White Flight in the Kirkwood Neighborhood of Atlanta, GA

 

By Chad Hoge

 

            On June 16, 1960, two black women, Mrs. Ann Roberts and her daughter, moved into the house they had rented at 1500 Woodbine Ave.[1]   They were greeted by the angry shouts of white neighbors, who were determined to "Keep Kirkwood White."[2]  These shouts did not drive the new residents away however; Mrs. Roberts and her daughter stayed, they were among the first of "a vast flood of Negros...coming East ward" who eventually replaced virtually all of their white forerunners.[3]  The neighborhood of Kirkwood on Atlanta's east-side is an excellent case study in black residential expansion and the resulting white flight.  In 1950, African Americans made up about .3% of the population in Kirkwood, by 1960 there were virtually none, in 1970; blacks were over 95% of the total population.[4]  The years of 1954 through 1966, in the Kirkwood area, clearly demonstrate the extreme fear that the mid-twentieth century white community had of African Americans.  This fear had the power to turn long standing neighbors against each other, provoke residents to abandon homes, schools and churches, inspire violence, and ultimately dissolved a community of almost 7,000 people.  In this process an entirely new community was founded. These new residents of Kirkwood lived in the same house, mowed the same lawns, attended the same schools, worshipped in the same churches, shopped in the same stores, and traveled the same streets; however they were very different in one principal regard, race.       

 

            The Kirkwood neighborhood is located about five miles due east of the central business district in Atlanta.  It is bordered by the neighborhoods of Edgewood to the west, Lake Claire to the north, East Lake and Oakhurst to the west, and East Atlanta and the city limits to the south.  The boundaries of the neighborhood have been quite fluid throughout much of its history.  Today they are generally considered to be made up of the following: the railroad track (also MARTA) to the north, Memorial Drive to the south, Montgomery Street, Woodbine Avenue, and Rogers Street to the west, and Winter, Mellrich, and Second Avenue to the east.[5]  The area first developed around 1870 as a streetcar suburb of Atlanta.  During this early period many large Queen Anne and a few Greek revival style homes were built, most along Howard Street and Kirkwood Road.  The area was incorporated as an independent municipality in 1899 and in 1910 the streetcar provided service to and from Atlanta three times a day.  With regular access to the city, Kirkwood's residential development exploded.  The 1920's and 30's brought street after street lined with Craftsman style bungalow homes.  In 1922, this now established white working class neighborhood voted for annexation into the city of Atlanta.  With this annexation, Kirkwood became part of the city's second ward.[6]

            The Kirkwood of 1922 looked a great deal like the Kirkwood of 1950.  The majority of the residents were working class: craftsmen, foremen, or clerks, with a few white collar managers and salesmen mixed in.  They were just slightly better educated and better paid then the average Atlantan and most owned their own homes.[7]  The suburban bliss of white Kirkwood stood in stark contrast to Atlanta's struggling black community.  Urban renewal projects and expressway construction had destroyed much of this population's already sparse housing stock.[8]  According to a report by the Municipal Planning Commission penned in 1950, "the provision of Negro housing in adequate supply and adequate quality loom[ed]...as one of the area's most pressing problems"[9]  Even with this demand and a pocket of some two thousand blacks residing just to the west of Kirkwood's industrial area, the residents of 1950 felt secure.  This security was shaken in 1954 however, when homes on formally all white streets, just to the northwest of Kirkwood proper, began to house black Atlantans.

            "An attempt is being made to sell white property to Negroes in the Whitefoord Avenue area" warned a petition by the Moreland Heights Civic Club to acting Mayor Lee Evans in December of 1954.[10]  Around the same time Mayor Hartsfield and Alderman Robert E. Lee Field meet with a group of local residents at Whitefoord School to discuss growing anxieties about black encroachment.[11]  Less than two miles to the east at the Kirkwood School, unsuspecting students entertained parents and faculty with a "Negro Skit," performed in the school auditorium, and sponsored by the Kirkwood P.T.A.  It included eighteen children in black face, reveling in ante-bellum glory.[12]  Though this was less than two miles away, Kirkwood residents still felt relatively secure in their all white enclave.

