The Culture of Property: Race, Class, and Housing Landscapes in Atlanta, 1880-1950

The Culture of Property: Race, Class, and Housing Landscapes in Atlanta, 1880-1950

The Culture of Property: Race, Class, and Housing Landscapes in Atlanta, 1880-1950

The Culture of Property: Race, Class, and Housing Landscapes in Atlanta, 1880-1950

Excerpt

At the turn of the twenty-first century, Atlanta’s metropolitan statistical area sprawled across twenty counties. If you were born that year to a family in the Summerhill neighborhood, in the shadows of Turner Field in Atlanta’s central city, you most likely went home to one of the city’s most concentrated centers of poverty, where blacks experienced a high degree of isolation and where most families paid rent in excess of the federal guidelines. You may well have lived in one of the many homes in the area cited for building-code violations that year. One in five children in your neighborhood had a parent in state prison. More than one in ten of your neighbors suffered unemployment. More likely than not, your family lived below the federal poverty line. As you grew up, you might have heard about how your older neighbors took to the streets to demand increased city services or to protest police brutality in the 1960s. At the time of your birth, your neighbors were still recovering from a failed neighborhood redevelopment plan that had left many in the area bitter and distrustful of city government.

If you were born to a family living in Alpharetta—about twenty-five miles north of downtown Atlanta—you were born into a city with an average household income of over $70,000 and an average home value of $225,000, and you were slated to attend north Fulton County’s highest-performing public schools. It was unlikely that any of your neighbors suffered any sustained unemployment. Your neighborhood was likely entirely white, and its less-than-ten-yearold single-family homes were owner occupied and served by private amenities such as tennis courts and pools. Your family may have participated in the public meetings about a controversial zoning variance allowing multifamily housing.

Atlanta was not always a city spatially divided by race and class. One hundred years earlier, Atlanta was diverse even on a microscale. Real-estate dealers capitalized on high in-migration in the 1880s and 1890s, and small-scale investors, speculative builders, and larger developers built rental housing throughout the city. Operating in a culture not yet concerned about housing segregation, a city mixed in class and race resulted. One-room tenement shacks were tucked behind bungalows and Queen Annes. Homes abutted businesses. Office clerks passed their railroad worker neighbors as they made their way to the streetcar line, and lawyers would have seen laborers readying for the day if . . .

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