Sunday, June 30, 2013

Atlanta’s Black Pickett Fences Foreclosed, For Sale, and For What Justice?

Posted by Yvette Hilaire, ATLANTA, GA --  For my Race and Ethnicity class last semester we read Sociologist Mary Pattillo's seminal book, published in 1999 entitled Black Pickett Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class. This book is an ethnographic account of a Chicago inner-ring suburban Black community, one I believe was very close to where I grew up. It chronicles what many “color-blind” Americans still cannot comprehend today: social class does not trump the deeply-embedded and largely institutionalized racism that continues to undergird our society. Like Dr. Pattillo argues, we may not have Jim Crow Laws anymore, but we still have pervasive residential segregation -- a circumstance resulting in an unequal housing market, regardless of income level. Black middle class neighborhoods are far from just middle class, and many times include some of the same social problems of poor inner-city Black neighborhoods. This is not something you would find in white middle class areas.

Black Atlanta, regardless of social class, faced pervasive mortgage fraud during the recent housing bubble burst, a practice historically motivated by Redlining. But I was not prepared for what I saw in one of these neighborhoods: abandoned and derelict apartment complexes, as well as fallen-down "For Sale" signs on eroded once white-colored picket fences. Surely, this area where the main street bears the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and is the home to some of the most well-known Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) deserves more attention and respect from the city and surrounding region which proudly claims it's “Too Busy to Hate.”

The Supreme Court just handed down two historical rulings: one was a Civil Rights nightmare and the other a precedent-setting victory. The core of the Voter’s Rights Act of 1965 – one that Dr. King fought and ultimately lost his life for was struck down. Subsequently this same Supreme Court deemed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.  Many view this latter decision as another groundbreaking civil right victory by allowing same sex couples to marry. But does this current landmark decision mean that past, equally as landmarked ones need to be declared obsolete? Brown v. Board of  Education was handed down 59 years ago for a very good reason, just like the Voter’s Rights Act was in 1965. But public school segregation and inequity in the voting polls continue. These laws have been on the books for a very long time because discrimination based on race remains alive and well.

Yvette Hilaire is a Sociology Major at Georgia State University.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

An Extraordinary Building with Many Meanings and Leanings

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, CAMBRIDGE, MA – While attending a working meeting at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) last week, I happened upon the Ray and Maria Stata Center. It stopped me in my tracks and I said to my colleague “I’ve got to come back and take some photographs.” This 720,000 square foot building designed by famed architect Frank Gehry and opened in 2004 is a striking postmodernist structure of organized chaos with a mix of shapes leaning is many different directions and made of brick and shining metal. The building is so extraordinary that tourists from as far away a China flock to it year round. It also houses a seemingly incongruous group of academic departments and programs including the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.

The building means different things to different people, depending on how they experience it, and it has not been without controversy. It was an incredibly expensive project, although funded generously by the likes of Ray and Maria Stata, Bill Gates, and Alexander Dreyfoos. There was a fire sprinkler system failure in 2007 that flooded parts of the building. MIT subsequently filed a lawsuit against Gehry citing deficient design which not only led to the sprinkler failure but to drainage and falling ice problems as well. Although the lawsuit was settled in 2010, the structure continues to have as many critics as it does admirers.

And now the building has two more meanings: one of cold blooded murder, and another of human generosity. While I was taking photographs I came across a makeshift memorial near the front of the building. As I got closer I realized it was in memory of slain MIT policeman Sean Collier, who was shot by the Boston bombing suspects at the corner of Vassar and Main Streets where the Stata Center is located. Collier was only 26 years old. A subsequent review of surveillance footage revealed the suspects sneaking up behind Collier’s police cruise, firing at him five times, and then attempting to take his gun. Collier never had a chance.


While this gruesome killing certainly has nothing to do with the Stata Center, the homemade memorial to Collier stands in ironic contrast to its magnificence. It also gives the building an unexpected vulnerability as a place of reflection, demonstrating that such tragedies can happen anywhere, as can outpourings of goodwill. Nothing can bring Collier back but MIT has set up a memorial fund in memory of Collier and the community continues to generously donate while mourning Collier's tragic death.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at To view more of her photographs of the Stata Center go to the Social Shutter Facebook page.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Eroding Segregation? The Story of Two Baptist Churches

Posted by Janean Marshall, MARIETTA, GA – The Zion Baptist Church has a lot of history because it was founded by 88 former slaves in 1866. Today the church as grown into a number of buildings and even has a museum open to the public.  Interestingly, the founding church members came from the First Baptist Church, located right across the street which is now a massive marbled building.  As Sunday services let out you can see Zion’s mostly African American and First Baptist’s mostly white members exit their respective churches and socialize on opposite sides of the street.

I found it very interesting that these two churches are of the same Baptist denomination and yet continue to worship and socialize separately.  But things may be changing. One of the members of Zion told me that recently some members of the two churches partnered on a pilgrimage to Egypt. This was the first time the two churches had ever fellowshipped together.  She felt this was a positive development and very symbolic given the two churches’ history.

Janean Marshall is a Sociology major at Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Unequal Access to Parks and Parking Lots


Posted By Maria Pugliesi, ATLANTA GA – Just last week Atlanta's park system was ranked 31st out of 50 of those in the country’s largest cities. That’s not exactly a stellar performance and it’s not surprising seeing as only 5.6 percent of the city’s land houses parks. But there is something else not captured it this news item that city officials should be doing something about: the distribution of parks and green space is unequal: with the most wealthy, more white parts of the city having more parks and the less wealthy, more Black parts of the city having more parking lots.  

People living in Midtown and points farther north can easily walk to nearby green spaces. Piedmont Park, for example, is one of the biggest parks in Atlanta, and crowds of people from all walks of life fill its immense grass fields on sunny Sunday afternoons. When it’s time to go home, people can cross the street and walk back under the shade of beautiful large trees. There are also jogging and bicycle paths surrounded by large lawns to connect residential neighborhoods like those in Freedom Park.

Closer to downtown, the southside of Atlanta presents a starkly different scenario. Mostly, African American working class people live immediately South of Georgia State University, and they do not have ready access to equally prosperous vegetation, a large park or jogging and biking trails.  There are small parks near public elementary schools; however they are certainly not of a comparable magnitude to those to the north.  

By simply looking at a map of the city, it would make sense to assume that perhaps there is not enough space to create green recreational area near downtown. But then again, one has to wonder why there are so many empty parking lots. In Midtown you can easily happen upon a beautiful park but it’s hard to find parking. On the southside you can easily happen upon a parking lot but it’s hard to find a park. I’d prefer a park to a parking lot.

Maria Pugliesi is an economics major at Georgia State University.