Racial segregation in Atlanta has known main phases after the freeing of the slaves in 1865: a period of relative integration of businesses and residences; Jim Crow laws and official residential and de facto business segregation after the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906; blockbusting and black residential expansion starting in the 1950's; and gradual integration from the late 1960's onwards. Today Atlanta ranks about average in terms of residential segregation, but still is de facto social segregated in some respects.
After the Civil War, only a handful of Jim Crow-style laws actually enforced segregation legally — custom and protocol kept the races separate, or kept blacks out of, most public spaces. Churches were self-segregated by their congregations. Schools were segregated by law in 1872. Still, despite restrictions, black Atlantans did enjoy more freedom between 1865 and the 1890's. Streetcars and trains were integrated, and shopping and business districts were integrated. Some residential areas were integrated, if an African American could afford to live there.
De facto Residential Segregation
After the war ended, Atlanta received migrants from surrounding counties, as well as new settlers to the region. Many freedmen moved from plantations to towns or cities for work, including Atlanta; Fulton County went from 20.5% black in 1860 to 45.7% black in 1870. Many refugees were destitute without even proper clothing or shoes; the AMA helped fill the gap, and the Freedman's Bureau also offered much help, though erratically.
The destruction of the housing stock by the Union army, together with the massive influx of refugees, resulted in a severe housing shortage. 1⁄8-acre (510 m2) to 1⁄4-acre (1,000 m2) lots with a small house rented for $5 per month, while those with a glass pane rented for $20. High rents rather than laws led to de facto segregation due to simple economics, with most blacks settling into areas at the edge of the city like Jenningstown (pop. 2,490), Shermantown (2,486) and Summerhill (pop. 1,512), where housing was substandard but rented at rates that were regarded as inflated. Shermantown and Summerhill sat in low-lying areas, prone to flooding and sewage overflows, which resulted in outbreaks of disease in the late 19th century. Housing was substandard; an AMA missionary remarked that many houses were "rickety shacks" rented at inflated rates.
The Fifth Ward, now the Fairlie-Poplar district and areas north of it, was home to the greatest number of blacks before the war, but dropped to third place (pop. 2,436) among black neighborhoods by 1870. Mechanicsville would develop as an additional black neighborhood in the 1870's.
Race Riot and Aftermath
Sign at entrance to Ponce de Leon amusement park in 1908 indicating "colored persons admitted as servants only"
Jim Crow Laws
Jim Crow laws were passed in swift succession in the years after the Atlanta Race Riot in 1906. The result was in some cases segregated facilities, with nearly always inferior conditions for black customers, but in many cases it resulted in no facilities at all available to blacks, e.g. all parks were designated whites-only (although a private park, Joyland, did open in 1921). In 1910, the city council passed an ordinance requiring that restaurants be designated for one race only, hobbling black restaurant owners who had been attracting both black and white customers. In the same year, Atlanta's streetcars were segregated, with black patrons required to sit in the rear. If not enough seats were available for all white riders, the blacks sitting furthest forward in the trolley were required to stand and give their seats to whites. In 1913, the city created official boundaries for white and black residential areas. And in 1920, the city prohibited black-owned salons from serving white women and children.
Beyond this, blacks were subject to the South's racial protocol, whereby, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia:
"all blacks were required to pay obeisance to all whites, even those whites of low social standing. And although they were required to address whites by the title "sir," blacks rarely received the same courtesy themselves. Because even minor breaches of racial etiquette often resulted in violent reprisals, the region's codes of deference transformed daily life into a theater of ritual, where every encounter, exchange, and gesture reinforced black inferiority."
Gone with the Wind Premiere
On December 15, 1939 Atlanta hosted the premiere of Gone with the Wind, the movie based on Atlanta resident Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel. Stars Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, and Olivia de Haviland were in attendance. The premiere was held at Loew's Grand Theatre, at Peachtree and Forsyth Streets, current site of the Georgia-Pacific building. An enormous crowd, numbering 300,000 people according to the Atlanta Constitution, filled the streets on this ice-cold night in Atlanta.
Absence of Film's Black Stars at Event
Noticeably absent was Hattie McDaniel, who would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy, as well as Butterfly McQueen (Prissy). The black actors were barred from attending the premiere, from appearing in the souvenir program, and from all the film's advertising in the South. Director David Selznick had attempted to bring McDaniel to the premiere, but MGM advised him not to. Clark Gable angrily threatened to boycott the premiere, but McDaniel convinced him to attend anyway. McDaniel did attend the Hollywood debut thirteen days later, and was featured prominently in the program.
