Two things happened this morning.
Facebook reminded me that 12 years ago I joined. It was only three days after my arrival at Fisk University following my displacement because of floodwaters in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. It was a big deal back then to be on Facebook. At the time, it was only reserved for those with a .edu email address. No parents and younger siblings allowed please. Little did any of us know that our lives were yet to be transmogrified into social media being a primary way of communications. The height of technology at that time was ethernet connections on desktops with tower CPUs; flash drives were still kinda new and having one with 10GB meant you were a boss. Music, in dorm rooms across America, consisted of virus-laden illegal downloads from Limewire, and burned onto CDs you would listen to in your car. Satellite radio had yet to come to the masses yet.
Secondly, on iTunes, there’s a playlist entitled #ForTheCulture: Negro SpirLITuals of the Century that has been the greatest soundtrack for early millennials ever created. Ever. In the way that the girl and boy bands of the late 80s and early 90s get the Gen Xers going, this music hearkens back to a time a decade ago before America elected its first black president, and summarily it’s first intentionally white one.
As fate would have it, I pressed play to have some music in the background while I worked. And the second song was D4L’s “Laffy Taffy.” I lit up like a Christmas tree. Work momentarily ceased as the flood of emotions washed over me and I was immediately transported back to 2006.
I remember talking to the few kids from Atlanta and they were extremely happy about this new music. This southern music. This crunk music that had finally broken the imaginary barrier that had previously only been transversed by Outkast. This music was the sonic construction of what it meant to live in Atlanta. This was not some seat of the Confederates that was worthy of being burned down, but rather this was the New South, a Black South. A metropolitan reclamation of what had been stolen as a result of slavery. Atlanta was telling the testimony of what blackness could be in the South.
I graduated from Fisk that summer, and in less than 365 from when Katrina hit, I moved to Atlanta for grad school. Cornrows, white-tees, AF1s and all.
Around the web, c. 2017, you may see blogs and think-pieces that use the phrase “peak blackness” to denote that person, place or event evokes a full sense of black cultural pride, and retroactively, that applied to Atlanta in 2006. Hindsight provides a clearer vision, but to be in Atlanta that year was to have not just witnessed, but to be a part of a glorious sunrise of a beautiful new day. Shirley Jackson was the mayor, hence Maynard Jackson still hadn’t left the office. Bankhead Highway was still called Bankhead Highway even though the official street name had been changed in 1998. T.I. was still TIP. Enough years had passed between the final death knell of Freaknik, and buppies had yet to appropriate all things ratchet in Atlanta. Atlanta 2006 was learning not to go to Lenox Mall during Labor Day weekend and enjoying late nights at Landmark Diner or the IHOP on Peachtree Road with friends. I mean, even ESPN Zone was still open up there.
I will say this, Atlanta in 2006, amongst the blacks, had discovered brunch before black folk were brunching like like brunch was going out of style. Anyone who knows me knows that Thumbs Up diner on a Saturday morning was worth the wait. Especially the one on Marietta Street. No telling what local Atlanta celebrity you’d see waiting in line. Remember that recording studio that used to be next door?
Perhaps everyone feels as though the time they live in is an era of transition; all of our experiences are new to us, tis the human existence. I didn’t really enjoy my Atlanta years, 2006-2010. I thought it was a black version of the Los Angeles stereotype: everyone was fake and plastic, no one was real. It was a city full of transplants. About the only people from Atlanta that I knew was my barber who was from Pittsburgh, or some other part of the neighborhood megalopolis known as SWATS. Zone 3, please and thank you. Other than that, far too often the people I met outside of school were these upwardly mobile blacks living in newly built lofts, driving Mercedes AMGs and probably racking up a dumb amount of debt.
Looking back, however, it was a good time to be in Atlanta. To watch it stretch its legs. To remember when Martin Luther King Drive took you straight downtown, before the Mercedes Benz Dome, when Friendship Baptist and Mt. Vernon Baptist shared that fabled corner on Northside Drive. It was a time when Ebenezer Baptist Church had just installed a new pastor and praise and worship was still something to be done on the pipe organ. Atlantic Station was the shiny new toy of the city, and Ponce City Market was an unrealized fantasy for some wealthy white developer who careth not a thing about gentrification. The Braves still played downtown. Miss Anne was still selling the Ghettoburger. Rev. E. Dewey Smith was the pastor of Greater Traveler’s Rest Baptist Church, and Bishop Eddie Long was still packing them in out in Lithonia.
Now it seems as though Maynard Jackson may finally be voted out of office. The frontrunner for the election is Mary Norwood who narrowly lost to current mayor Kasim Reed. The racial politics are right under the surface. At the height of white flight in 1990, Atlanta’s black population was 67%. This was in keeping with many other “chocolate cities” at the time: Detroit was 75%, Washington, D.C., 75% and New Orleans, 62%. However, in cities that have seen massive gentrification over the past 27 years, those numbers have dropped to the 50% mark. Recent surveys have The District at just 49% African American.
As Atlanta is preparing for its first white mayor since before anyone can safely remember, Atlanta c. 2006 will always be a stand out year for me. Maybe its just me, but there will be nothing like it. The rich mix of African American culture handed down from enslaved people, to freed ones, that survived the crucible of Jim Crow is unmatched. In a city that had to handle the death of King, a disgraced megachurch pastor who’s death is still affecting the Negro church politics of the city, Atlanta is certainly one of a kind. From Decatur–where it’s greater I’ve heard–to College Park and East Point, it’s city, a region where blackness goes to thrive.
Forever, I’ve learned to love Atlanta.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL