African Americans in Atlanta

Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
Tyler Perry, filmmaker

Atlanta has long been known as a center of black wealth, political power and culture; a cradle of the Civil Rights Movement[1] and home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It has often been called a "black mecca".[2]


The 2010 and 2000 black population of the city of Atlanta was:[3][4][5][6]

Pop. 2010 % of total 2010 Pop. 2000 % of total 2000 absolute
change 2000-2010
% change 2000-2010
226,894 54.0% 255,689 61.4% -31,678 -12.3%

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:

While there was an increasing black population in these areas:

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 disbursement 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.[7]

Year Black pop. in
City of Atlanta
Black pop. in
DeKalb County
Total black pop.
Atlanta + DeKalb
Total black pop.
Metro Atlanta
Proportion of black pop.
in Atlanta + DeKalb
2000 255,689 361,111 616,8001,189,179 51.9%
2010226,894 375,697602,591 1,707,913 35.2%

Political power

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.[8]

Since then, there has been "a sometimes uneasy partnership between black political clout and white financial power that has helped Atlanta move closer to its goal of becoming a world-class city."[9]


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 education and empowerment.

Many of the nation's most successful African Americans matriculated through the AUC. See: List of Morehouse College alumni; List of alumni from Clark Atlanta University; Spelman College alumnae

As of the early 2010s, Georgia State University in Atlanta has become a majority black university and annually awards one of the highest numbers of bachelor's degrees to blacks in the nation.[10][11]

Upper class

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.[12]

The concentration of a black elite in Atlanta can be explained by:

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.[12] Upperclass Black Americans also reside in Eastern Atlanta in Dekalb County which is the second richest predominantly black county in the country.

Black mecca

Main article: black mecca

A black mecca is a city to which African Americans, particularly professionals,[13] are drawn to live, due to some or all of the following factors:

Atlanta has been referred to as a black mecca since the 1970s.

Culture and Recreation

Atlanta is a major center for black music, film, theater, and visual arts.

The National Black Arts Festival has been based in Atlanta since the late 1980s. Throughout the year, the festival feature performing arts, literature and visual arts produced by creative artists of African descent.[14]

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.[15] The same article named Drumma Boy, Fatboi, Shawty Redd and Zaytoven the four "hottest producers driving the city".[15]

Atlanta is the setting for several movies and popular TV shows such as the Real Housewives of Atlanta, Tyler Perry's series, Single Ladies, 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.[16]

Black theater companies include True Colors, Jomandi Productions and Atlanta Black Theatre Festival.

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.

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 Georgia Dome.

The annual Black College Football Hall of Fame ceremony is held in Atlanta. The event founded by Grambling State University alumnni and NFL greats Doug Williams and James Harris, honors extraordinary football players who played at historically black institutions.[17]

The annual Bronner Bros. International Beauty Show is the largest in the world that primarily focuses on black women beauty.[18]

Atlanta is the host city for the annual Honda Battle of the Bands. The event showcases several HBCU marching bands and celebrity guests in front of 50,000+ spectators and fans.

There is a plethora of black record labels and black music artists from or based in Atlanta.

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.[19]

Atlanta has a popular black nightlife scene.[20]


Courage to Lead exhibit at the Visitor Center of the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site

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.[21] 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.


Atlanta timeline
See also: Timeline of Atlanta
Seal of the City of Atlanta
Seal of the City 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 disenfranchized 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 disfranchisement of African Americans. Not even college-educated men could vote. However, while most black Atlantans were poor and disenfranchized 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,[22] 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 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 Kasim Reed. All elected mayors of Atlanta are and have been members of the Democratic Party.

Most recently, Atlanta resident Vernon Jones ran unsuccessfully in 2008 to become the first African American to win the Democratic primary for representation of the state in the United States Senate.

See also

External links


  1. ""Who's right? Cities lay claim to civil rights 'cradle' mantle"/'"Atlanta Journal-Constitution''". June 28, 2011. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  2. DP-1. Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000; Data Set: Census 2000 Summary File 1 (SF 1) 100-Percent Data; Geographic Area: Atlanta city, Georgia, US Census Bureau
  3. Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010" (Select Atlanta (city), Georgia), US Census Bureau Archived August 15, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. City of Atlanta Quick Facts, US Census Bureau
  5. "Living Cities" study, Brookings Institution
  6. U.S. Census 2010 vs. 2000 population estimates by race
  7. Fosler, R. Scott (1982). Public-Private Partnerships in American Cities:Seven Case Studies. Lexington Publishers. pp. 293ff. ISBN 0-669-05834-3.
  8. "Atlanta and the Powers That Be", Sylvester Monroe, The Root, June 8, 2010
  11. 1 2 3 Graham, Lawrence Otis (1999). Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class. HarperCollins Publishers. pp. chapter 14. ISBN 0060183527.
  12. "Economics Perspectives: What Cities = More Black Jobs?", Black Enterprise, November 1991
  14. 1 2 John Caramanica, "Gucci Mane, No Holds Barred ", New York Times, December 11, 2009
  15. Kim Severson, "Stars Flock to Atlanta, Reshaping a Center of Black Culture", New York Times, November 25, 2011
  20. National Park Service, Sweet Auburn Historic District
  21. "Atlanta Race Riot". Retrieved 2006-09-06.
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