Controversial Participation of Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King, Jr. sang at the gala as part of a children's choir of his father's church, Ebenezer Baptist. The boys dressed as pickaninnies and the girls wore "Aunt Jemima"-style bandanas, dress seen by many blacks as humiliating. John Wesley Dobbs tried to dissuade Rev. King, Sr. from participating at the whites-only event, and Rev. King, Sr. was harshly criticized in the black community.
Blockbusting and Racial Transition in Neighborhoods
In the late 1950's, after forced-housing patterns were outlawed, violence, intimidation and organized political pressure was used in some white neighborhoods to discourage blacks from buying homes there. However, by the late 1950's, such efforts proved futile as blockbusting drove whites to sell their homes in neighborhoods such as Adamsville, Center Hill, Grove Park in northwest Atlanta, and white sections of Edgewood and on the east side. In 1961, the city attempted to thwart blockbusting by erecting road barriers in Cascade Heights, countering the efforts of civic and business leaders to foster Atlanta as the "city too busy to hate."
But efforts to stop transition in Cascade failed too. Neighborhoods of new black homeowners took root, helping alleviate the enormous strain of the lack of housing available to African Americans. Atlanta's western and southern neighborhoods transitioned to majority black — between 1950 and 1970 the number of census tracts that were at least 90% black, tripled. East Lake, Kirkwood, Watts Road, Reynoldstown, Almond Park, Mozley Park, Center Hill and Cascade Heights underwent an almost total transition from white to black. From 1960 to 1970, the black proportion of the city's population rose from 38 to 51%. Meanwhile, during the same decade, the city lost 60,000 white residents, a 20% decline.
White flight and the building of malls in the suburbs triggered a slow decline of downtown as a central shopping district, however it would continue its role as a government center and add the role of lodging and entertainment center for convention traffic.
Civil Rights Movement
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the wake of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which helped usher in the Civil Rights Movement, racial tensions in Atlanta erupted in acts of violence. For example, on October 12, 1958, a Reform Jewish temple on Peachtree Street was bombed. The "Confederate Underground" claimed responsibility. Many believed that Jews, especially those from the northeast, were advocates of the Civil Rights Movement.
In the 1960's, Atlanta was a major organizing center of the US Civil Rights Movement, with Dr. Martin Luther King and students from Atlanta's historically black colleges and universities playing major roles in the movement's leadership. On October 19, 1960, a sit-in at the lunch counters of several Atlanta department stores led to the arrest of Dr. King and several students. This drew attention from the national media and from presidential candidate John F. Kennedy.
Despite this incident, Atlanta's political and business leaders fostered Atlanta's image as "the city too busy to hate." While the city mostly avoided confrontation, minor race riots did occur in 1965 and in 1968.
Desegregation of the public sphere came in stages, with buses and trolleybuses desegregated in 1959, restaurants at Rich's department store in 1961, (though Lester Maddox's Pickrick restaurant famously remained segregated through 1964), and movie theaters in 1962-3. While in 1961, Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. became one of the few Southern white mayors to support desegregation of his city's public schools, initial compliance was token, and in reality desegregation occurred in stages from 1961 to 1973.
Current State of Residential Segregation
2000 map of race and ethnicity in Atlanta; whites still live largely in the north side of the metro area; blacks in the south
There is no one definitive method for measuring residential segregation, and differing methods reveal different results. In general, the metro area is more integrated than the city of Atlanta.
In the 2000 Census Bureau study, among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Atlanta ranks just below average, with 8.8% of residents living on integrated blocks vs. 9.4% on average. However, among the 20 cities with the highest proportion of blacks in their populations (Atlanta has the 5th highest proportion), Atlanta ranks second to last, with only Chicago having fewer residents (5.7%) living on integrated blocks.
Metro Atlanta ranked high in a 2000 measure of residents living on integrated blocks, at 18.4% ranking 14th among the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. However measured by a longstanding "dissimilarity index", Metro Atlanta ranked 63rd out of 100. In a study that measured how many Metro Atlanta blacks lived on blocks that were at least 20% black and 20% white, Metro Atlanta ranked at the lower end of the group of more heavily black metro areas, at 25.8% ; however Metro Atlanta had one of the highest proportions of whites living on blocks that were at least 20% black and 20% white, 14.1%, ranking 11th out of 100.
Certain areas of the city are predominantly black or white (See also Demographics of Atlanta:Neighborhoods):
60% of the city's area consists of largely black neighborhoods: together, Northwest, Southwest, and Southeast Atlanta are 92% black there are some areas that are predominantly white, notably Buckhead and Northeast Atlanta (NPUs F and N: Virginia-Highland, Morningside/Lenox Park, Inman Park, Candler Park, Poncey-Highland, Reynoldstown, Cabbagetown, Lake Claire) which are on average 80% white.