Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta.
Ronald H. Bayor's Race & the Shaping of Twentieth Century Atlanta is a marvelous study of the role of race in the development of Atlanta. Bayor examines a variety of aspects of city growth, including the provision of city services and public education, and lays bare the role of race in shaping many aspects of the city's physical and institutional structures.
Locating his study in the "city too busy to hate," Bayor clearly demonstrates that racial factors helped determine the physical shape of Atlanta. Like officials in other cities, Atlanta's leaders used urban renewal and redevelopment monies to displace African Americans living close to the downtown through so-called slum clearance projects. Bayor, however, moves beyond the by now familiar analysis of the effect of these urban renewal projects on black neighborhoods to examine the much more subtle process of using the developing street network to promote residential segregation. He suggests that many cities, including Atlanta, used existing streets as boundaries between black and white neighborhoods, sometimes instituting a name change as a street crossed into a neighborhood occupied by African Americans. Atlanta, however, also used the development of new roads to facilitate the separation of the races. In several instances streets were purposively left unpaved as they approached racial boundaries to avoid making any connections between neighborhoods occupied by the different races. In some cases, roads that already connected black and white neighborhoods were closed off and the adjacent land left undeveloped. As a result, throughout the twentieth century much vacant land in the city was left "politically unavailable" for African American use, even though all of the city's black neighborhoods suffered from severe overcrowding. The enduring legacy of segregation can still be seen in Atlanta's traffic flows, which continue to suffer from a lack of north-south connections. Ironically, Bayor notes that even in a city that has achieved African American political dominance, class issues within the black community have arisen to take the place of racial considerations. In the 1980s and 90s, middle-class African Americans have resisted the construction of roads which would connect their neighborhoods to areas occupied by lower income blacks, thus perpetuating the use of the road network to maintain the physical manifestation of social inequalities.
Bayor extends his analysis beyond the role of race in Atlanta's spatial growth to look at discrimination in the provision of city services, including the siting of parks and playgrounds, the lack of African-American access to municipal health care, the slow pace of desegregation of the city's police and fire departments, and the location of rapid rail transit in black neighborhoods. One of Bayor's major contributions is the extent to which he conveys the notion that in all of these areas, Atlanta continues to suffer from the legacy of past discrimination. Like the roads that were not built to avoid connecting certain neighborhoods, the now desegregated city hospital retains a physical structure designed to accommodate the separation of the races, including a redundant layout of dual emergency rooms, admitting areas, and wards. There are few parks in the traditionally African-American sections of the city, and the issue of race continues to tear at the city's fire and police departments as they struggle to undo the effects of years of systematic discrimination. In all of these areas, Bayor documents the important role of race in formulating city policies. In Bayor's analysis, race is such a potent factor that even under an African-American administration in which discrimination against African Americans in hiring in the city's police and fire departments is no longer standard policy, the city nonetheless finds itself expending considerable resources in its efforts to redress the effects of decades of past discrimination. According to Bayor, the implementation of Affirmative Action policies in hiring and promotion procedures to address the inequalities resulting from the earlier race-based policies which initially excluded African Americans from these jobs, segregated them within the bureaus once hired and then failed to promote them in sufficient numbers ultimately "led to a hostile white reaction" which continues to divide the departments and the city as a whole. (p. 187)
Bayor also offers a compelling analysis of the way in which racial issues affected Atlanta's public education system. Documenting the growth of a separate but equal system of dual education that was clearly not equal, Bayor shows how city officials resisted desegregation by moving slowly and engaging in only token desegregation. In addition, Bayor describes how school officials missed the opportunity to use neighborhood schools as a means of supporting mixed-race neighborhoods, even in one case when that was the expressed desire of many of the neighborhood's white inhabitants. Instead, the desegregation policies of the school board served to hasten white flight out of certain neighborhoods and to concentrate students in predominantly single race schools through the selective use of student transfer procedures. The end result of this process was a resegregation of Atlanta's schools under the guise of a desegregation plan, a situation which continues to affect Atlantans today and demonstrates the extent to which race still influences the growth and development of the city.
Overall Bayor's analysis is clear and convincing. By using a wide variety of primary sources, including extensive use of oral interviews, Bayor insightfully conveys the important role race played, and continues to play, in the shaping of Atlanta. The maps, tables and illustrations help illuminate his argument, though the inclusion of even more maps would have been helpful. Well-written and analytically engaging, Race & the Shaping of Twentieth Century Atlanta makes a substantial contribution toward developing a broader understanding of the importance of race in the planning, development and administration of twentieth-century urban America and will prove valuable reading for historians of African America, city planners, urban historians and anyone else who is interested in understanding the complexity of the forces at work in American cities, and how at least one American city has come to be the way it is.
Steven J. Hoffman Southeast Missouri State University
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Hoffman, Steven J.|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1998|
|Previous Article:||"What Nature Suffers to Groe": Life, Labor and Landscape on the Georgia Coast, 1680-1920.|
|Next Article:||Schooling in the New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920.|