            This security was enhanced in early 1955 with a racial divide established at LaFrance Street and Whitefoord Avenue.  Local residents proclaimed that the areas south and east of this intersection would remain white, while the streets north and west would be surrendered to new black residents.  By February, this line was already being threatened.[13]  It did however, remain relatively secure until March of 1956.  On March 9th, a house on the 200 block of Flora Avenue, just to the south of the LaFrance Street divide, was bombed because it had been rented to a black man.  Ernest Simmons and his family were sleeping when several sticks of dynamite exploded in their yard early that morning; considerable damage was done to the front porch, door, windows, and foundation.[14]  Later that year, a bi-racial committee was formed to address the controversy.  It had some success in stalling the encroachment until 1959.[15]

 

            By the fall of 1959, Edgewood residents faced encroachment from both the north and west, as all of the houses on Boulevard, west of Moreland Avenue, were placed on the market at once.  A 240 unit apartment complex, in the area shifted from completely white to completely black.[16]  Reynoldstown, and west Edgewood residents offered little resistance.  However, with blacks less than a mile from Whitefoord School and the Kirkwood community, south Kirkwood and east Edgewood residents began to react.  "Are the niggers moving in?" quipped one area resident in a concerned phone call to Thomas Parham, the city's Housing Coordinator, in February of 1960.[17] 

            Thomas Parham, a trained social worker, filled the vexing position of the Municipal Planning Commission Housing Coordinator.  In this post he had the unfortunate responsibility of hearing citywide complaints of "Negro invaders."  He filled this position from its creation, until the summer of 1960, when he was replaced by Sid Avery.  Avery was a veteran of the c.1950's racial housing disputes on the west side; during which he served as vice president of the Southwest Citizens Association.  In this post he was considered rather radical and uncooperative by the biracial West Side Mutual Development Committee.  Many of his contemporaries argued that he was a decidedly poor choice to assume this post; lacking experience and social grace, he tended to offend more than he appeased.  He did however, take an aggressive stance in supporting white Kirkwood residents.[18]

            This support did not come soon enough, however; by the early months of 1960, blacks out numbered white residents in the Moreland area three to one.[19]  With the Whitefoord School and area churches seriously threatened, Kirkwood and Edgewood residents formed a corporation to buy disputed houses.  The Eastern Atlanta Corporation planned to use the "proceeds from the sale of shares...for the purchase of residential real estate in areas where the character and property value are threatened by distress sales of property in the area."[20]  These "distress sales" were only partly due to the actual encroachment of black residents.  Both black and white real estate companies were following a "bonanza of profit" as they pushed eastward.[21]  These real estate agents capitalized on white fear by using deceptive marketing practices to convince long-term residence that area property values were threatened, a practice known as blockbusting.  Much of the Kirkwood and east Edgewood community was made up of long term residents.  About half had lived there for ten years or more and several claimed tenures between fourteen to forty-eight years.[22] 

            Blockbusting real estate agents "flooded" the neighborhood with fliers encouraging residents to sell.  One asked "Do You Want To Sell?" it offered "Cash Money" for homes and told residents they could "MOVE TOMORROW."[23]  One of the owners of the company that distributed this flier, Harry Maico, allegedly told both black and white residents that the area had been "zoned for colored."  Residential zoning by race was illegal at the time; however few residents, both black and white were aware of this.  When cornered by a judge, Maico, the owner of six houses in the area, told the court he was unaware of the dispute over the racial make-up of the neighborhood, and said he was "caught in the middle."[24]  Maico's ignorance could not have lasted much longer, for area residents began to display signs reading "White Neighborhood" and "Disputed Area" in their front yards.[25] 

