Posted by Michael Bartone, ATLANTA, GA -- Atlanta’s West End (a designation that encompasses the smaller neighborhoods of West End, Vine City, and Washington Park to name a few) is home to three Historically Black College and Universities (HSBCUs), and has a rich cultural history in the "City Too Busy to Hate". From these institutions (Spelman, Morehouse, and Clark Atlanta—collectively called the Atlanta University Center or AU) came many well-known as well as unknown civil rights leaders who fought for the rights of Black Americans. Preceding the modern day civil rights movement, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois published his most famous piece, The Souls of Black Folk in 1903 while teaching at Atlanta University, which merged with Clark University in 1988 to form Clark Atlanta University.
Driving just west of AU on Martin Luther, Jr. Dr. (MLK) there is a street renamed after a leading civil rights organization, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. A plaque commemorates this organization, which was not founded in the West End but had its headquarters there. One would imagine ongoing investment in a neighborhood that was home to such an influential civil rights organization and historic universities, but that's not the case. In fact, demographic information for this neighborhood speaks volumes. Within the 30314 zip code, with a population of 27,181, 96 percent of the residents are Black; there is an unemployment rate of 16 percent; 37 percent of the residents live below the poverty line; the median income is $19,438; and homes are valued at $68,700, far below the Atlanta average of $116,800. Following the boundary of AU, with its iron rod fence, it is easy to see signs of poverty and disinvestment. Ironically, you would not see anything like this in the neighborhood surrounding Emory University, which is predominantly White. Indeed that community is mostly White, wealthy, and home values are $259,000 greater than those in the West End.
Not far from AU is the now abandoned Paschal’s Motor Hotel and Restaurant, which was a hub for civil rights leaders in the the 1950s and 1960s. Further down the street are more abandoned business buildings, a few soul food restaurants, and several barber shops. Across from these businesses there is a new WalMart under construction. Some residents are happy about the WalMart, while others are concerned about the impact it will have on the local businesses already in the area.
Those planning sessions at Paschal’s and the inspiring work that came from them appears to have faded away. While there is still pride among the residents who reside here, there is also frustration. One resident asked why he should care if the political leaders of the city do not. But the West End is a historically and culturally rich community, which should be valued and reinvested in. If that were the case my hope would be that this community becomes revived with the spirit of Black pride and community activism, which existed not too long ago. Come on City Hall, help fade the West End back in, the Black Mecca needs it.
Michael Bartone is a doctoral student in Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.