Middle Class Blacks Head to Atlanta
By PATRICIA J. MAYS
Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA (AP) Four months ago, Ronnie Harris quit his job as a safety engineer
for the city of San Antonio, sold all his furniture, leased his four-bedroom ranch
house and moved to Atlanta.
Harris, 36 and divorced, didn't have a job or a place to live, but was intent
on settling in a place with a booming economy and a growing community of young, upwardly
mobile blacks. For many like Harris, there is only one place to move.
"I chose Atlanta because it's THE place to be," he said. "It's
the black mecca."
Within weeks of his arrival, Harris landed a job as an insurance adjuster and
found many other like-minded transplants lured here by a rich mix of job opportunities,
black culture and civil rights legacy.
"The climate is good, the cost of living still isn't as bad as New York or
L.A., it has a nightlife," said Raymond Winbush, director of Race Relations
Institute at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. "It has everything that most
black urban professionals want."
The city, in a region once known for its sprawling cotton plantations, also is
home to five historically black colleges, many black celebrities, several urban radio stations, an upscale
soul food market, black theatrical groups, the National
Black Arts Festival and the Shrine of the Black
Madonna a renowned black book store.
"My experience in L.A. was you didn't see many blacks at the opera or plays,
the things I enjoyed doing," said Millie Cartznes, 49, who moved to the region
from Los Angeles in August. "Here, I've met so many prominent black
authors and artists."
Home to several R&B musicians including Usher, Toni Braxton, TLC and hip-hop
producer Jermaine Dupri Atlanta is becoming known as the new Motown.
"In terms of the music industry, black music
is to Atlanta what black music was to Detroit in the
'60s," Winbush said.
Through much of this century, blacks abandoned the South for economic opportunities
elsewhere. But with an improving racial climate, the South, and Atlanta in particular,
are drawing people back home. During the first half of the 1990s, the South gained
more black new residents than any other region.
From 1990-97, Atlanta led all other U.S. metropolitan areas in total black
population gains with 189,643, according to Census Bureau estimates compiled by William
Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan.
Although many of the blacks moving to the "city too busy to hate" are
educated and upwardly mobile young professionals, the area also is attracting working-class
families and retirees trying to get back to their roots.
"What I saw when I looked at the rich demographics was that Atlanta was attracting
all segments of the black population, white-collar and
blue-collar," Frey said.
Blacks account for only about 25 percent of the 3.5 million people living in the
20-county metro area. But about two-thirds of the city's 400,000 residents are black.
Some of the transplants are actually natives returning to a city that had a prime
role in the civil rights struggle. It is home to the white marble tomb where the
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is buried, the office where he plotted civil rights strategy
and the church where he preached.
Since electing its first black mayor in 1972 Maynard
Jackson Atlanta has been led by black politicians. Former
Mayor Andrew Young was instrumental in bringing the 1996 Olympics to the city.
"Blacks are returning back home to where their roots are and they are coming
back and finding a more tranquil urban atmosphere," said Herman "Skip"
Mason Jr., a former history professor at Morehouse College.
Some blacks have accumulated tremendous wealth evident by neighborhoods filled
with $500,000 homes but Atlanta still has serious problems. Thirty-five percent of
blacks live below the poverty level, and the city's crime rate is among the nation's
Many newcomers who venture here purely on speculation have discovered that opportunity
does not necessarily guarantee success.
"In years past, people were coming here expecting the golden turkey to lay
the golden egg in their lap," said Daniel Johnson, president of the Black
Newcomer's Network. "What people are realizing now is that you have to have
something to bring to the table."
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