            The blockbusting dispute only escalated, a day after Maico sold one of his six area houses in "ignorance," two housewives on Montgomery leveled charges against W.T. Cooley of Atlanta Realty Company.  In a widely publicized and often outlandish trial, Mrs. J.T. Whatley of 55 Montgomery claimed that Cooley tersely told her he was "was going to put Negroes' on the street and that 'if [she] didn't shut [her] damn mouth about it he was going to have the police shut it for [her]."[26]  Two other housewives followed, filing suit a couple weeks later in an effort to stop the racial transition.  Mrs. Mary Lee Taylor of 1263 Arkwright Place and Mrs. O.J. Samples of 78 Anniston each filed charges against different local realtors.  Ironically Mrs. Samples and her husband, who also owned 82 Anniston, signed a petition later the same month stating that they intended to give up the fight to keep the neighborhood white and planned to sell both of their area houses.  Mr. and Mrs. Samples did just that, they sold their home to a Mr. Rogers Jordan within a year.[27]            

            As the Cooley case made headlines, Mayor Hartsfield entered the fray.  He called area real estate agents "unscrupulous" and stated that "agents have marketed this community with...letters very shrewdly written so as to scare white homeowners with predictions of future Negro occupancy and thus [getting] them to list their homes for sale at low prices."  He called this "a despicable and shameful practice" and suggested that it should be against the law.  Further, Hartsfield emphasized that it was against the law to zone "property for Negro use," despite what several agents had claimed.[28]  Two days after the Mayor made these statements, he sent a letter to the Georgia Association of Real Estate Boards expressing this frustration.[29]  The Board understood his concern and launched an investigation in which they hoped "the practice could be nipped in the bud."[30]  Perhaps a card mailed to the Mayor shortly before, inspired this concern.  An anonymous resident of Arkwright Place thanked the Mayor for efforts to thwart the blockbusters but admitted "it is not helping much."  He suggested that the blockbusters "be handled" or "thrown out" and ended with, "I am not signing by name as I ; don't care to get killed or mobbed by the...[block busting] rats."[31] 

            The city's aldermen also became involved.  On May 25th the council re-instated an ordinance banning moving at night and on Sundays. This was in response to the "fracas" on Montgomery Street, in which Harry Maico was involved.  He sold 31 Montgomery to a black man, F.C. Freeman.  This created such a disturbance that both Freeman and his moving truck driver were arrested for "disorderly conduct, moving at night."  It was acknowledged later, after Freeman agreed to sell back the house, that the ordinance had been repealed years earlier.  The bill's sponsor, second ward Alderman R.E.L. Field hoped that reinstating it would "keep down trouble" and by its "mere existence" prevent blockbusting.[32]

            Even the DeKalb County Grand Jury got involved.  The Atlanta Constitution reported in July that the Grand Jury was seeking complaints of blockbusting.  They accused real estate agents of selling to "Negros" to get others to sell "cheap" and of causing poor relationships between the races.[33]   

            Ultimately all of the anti-blockbusting effort was to no avail.  Real estate agents continued to push and neighborhood residents began to divide.  Community members who wished to stay, and take a stand against black encroachment, became increasingly aggressive.  In February of 1960, eighty people from fourteen local churches met at Murphy High School.  The president of Eastern Atlanta Inc., C.D. Hendersen, encouraged residents to buy stock in the company, so that houses already sold to blacks could be bought back.  Meeting attendees repeatedly expressed concern for neighborhood churches, arguing that they represented a significant investment that could not easily be abandoned.[34] 

            In June, neighborhood residents declared Whitefoord Ave. the new racial divide.  The Housing Coordinator's office aptly told them this was "futile," pointing out that there were already twenty-five "for sale" signs east of this point.[35]  Surely at least some of the five houses Harry Maico owned beyond this point were for sale.  Though he was unsuccessful in his sale to L.C. Freeman in May, he had already proved quite willing to sell to whom ever he pleased; in fact, in June, Don C. Gains, president of Pair & Maico Co. signed a petition stating that he intended to sell all five house to colored. 

