In 1971, Ebony magazine declared Atlanta, Georgia, the “Black Mecca of the South.” In the ensuing decades, the city fully embraced the designation, becoming a bastion of black success in politics and business.
But that could change, some have said, pending the results of Tuesday’s mayoral election — a contentious runoff race that could end more than four decades of black mayoralleadership. Other political observers say the racial tensions animating the contest have exposed the fact that some lower class blacks feel like opportunities are out of reach.
Maurice J. Hobson, assistant professor of African-American studies at Georgia State University, said that despite the city’s black mayors, many black Atlantans feel their needs in the community aren’t being met.
“Voting always takes a second knee to political power in the city,” he told NBC News.“What we’ve had is puppet governments. The white elite will put a black face out there, but they’re really controlling the policies.”
It’s an argument he outlines in his new book, “The Legend of the Black Mecca: Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta.” Many members of the city’s black community, particularly those in low-income and working class areas, feel neglected, he said. Thus, a deep divide persists between poor and working class blacks and the black elite.
A 2015 reportby the Annie E. Casey Foundation concluded that despite the city’s reputation, deep educational and economic disparities remain between families of color that live on the poorer, black south side comparedto those in the wealthier, whiter northern communities.
Additionally, a 2013 Equality of Opportunity Projectreport concluded that children born into poverty in Atlanta face more barriers to moving into the middle or upper economic classes than in any other major urban region in the country.