Not all crises happen quickly. Some of them are slow acting poisons and catch us by surprise when it’s too late. They are the reason public policy is so difficult. Atlanta is in the midst of such a crisis. The city is emptying out of Black people.
Let’s simplify so the pattern is easy to see.
Two censuses ago, in 2000, there were approximately 257,000 Black people that lived in the city of Atlanta. That was 62% of the total population of roughly 418,000. Also, in 2000, there were approximately 138,000 White people, roughly 33% of the total population at the time.
In the last census, in 2010, there were approximately 227,000 Black people living in the city of Atlanta, roughly 54% of the slightly larger total population of 420,000 – a reduction of 30,000 people. During that same decade, the population of White people increased to approximately 161,000. Roughly 23,000 more than in 2000 – an approximately 17% increase.
In ten years, the population of Black people in the city of Atlanta decreased by 30,000. A 12% reduction in the number of Black individuals in 1 decade – 3,000 less per year, 250 per month, 8 per day. Approximately 2 Black families, net, leaving the city every day. Consider that shift on a block by block basis.
At a rate of 30,000 per decade, it will take slightly more than 4 decades, 43 years, for the population of Black people in Atlanta to be half of what it was in 2000 – for roughly 129,000 Black people to leave the city. If the rates hold for White people increasing at approximately 23,000 per decade, there will be an additional 92,000 White people over the same four decades.
In 2040 when the United States, for the first time in history, will no longer be majority White, Atlanta will be. It will have 129,000 Black people, and 230,000 White people. We are already half way there. The coming census in 2020 is the halfway point.
That is an extraordinary transformation of an iconic American city, once named the Black Mecca – the home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Morehouse and Spelman Colleges, the engines of generations of Black intellectual power. Atlanta is not alone. Between 2000 and 2010 it has happened in other major American cities with significant Black identities and the inertia is only increasing.
What does that mean? Is it inherently bad that Atlanta become predominantly White? No.
But predominance offers safety. It offers a feeling of belonging. It offers sanctuary. It offers the ability to experience otherness without feeling threatened. It offers cultural authority. It offers the power of being the point of reference, the group against whom representation is measured. It offers naming rights.
Atlanta is the Black Mecca.
For Black Americans, especially those who stayed in the South and survived the viciousness of Jim Crow and his family, it is the Holy Land. To lose that in a city so closely identified with Black people – from Reconstruction after slavery until now – is an irreparable blow. It has the potential to disrupt our historical narrative. It has the potential to make urban refugees out of modern American Black people.
The objective of improving STEM education in particular and education in general for Black people in Atlanta is not to benefit local companies and improve their diversity reports and claims to inclusion fueled innovation and productivity. The objective is to secure our future. Education is our foothold and sound public policy is our bedrock. They are our defense against irrelevance.
Yet another reason. #votestaceyabrams