 

            These types of disputes led the Housing Coordinator's office to conduct a survey in mid June to determine if this new line was at all realistic.  In an effort to appease angry residents, Empire Real Estate Board, an organization of local realtors, agreed to respect the Whitefoord line until the survey was complete.[36]  The results of the survey showed only that residents were in fact divided, and that both those planning to stay and those planning to sell were charged with emotion.  The responses were almost evenly split between those intending to sell and those intending to stay and all of the results came from residents east of the Whitefoord divide.  Residents of Woodbine Circle almost unanimously agreed to sell.  Of the eleven responses, only one wished to stay.  Anniston, only a stone’s throw away, was quite the opposite, of the nine responses only one planned to sell.[37] 

            Emotionally charged words were ubiquitous throughout the survey responses.  Neighbors complained about each other, real estate agents, blacks, the city, and just about anything that could be blamed for the unrest.  They expressed anger, hate, frustration, disappointment, and fear.  Robert B. Clifford of 124 Woodbine Circle wrote:

Woodbine Circle home owners are in complete agreement to sell to colored.  This is NOT a disputed area.  A few die-hards are attempting to interfere with legitimate transactions...Many home owners have suffered lost sales because of rabble rousers.[38]                     

Mrs. T.M. Snipes Jr. of 150 Woodbine Circle disagreed.  She wrote "I will do whatever possible to keep from being forced to sell."  Apparently she was not able to do enough; the house was sold to Jenkins Turner by 1962.  Mr. Turner, an African-American, continues to live there today.[39]  Dr. C.D. Vinson of 72 Anniston Ave warned that residents were "near Riot Stage" and stated that he, seventy-six, and his wife, seventy, were "too old to move."  Despite this conviction and their advanced age, the Vinsons sold their home by 1962.[40] 

            Residents of other streets were equally emotional.  Terressa Moore, a widow, at 34 Montgomery commented that she intended to stay "until I am quite ready to leave."  She went on to say that she "haven't the slightest intentions of selling or renting to Negroes."  Apparently Mrs. Moore was "quite ready" by 1962, as the house was vacant in both '62 and '63.  It then sold to a "Negro," Buster Williams who remained in the house until about 1992.[41]  Perhaps her willingness to leave was facilitated by her right side neighbor, W.J. Cooley, or the lesser across the street, Harry Maico.[42]  An anonymous Montgomery resident agreed with Moore, they wrote: "I will sell to white, but will not be low enough to be the first to sell to [a] niger."  Another anonymous respondent, who disagreed, expressed fear

WE HAVE BEEN TRYING TO SELL FOR 6 MONTHS OR MORE, WE HAVE ALREADY BOUGHT A NEW HOUSE BUT ARE AFRAID TO MOVE OFF AND LEAVE THIS ONE FOR FEAR SOMETHING MIGHT HAPPEN TO IT. PLEASE HELP US.[43]

Mrs. Daisy Johnson of 1415 Woodbine Avenue expressed the deep frustration of many of the older residents who responded to the survey:

How unfair can things get, when you put all you can rake and scrap to try and have a home.  Then some few who have money and can do better sell you out for a few dollars.  Have Widows and children no rights at all? My dear husband and mother worked hard to try an[d] help have a place to call HOME.  But now they are in a better home than any of us here on this earth.  I'm glad they don't know this --- HEARTACHE.  IF Someone will donate the money I'll be glad to do BETTER.

Mrs. Johnson was true to her word, she stayed longer then most.[44]  A Vinson Drive resident offered a more rational and realistic response, "time has changed and I feel that it is impossible for us to try to keep this section white any longer."[45]

            The Vinson Drive resident was right, and apparently even those who voted to stay, agreed with a renter on Anniston, "as long as this is ALL white I would like to stay."[46]  The area assuredly did not stay "ALL white."  During the same month, another group of residents circulated a petition stating that "the undersigned property owners have met and agreed to sell or rent our property to colored.  As far as we are concerned we are not in any dispute what so ever."  The petition contained ninety-seven signatures, the preponderance of which were east of the Whitefoord divide; forty-one were from Kirkwood proper, including ten from Paxon Street and Adler Circle, a half mile east of the divide and well into Kirkwood.[47]  Later that month, the six signers from Paxon Street ran a joint ad advertising their properties in the Atlanta Daily World, a newspaper operated by and targeted at African Americas.[48]  Other notable signatures included the Trustees of both the Whitefoord Avenue Baptist Church and the Southeast Christian Church, as well as W.T. Cooley and an employee of Harry Maico.[49]

