PoliticsThe Townhall

The Black Mecca that never was… but can be

By Barrington Martin II 

My city means a lot of things to many people, but to me, my city is the epicenter of culture. The metropolis of the south, Atlanta, Georgia is home and birthplace to many things that become popular along mainstream society. 

It was once regarded as the city “too busy to hate,” due to its pro-business environment and the support city leaders maintained for the early civil rights movement during the 50’s. Many even consider Atlanta a mecca for Black Americans. 

Specifically, in 1971, Ebony Magazine referred to Atlanta as the “black mecca of the South” because Black Americans have more, live better, accomplish more, and deal with whites more effectively than they do “anywhere else in the South—or North.”  

Atlanta is special because it’s the culmination of all the great feats Black Americans accomplished within 100 years of the government outlawing slavery.

For example, the city is a landmark of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s home to many prominent Civil Rights leaders of that era, including, Xernona Clayton, John Lewis, and Williams Homes Borders. 

It’s also the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement’s figurehead, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition, Atlanta is home to the Atlanta University Center, the nation’s largest consortium of historically Black colleges, including Morehouse College and Spelman. 

To many Black Americans, Atlanta is the realization of the “American Dream.” The city has a reputation of being a hub of Black elite business owners, restaurant owners, strong clergy, and fraternal organizations. 

Most notably, the strong Black presence within the political arena.  

In 1974, with the election of Maynard Jackson, Atlanta became the first major southern city to elect a Black mayor. Since then, every mayor of the city has been a Black American. 

With Atlanta having so many Blacks in leadership positions, it earned its reputation as a “Black mecca.” In 1983, Atlanta Magazine echoed the sentiment. They noted how the metro area had the highest proportion of middle-income Black earners of any city within the nation.  

In 2018, Forbes ranked Atlanta and D.C. as the top cities where Blacks did the best economically. One year later, USA Today named Atlanta the Black tech capital of the nation.  

With so much Black success, it’s understandable why Atlanta is regarded as a “promised land” for Blacks Americans. 

Unfortunately, however, it’s all a lie. 

How is it possible the people who struggle most within the “Black mecca” are Black people themselves? A deeper look into the numbers reveals how. 

INEQUALITY 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation reported that “although Atlanta is… considered a “black mecca,” its wealth and promise doesn’t extend to many of its residents, particularly those of color, who struggle to make ends meet, get family-supporting jobs and access quality education.” 

As of 2018, the Brookings institute as well as Bloomberg named Atlanta the capital of income inequality. Specifically, the Brookings institute analysis found that the top income bracket of Atlanta made almost 20 times more than the bottom.

This isn’t a new development either. This level of income inequality has been going on in Atlanta for years, especially within the early to mid 2000s.  

CRIME 

The “Black mecca” also has a crime problem that’s persisted for some time now. 

In 2018, the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) reported Atlanta was named one of America’s top 25 murder capitals within the United States. Earlier this year, the AJC also reported that 2020 was Atlanta’s deadliest year in decades. The Atlanta Police Department investigated 157 homicides in 2020, an increase of 99 from the previous year. 

This year, 11Alive News looked to verify if Atlanta’s crime rate is worse or similar to the notorious crime rate of Chicago. The results were staggering. When adjusting for population per 100,000 people, they found a person is more likely to be a victim of a shooting or aggravated assault in Atlanta than in Chicago. Additionally, the chances a person becomes a murder victim are about the same in both cities.  

EDUCATION 

How is it possible that a “black mecca” full of prestige and higher education institutions fails its young Black adolescents in education? Truthfully, this is the easiest question to answer because the city has a reputation of failing its students. 

In 2009, one of the biggest cheating scandals to ever take place within the U.S. school system found that 44 out of 56 schools cheated on a state-mandated standardized test. Furthermore, 178 educators were implicated in correcting students’ answers. Of these educators, 35 were indicted and all but 12 took plea deals. 

Years later, the school district’s problems remain. There are distinct disparities among the students of the Atlanta Public School System. An important one is that the majority of students live in poverty. Also, the graduation rate of Black students sits at 76%. By the fourth grade, only 16% of Black students perform on grade level. 

At the current rate of progress, it would reportedly take years for failing Black students to catch up with other students. 

LEADERSHIP 

With so many failures in key metrics that detail the quality of a city, how is it possible that Black people are struggling within their “black mecca?” 

The answer is the [Black] leadership. The more I look at the candidates for this year’s mayoral race in Atlanta, the more I’m reminded Atlanta’s yet to live out its true potential. Not just as a ‘black mecca’, but as a city comparable to the likes of NYC or Chicago. With a sprinkle of Silicon Valley. 

I’m reminded of a Black political elite maintaining influence through cheap moral victories that have all flash and no substance.  

I’m reminded that the great people of Atlanta look to them for answers to their problems. But the elites’ only solutions concern enriching themselves and improving their bottom line. 

I think about how many of these people served the city in lesser roles while the problems they claim they’ll fix not only persisted but got worse on their watch. Yet, they expect the great people of Atlanta to entrust them with the ultimate task, even when they were unable to get the job done while working together. 

This stronghold of Atlanta’s political elite must be broken. Atlanta deserves more. Atlanta deserves the best. Atlanta possesses all of the tangibles to be one of the best cities this nation has to offer. However, a new vision is needed. 

Yes, our mayor’s name is Keisha, but what did that ever get us? We have been doing the same thing, for so long, and have gotten so little. 

It’s time for the people of the great city of Atlanta to take a new direction. We owe it to ourselves.  

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Barrington D. Martin II

Contributor

Barrington D. Martin II is the leader of the new school. Born and raised in the great city of Atlanta, GA, he is one of the foremost thought leaders and community leaders of his generation. He is the founder of the United Alliance PAC and a former Congressional Candidate for the Fifth District of Georgia.

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