Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Pristine and the Ugly

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, OGUNQUIT, MAINE  -- Visited mostly by White middle class tourists from March to November, Ogunquit is perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. But like almost every beautiful place, there are some unwelcoming aspects. For example, along the center of town are stone walls that have sharp stones sticking out of the top that make it impossible to sit and drink the organic cappuccinos purchased at the local hub of coffee-drinking. When I was taking pictures of these walls, many passersby commented on the incongruity and irony of what we decided were the equivalent of 'bum-proof' park benches in places like New York City and Boston. 

Then there was the "private land below bridge" sign. Huh? Does anyone really want to go under a bridge where there's nothing but water and a dead-end? There was also the "No Dogs" sign on the beachfront. Why no dogs? I could see something like a sign warning beachgoers to pick up after your dog and baggy stations. There was also a  "No Fireworks" sign, but that seemed most logical.  I suppose that the "Dog in Yard, Private" sign could be to ward off drunken tourists. But there was a gate so why would all of these mostly affluent tourists even have any motivation to jump the gate? I mean, most of them go to fancy restaurants and then back to their pampering  hotel resorts.

Yes Ogunquit is beautiful but it also has some unwelcoming features. So imagine how I smiled when I found a graffiti-clad storage unit right off the main drag.

Deirdre Oakley is an Associate Professor in Sociology at Georgia State University. She is also the Editor of Social Shutter. She can be contacted at Submissions to Social Shutter are welcome from anyone in the world!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Ruins

Posted by Debby and Hubert Yoder, DECATUR, GA -- Just off the busy Clairmont Road corridor in Decatur lies Mason Mill Park, a neighborhood green space with a very interesting history. Not far from Emory University, it sits adjacent to a public library and provides playgrounds, tennis courts, and walking trails. The park expanded not too long ago and now includes an expansive paved walkway that winds its way down to what’s known as The Ruins. 

The Ruins look like a hybrid between an archaeological dig, a forest, and a hub of interesting art. It represents what's left of Decatur’s first water treatment plant (built in the early 1900s) and has long been a playground for graffiti artists. Until the recent expansion, this area could only be reached by hiking through the overgrown Kudzu-infested woods. Those who knew of it kept the maze-like trail secret because it led to a private oasis where artistic expression went uncensored.

Prior to the construction of the water treatment facility, there was a flour mill there. It operated for about 50 years and survived the Civil War, despite the local rhetoric that all of Georgia had been burned to the ground. Ironically, the mill was a meeting place for two Corps of Union soldiers as they began the drive to eliminate legal slavery. After a fire destroyed the mill in 1898, the owners sold the property to the City of Decatur. During President Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built a park around the treatment facility making the dams and man-made lake accessible to residents. However, by the 1940s, Decatur had outgrown the capabilities of the plant and it was abandoned for a more suitable space.  

For many years after that the site was left abandoned and unmaintained. Residents considered it a nuisance because the dams that were left behind caused flooding. In the mid-1960s a retired judge got fed up with the situation and took it upon himself to blow up the dams and drain the lake.

Now there's not much left of the facility. There are some brick foundations, part of a water tower, and remains of walls, as well as an informational plaque diagramming what once existed. One particularly compelling brick wall stands alone. It includes a doorway and window that make a great spot for portraits.  Nearby is the beautiful walkway built by the PATH Foundation. Graffiti in this area has been legal since walkway expansion and is encouraged. The paintings and writings on the remaining brick structures change frequently resulting in a palimpsest of colors, themes, and words. All of which tangle together with the untamed greenery to create an urban jungle gym of sorts.

Debby Yoder is a Contributor to Social Shutter as well as a student at Georgia State University majoring in Sociology. She can be contacted at Hubert Yoder is Debby's father and retired after working in information systems at McDonnell Douglas, EDS, and IBM. Photography is now his work and hobby. He can be contacted at

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Unequal Geography of Freemasons in Atlanta

Posted by Austin Stewart, ATLANTA, GA -- Buckhead, East Atlanta, and Bankhead have one thing in common. They all have or have had a Masonic Lodge present in their neighborhoods. In Georgia, the Masonic Fraternal Organization  is very strong, and Atlanta is no exception.  The Masonic Center in Buckhead, a predominantly white area, is massive and well kept. There is no sense of the Masonic Brotherhood dying off when one looks at building. In such a commercial and affluent part of town, it is no wonder that the site was chosen for what seems to be a thriving center for Masonry. Masonry was brought to the United States in the 1700s from the United Kingdom. Historically, Masonry was segregated by race here. In 1784 the first African American lodge was officially chartered in Boston.

In contrast, the shuttered Smooth Ashlar Lodge at 525 Moreland in East Atlanta shares a parking lot with a cheap Chinese restaurant and is covered in graffiti and a charming mural. Above the impressive concrete name plaque, the rectangular Masonic windows have been spray painted with the words “Free China”, and the Gothic style lights at the entrance have been shattered. The Lodge opened in 1984, though the date of closure is not clear. 

Likewise, at 1992 Bankhead Highway, what used to be a tattoo parlor (and is now empty space) there is a “bogus” Prince Hall Mason Lodge listed. I called the Citgo next door to the building and the gentleman told me that all he can remember being there before was a cell-phone store. I have a hunch that maybe the leader of the Lodge held meetings at his place of business. There is no way to be sure, but Bankhead is a poor African American area and there is good reason to believe that someone may have been taking advantage of the area residents. I saw no trace of anything that would indicate a Masonic meeting place, but nonetheless it was a listed Prince Hall Lodge location.

Atlanta remains a city with pervasive racial segregation and poverty. The Masonic “scene” in Atlanta is indirectly a part of these features. If we look at the shuttered Lodge on Moreland, or the anonymous listing in Bankhead, we can determine that these predominantly Black organizations hit hard times. But if we look at the Buckhead lodge we might conclude that this perhaps mostly white organization is going strong. These buildings, their conditions and locations, are reflections of the unequal social structure within the city.

Austin Stewart is a graduate student in the Andrew Young School of Public Policy at Georgia State University. He can be contacted at or on Twitter at @Touchofgrey88.