 

    

            The unrest and descent in the area only escalated as black pioneers began to move past the divide.  On June 9th, 1408 Woodbine Avenue was set on fire after it had been sold to Mrs. Charlie Mae Kelly, a black woman.  The Housing Coordinator's office was aware of the sale, and had warned the police about possible violence.  Patrolmen monitored the area until 1 am; at 5 am an unknown arsonist hid behind some bushes and poured a flammable liquid under the house.  The rear portion of the house was severely damaged; no one was hurt however, as Kelly had not fully moved in.[50]  "White Area" and "For Sale" signs offered visual evidence of the ongoing dispute in the area.  Clearly, the warnings area residents had received of houses "either be[ing] burned or blown" if "they [were sold] to Colored" were very real, and fear expressed in many of the surveys was quite warranted.[51]

            Seven days later, and less then fourteen houses to the east, 1500 Woodbine Ave. became home to a black family.  Ann Roberts and her daughter moved into their new home amid seven hours of angry protest. This protest included several hundred people and a rock was thrown through her kitchen window.  Roberts, unlike many of her predecessors, overlooked the protest and a neighbor’s sign reading "This is a white area."  She and her daughter stayed, and ultimately destroyed any possibility of a Whitefoord divide.[52]

            In August, area residents reinvigorated their efforts to create a buffer.  With Edgewood all but gone, Kirkwood residents turned to East Atlanta and East Lake for help.  They solicited investment in Eastern Atlanta Inc. in the hopes of buying back homes already sold to blacks and preventing any further sales.   A meeting was held on August 11th at John B. Gordon School in East Atlanta.  It promoted these plans to "threatened" communities to the east and south of the "hotly disputed area."[53]

            By 1961 Whitefoord School was "surrounded," Edgewood residents were ready to let Kirkwood fend for itself, Woodbine Circle was black, and realtors were openly running ads in the Atlanta Daily World for houses throughout southwest Kirkwood.[54]  The failure of past stopgap efforts to stem black expansion and the appointment of Sid Avery as the new Housing Coordinator led to the creation of a new and better organized Kirkwood area neighbors association.  On February 7th the first of a series of preliminary meetings was held at Kirkwood Methodist Church.  Organizers, among them Sid Avery, planned to form an organization of area churches to spearhead efforts to stop the encroachment, and create a racial buffer zone.[55] 

            Originally know as the Kirkwood Churches Committee, the group was inaugurated on February 21st.  It included Kirkwood Baptist, Kirkwood Presbyterian, Kirkwood Methodist, St. Timothy's Episcopal, Kirkwood Seventh-Day-Adventist, and Trinity Baptist.  The February 21st meeting set the new organizations agenda.  It included the establishment of a new racial divide and buffer zone.  Black expansion was to be held to the west and north of Woodbine Avenue - Arkwright Place.  A green belt would be established between Anniston and Woodbine; organizers planned to lobby Urban Renewal to have all of the houses and apartments in the Boulevard-Anniston-Woodbine block demolished.  They planned, and successfully accomplished, to have Anniston dead-ended at Woodbine Ave.  This limited black access to disputed Paxon Street and Adler Circle.  Organizers planned to present their proposal to second ward Aldermen R.E.L. Field and Ed Gilliam as well as Empire Real Estate in the hopes of eliciting their support.[56]

