WHITE FLIGHT: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism- a Review
WHITE FLIGHT: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism, Kevin M Kruse’s 2005 book seems very timely today. We often see racism, after the reign of Donald Trump and the George Floyd killing, without a historical framework. Kruse explains post- World War II Atlanta with multiple examples of its complex path. Atlanta seemingly became a “poster child” for a Southern city desegregating, while working class and lower middle-class white people resisted the coalition effort seeking “reasonable” change. Kruse carefully explains how the Republican Party of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon began the mainstream “conservative” movement which continues through today. Racism is central, of course, but there is much more to the story.
Atlanta had a relatively united middle-class core of Black leadership in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s. Leading ministers, lawyers, (“realtists” — not allowed to be called) real estate brokers, and others of influence, regularly worked and socialized together.
Blacks, unlike in most of the South, were allowed to vote. They grew rapidly to over 30%, and eventually 40% of the potential voters. William Hartsfield, Sr., the long-time mayor, built a coalition of Black and upper-middle class/wealthy white voters. Both the Black and white leadership believed that they were successfully manipulating the other.
Black central Atlanta neighborhoods became much too small for growing numbers of Black residents. Lower-middle class and working class white homeowners bitterly resisted Black buyers increasingly moving into their neighborhoods. They felt “entitled” to “their” parks, golf courses, schools, and neighborhood churches. Older white people, wishing to move, frequently found that Black buyers would pay more for their houses, than white potential owners.
Bricks, bombs and arson attempts, as well as large groups of screaming people often confronted the new Black owners. Recently formed neighborhood groups tried (sometimes successfully) to “buy back” individual houses. Whites felt that they had “earned” the right to their “own” schools, parks and nearby churches.
Mayor Hartsfield and his fellow white leaders pushed compromise boundaries where Blacks could live, temporarily slowing, but not stopping, the re-segregation of Atlanta neighborhoods.
In 1960 radicalized students from Atlanta’s historically Black colleges began protesting…