“In the stories spun by its supporters, Atlanta had done the impossible.”
That impossible according to those supporters is to navigate the difficult process of integration (or more so desegregation) of the 1940s through the 1960s. Kevin Kruse, of course, suggests that that process was a lot more rocky than otherwise stated, and also not actually particularly integrated in the end.
The opening statement does speak to some relative success, but that success is less about white people in Atlanta looking for an equitable way to provide more access to society and services to Black Atlantans, but instead because of a rise of Black voting power that couldn’t be outmaneuvered or outpaced initially, until it could much later on.
This book traces Atlanta’s process or desegregation of neighborhoods, schools, and businesses through the 1940s-1970s, and the running throughline is that whenever there was the remotest success, movement, or sliding toward progress, there was a near constant backlash that legal when it could be, political when it could be, and violent when it could be, not based on an order of operations but in terms of what would work to effect the goals of the whites bent on holding up progress. The end result is an Atlanta where the city and some surrounding counties are primarily Black, other counties are primarily white, and while things are “desegregated” legally, there is very little in the way of integration. More often the various avenues simply changed hands and then white people left.
The book stands out for me because while too much history has focused on white people’s actions and voices, when it comes to racist structures, not enough history focuses on the establishment of those structures and the attempts to uphold them. Kruse tells us he wants people to know what motivated the thinking of whites in Atlanta to better understand how we got here, and this is the time when a focus on white voices primarily makes a lot of sense.