            The February 21st meeting also brought a new name, the Kirkwood Community Committee, with that came a few declarations.  The Committee sought "CHRISTIAN COOPERATION between the races" and did "not tolerate nor condone extreme expressions, based on hatred, prejudices and emotionalism" nor did it tolerate "the threat of violence."  Through these declarations, members hoped to "gain and keep public support."  This was critical, as the new organization hoped to coordinate its efforts with other community groups and Eastern Atlanta Inc.[57] 

            Just a few days later, another community organization met to promote a similar agenda.  Eastern Atlanta Civic Association urged residents of Kirkwood, East Atlanta, and East Lake to buy stock in Eastern Atlanta Inc.  They told attendees that by doing so they could remove "undesirable neighbors" from the area.  Speakers touted the $142,000 in property already purchased, and the $14,800 in stock already sold.  They pointed out that more was needed however, as the rental income was not sufficient to cover monthly mortgage payments.  Alderman Field, now a director of Eastern Atlanta Inc., spoke in support of the organization.  "We don't have any wild-eyed people in this group.  We all live here we own homes, we're church people. We're just trying to preserve all that."  Eastern Atlanta Civic Association, like the Kirkwood Community Committee desperately tried to present a mainstream image.  Clearly the violence and extremism of years past had proven unsuccessful, now the only hope to "save" the neighborhood was through community-wide support.[58]               

            In March, these organizations, joined by several smaller civic clubs, held a meeting with the Empire Real Estate Board.  They acknowledged the incredible demand for black housing created by Urban Renewal and expressway construction.  However, they asked Empire to set an example for other realtors and respect the new racial divide at Woodbine Avenue and Ackwright Place.[59]  One of the attendees expressed the mood of the day; in a note jotted down before the meeting, he suggested: "Do Not Panic."[60]  A flier distributed in the area about the same time expressed it even more clearly.  It read "Help we have lost our pants.  Please Help us save our homes...Preserve [our]...Schools, Churches, and Community."  Kirkwood residents were starting to realize the hopelessness of their situation, and were on the verge of succumbing to their fears.[61]

            Despite growing anxiety, the Kirkwood Community Committee continued to push its agenda.  In April, it responded to aggressive real estate agents in the Paxon-Adler area by doing some canvassing of its own.  The Committee sent a letter to residents telling them their intentions.  "We seek to unite our community to preserve its present white residential status and to prevent it from becoming one of mixed or colored."  It then told of the purposed buffer just to their west, and explained that there was no need to "panic" because the area can easily be kept white by "simply refusing to sell to colored."  Further, it explained that "even if a few do sell...these can be repurchased for white occupancy."  It explained "A 'house buying corporation' for this purpose is available."  The Committee insisted that residents return any real estate solicitation marked "NOT INTERESTED" and closed by asking to "Please help us 'Keep Kirkwood White' and preserve our Churches and homes."[62]

            In the fall of 1961, Kirkwood's anti-integration advocates faced a new challenge, the federal government.  Brown v. Board of Education and growing national and local pressure finally forced the Atlanta School Board to start the integration process in the 1961-'62 school year.  The Board opted for a token, grade by grade program, which was tightly controlled by school officials.  Murphy High School, on Clifton Street, was just south of Kirkwood proper and served as the community's high school.  When the 1961 school year began, Kirkwood's white teenagers were joined at Murphy, by two young black women, a junior and senior.  The senior, Martha Ann Holmes, was an exceptional student, much better then her younger counterpart; after graduation she attended and graduated from Spellman College.  The white students tolerated their new colleagues with formality and distance.  However, the growing weakness of the anti-integration faction was evident in Miss Holmes’ year book.  Several white students left notes commending Holmes and apologizing for their distance.[63]

            By the new year, the Woodbine-Ackwright buffer was hopeless, Sid Avery "had no 'good news," and Anniston and Montgomery were mostly black.[64]  The community proposed one last desperate attempt to stop the encroachment and establish a racial buffer.  They suggested that the land from the railroad track to Memorial Drive, between Wyman and Rogers, Clifton, and Clay be zoned C-1 commercial.[65]  This would have involved some one hundred houses on six blocks.[66]  In their desperation, die-hards neglected to consider that converting the land from R5 single family to C1 commercial, would not have required the displacement of existing house.  Further c.1962 C1 zoning allowed the construction of A1 type apartments.  Not only was this type buffer unrealistic it would not have been effective.  Avery told the community that the buffer was not "practical or economical."[67]  He went on to explain:

