Atlanta could have its first non-Black mayor in more than 40 years if city councilwoman Mary Norwood, who is White, wins the election next month. While Norwood is atop local polls for a number of reasons — progressive policy ideas, key endorsements and overall popularity — some have suggested her surge is due in no small part to the increased gentrification of of a city which has long been home to mostly Black folks.
But that demographic tide has begun to turn.
The phenomenon of White people moving into inner cities while displacing the mostly Black and brown residents is not one that is unique to Atlanta. But this instance does represent one of the first times we’ve seen gentrification potentially affect a local election to the extent that a decidedly Black political legacy was being threatened.
The steady gentrification of Georgia’s capital city has consequently “resulted in a white voting population that is close to parity with the Black voting population,” the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported in May.
Current Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed cannot run for re-election because he will have served the maximum two terms in office. The last White mayor of Atlanta, who was elected in 1969, referenced the reality of the city’s racial landscape in his recently released memoir. In it, Sam Massell’s devoted a passage to Atlanta’s demographic evolution that in retrospect seems to offer an explanation for why Norwood — one of three White people out of nine candidates running for mayor — was on the verge of electoral victory.
“It’s very normal in my opinion,” Massell wrote in “Play it again, Sam.” He continued: “The people would support those who would best understand their issues and needs and shortcomings.”
Local activists have been bringing an increasing amount of attention this year to the city’s gentrification, including a billboard reading, “BLACK PEOPLE ARE BEING PUSHED OUT OF ATLANTA.”
And in March, a citywide controversy broke out after a local reverend accused the current and past administrations of fostering gentrification.
Atlanta may be at the point of no immediate return to its Black history, however. A developer in the city told the Atlanta Jewish Times that “some degree of gentrification is absolutely necessary if you are going to be part of a successful city.”
A local Black civil and human rights activist took another tack on gentrification of his city.
“For Black Atlanta, it does not matter if the Mayor is Black or White, Republican or Democrat,” Robert Patillo wrote for CBS Atlanta in August. “They are now the forgotten people of their own land.”