excerpt

Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta, by Ronald Bayor. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996. 334 pp. $29.95, cloth.

Reviewed by Michael Fultz, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The U.S. Supreme Court should be mandated to read Ronald H. Bayor's Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta. Why? For a number of reasons, particularly because this book conclusively demonstrates the complete and utter absurdity of the Rehnquist Court's policy mandate in its 1991 Board of Education v. Dowell decision that the "vestiges of segregation" must be considered before determining whether a school desegregation case should be adjudicated. In Board of Education v. Dowell, a majority on the Rehnquist court-over the objections of Thurgood Marshall and two other justices-ruled that federal district courts should try to distinguish between the lingering effects of de jure segregation (legally mandated segregation, as was overturned in 17 southern states and the District of Columbia in the 1954 Brown decision) and so-called de facto segregation (segregation not resulting from legal processes per se). Common sense, of course, would tell us that it is impossible to determine whether contemporary schools, North or South, are segregated because of the effects of the "vestiges of segregation," or because of such allegedly neutral factors as individual housing decisions, because housing decisions themselves have been and continue to be configured by racial-most often racist-policy decisions and considerations. But then common sense has not often highlighted the U.S. Supreme Court's deliberation of issues concerning and affecting African Americans; remember that the infamous 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case actually proclaimed that if African Americans believed that they were stigmatized by de jure segregation laws, it was "solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it."

The point of this review, however, is not to criticize the ongoing witlessness of the Supreme Court or to develop new policy criteria for use in school desegregation cases. Rather, it is to highlight the well-documented evidence marshalled in Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta which indicates that the convoluted heritage of this nation's racist past pervades and permeates its present. As author Ronald Bayor makes abundantly clear, not only did racial factors play an overarching and deeply fundamental role in structuring the city's social, political, and economic, and physical ways of life, he also notes that:

. . .[n]ow, at the end of the twentieth century, even a cursory walk around Atlanta reveals the legacy of race relations for the urban environment. One can still readily see the impact of earlier racial policies in such aspects of Atlanta life as public housing placement, southside business development, traffic flows, some changing street names, school segregation, and slum development. (p. 257)

Starting with an overview of the historical context of the late 19th century, Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta provides an authoritative account of the interaction of racial considerations and public policy. It traces these trends from the dark days of the famous 1906 race riot, when race-baiting White politicians incited rampant violence upon the city's Black community, through the Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young administrations in the 1970s and 1980s, when growing African American political clout was translated into mayoral election victories. …