The 'cure' for the racial change situation is admittedly easy to say and difficult to perform.  It is: DO NOT SELL YOUR HOME; DO NOT LIST IT FOR SALE; DO NOT ASK A REAL ESTATE FIRM TO HANDLE IT; DO NOT RESPOND TO ANY OFFERS TO LIST OR SELL TO ANOTHER RACE.

Avery was quite correct when he said it was "difficult;" Kirkwood was still divided.  Jim Bailey, of Bailey Hardware, lived in the Kirkwood community from early childhood until his family moved to Stone Mountain in 1963.  He compared this time to a "snowball effect."  Bailey said that people worried about property values, and the schools; he remembers a great deal of resentment between neighbors throughout the community.

            As the white community continued to divide, the new black community began to coalesce.  In September of 1962, the Southeast Civic Club, a group of new black residents in the Kirkwood area, moved towards greater organization.  Under the leadership of Reverend O.D. Myles, the organization pushed for the adoption of a twelve point plan to deal with the new community's challenges.  The plan was proposed by Morris Brown Professor Charles E. Price.  It was "designed to cope with the problems and organize the civic activities of Negro citizens in the Kirkwood area."[68]

            With a large and organized black community still desperate for housing, only blocks to the west, the heart of Kirkwood held out little hope of keeping the area exclusively white.  1963 brought black friendly business to the area.  The Woodbine Service Station at 1610 Boulevard became the Free For All Sinclair Service Station.  Jeff's Self Serve, across the street from the Sinclair, closed doors after more then twelve years of business and was replaced by Boulevard Market.  Next door, C & R Grocery Store, filled a spot left vacant in 1962.[69]  Near by, the stretch of Woodbine Avenue, north of Boulevard experienced a virtually complete change of residents between 1962 and '63.[70]  In six blocks east of Woodbine, along Boulevard, eighteen of the seventy-three addresses were vacant.[71]

            To the south, at Murphy High School, things changed as well.  The token integration of the 1961/62 school year started to mushroom, though still not to the extent of the surrounding residential demographics.  Murphy's black population was about one percent of the total student body, where as the surrounding community was fifty percent black.[72]  One percent was enough for Jim Bailey's father: "My dad didn't want my sister to go to school with blacks, so we moved out in '63, I drove in to finish out at Murphy."[73]

            1964 brought major change for both Murphy High and the Kirkwood Community.  By September, Murphy had about 200 black students, twenty-five percent of the student body.  Bailey, who graduated in the spring of 1965, remembers problems that year.  He recalls at least two racially motivated fights, one in the ROTC room, and one outside.[74]  Likewise, Kirkwood Elementary School faced problems.  The two area black elementary schools, Whitefoord and Wesley, faced massive overcrowding.  Whitefoord, the closest to Kirkwood, was 675 students over capacity and operating on triple sessions.  Black students sat three per chair, while white Kirkwood School was 750 students under capacity and allegedly had three boarded up classrooms.  As the school year began, black parents and students, joined by a representative from the NAACP, picketed Kirkwood School.  They demanded an immediate end to segregation with the admission of their children to the under utilized school.  These protest, continued until November, when the school board finally agreed to integrate at the start of the next semester in January of 1965.[75]

