The Legend of Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta

The Legend of Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta

The Legend of Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta

The Legend of Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta

Synopsis

For more than a century, the city of Atlanta has been associated with black achievement in education, business, politics, media, and music, earning it the nickname "the black Mecca." Atlanta's long tradition of black education dates back to Reconstruction, and produced an elite that flourished in spite of Jim Crow, rose to leadership during the civil rights movement, and then took power in the 1970s by building a coalition between white progressives, business interests, and black Atlantans. But as Maurice J. Hobson demonstrates, Atlanta's political leadership--from the election of Maynard Jackson, Atlanta's first black mayor, through the city's hosting of the 1996 Olympic Games--has consistently mishandled the black poor. Drawn from vivid primary sources and unnerving oral histories of working-class city-dwellers and hip-hop artists from Atlanta's underbelly, Hobson argues that Atlanta's political leadership has governed by bargaining with white business interests to the detriment of ordinary black Atlantans.

In telling this history through the prism of the black New South and Atlanta politics, policy, and pop culture, Hobson portrays a striking schism between the black political elite and poor city-dwellers, complicating the long-held view of Atlanta as a mecca for black people.

Excerpt

On September 18, 1990, the International Olympic Committee selected Atlanta, Georgia, as the host city for the xxvi Centennial Olympiad (1996). a product of the visionary leadership of black mayors Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. and Andrew Jackson Young, this achievement signaled a Kairos moment for the southern city. Only twenty- five years before, Atlanta had reeled from urban rebellions as poor black citizens took to the streets to air their grievances over police brutality and poor living conditions. Just a few years later, Maynard Jackson had ascended to the mayor’s office, drawing from an unprecedented coalition of black Atlantans and the city’s white progressive voters. If a cross- racial grassroots coalition had been responsible for electing Jackson in 1973, the Olympic victory came thanks to a co alition of elites— cooperation between the black city government and the white business elite, especially Coca- Cola and Delta Airlines, was instrumental to securing the Games. the city’s boosters, the Atlanta Convention Bureau, and different trade and tourist administrations could now claim that Atlanta had outgrown its status as regional capital of the South, transcending the region and history. After decades of reinvention, it was “Hotlanta,” the Deep South’s newest and most modern world- class and international city. Yet the fruits of this success were not, and have never been, shared equitably. As much as Atlanta had changed, the same poor blacks who had taken to the streets in the urban uprisings of the 1960s had benefited little during the decades that followed.

A divide between the black elite and the black poor had always riven Atlanta’s social fabric. Even after the city government shifted from white to black hands, its leaders pursued policies that benefited white and black elites to the exclusion of the vast majority of the black citizens who had brought them to power. The Legend of the Black Mecca examines these contradictions as they emerged and deepened over the course of Atlanta’s history in this period. It shows how elected and appointed black political kingmakers capitalized on the support of the broader black electorate to rise to power, only to play politics diverting resources, policies, and attention away from the rank and file of black Atlanta and toward a new political machine. It . . .

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