            1964 also brought major change for Kirkwood's churches.  Formally the leaders in the anti-encroachment campaign, they now joined their former enemies in white flight.  Kirkwood's Seventh-Day-Adventist sold their sizable facility at 112 Howard St. to Israel Baptist in October of 1964.  The now black congregation paid $136,000 for this prime location in the heart of Kirkwood.  The white Seventh-Day-Adventists re-established their church a year later in Decatur, where it remains today.[76]  Kirkwood Methodist moved to Stone Mountain around the same time, where it became St. Timothy's.  On June 5, 1966, it was replaced by Turner Monumental African Methodist Episcopal, which had formally occupied a location on Boulevard near Whitefoord.[77]  St. Timothy's Episcopal moved from 1953 Boulevard to 2833 Flat Shoals Road in Decatur, were it also remains today.  As the congregation left, around 1964, St. Timothy’s co-founded the Kirkwood Christian Center with the Presbyterian Church.  The center continued to offer community outreach until a few years ago.  St. Timothy's was replaced by Igram Temple of God a few years later.[78]  Kirkwood Presbyterian likewise moved.  It was replaced by the Kirkwood Christian Center.[79]

            It was 1964, that civil rights leader Hosea Williams bought a home in the area.  When he moved into his newly acquired house on Boulevard, near the border of Kirkwood and East Lake he was one of only a few blacks in the vicinity.  A neighbor greeted him with a racial slurs and the statement, "I've been here a long time and I'll be here long after you leave."  Apparently, the gentlemen thought that the white flight and black residential expansion in the area was a passing fancy.  Williams retorted with "Well, you better be one long-living cracker, because I'm going nowhere."  Williams was true to his word, he raised six children in that house and eventually the street was named after him.[80]

            "It was like the dike broke...It's like a tipping point, There's more of them than there are of us and whoop!--it goes..."  This is how John Evans, the chairman of the DeKalb County chapter of the NAACP, described 1965, his first year in Kirkwood.[81]

White flight went into hyper-drive as virtually all elements of the community were opened to African American's, even the elementary school.  When the encroachment controversy began in 1954, the closest thing white students at Kirkwood had to a black classmate was a minstrel show.  This is a stark contrast to the morning of January 25, 1965.  On Friday the twenty-second, Kirkwood had an exclusively white student body of about 376 students.  By Monday the twenty-fifth, only seven white students remained to greet the 470 new transfers, all of whom were black.  Only four members of the white faculty remained, the principle, Kate Heaton, a secretary and remedial math teacher, Norma Owens, another secretary Mettie Lou Barnett, and the cafeteria manager.  Ironically, Heaton, Owens, and Barnett were all faculty members when the Kirkwood PTA sponsored "Stunt Night" in 1954 which featured the “Negro Skit.”[82]

            The protests of 1964, gross overcrowding at area black schools, and the neighborhood’s changing demographics pushed Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent John Letson to abandon any gradual efforts at integrating Kirkwood.  He did however; warn white students, parents, and faculty of his plan.  Several days before the scheduled integration, Letson sent a letter to the parents and faculty of Kirkwood.  It told them of the events planned for January 25th, and gave them a few options.  They could of coarse stay at Kirkwood; however if they did not care to work at or attend an "integrated" school, they could transfer to East Lake Elementary, Mary Lin Elementary in Candler Park, or Burgess Elementary in East Atlanta.  The entire seventh grade, including their teacher, chose East Lake, it was agreed this was best for academic continuity.  Clearly, integrated schools were too much for the majority of Kirkwood’s remaining white population.[83]  Although a very small minority felt "quite at home with Negroes," 1965 saw many of the final holdouts, pack-up and move east.[84]

            By the 1965-'66 school year, Kirkwood was overcrowded and one-hundred percent black; likewise Murphy had only three whites, seniors, who upon graduation left the school as segregated as it had been only five years before.  Murphy's last white principal, a twenty-four year veteran, George McCord, also left the school this year.[85]  Houses along Rockyford, Wisteria, Sisson, Howard, and Boulevard changed occupants in unprecedented numbers.  Many businesses along Boulevard between Howard and Oakview changed names or closed, including all three of the barber shops; two of them had been in business for over fifteen years, and the third for more than eight.[86]  Kirkwood was no long the working class white suburb it had been in 1960.  In only six years, its houses, schools, churches, and businesses shifted from one-hundred percent white to virtually one-hundred percent black. 

            This new community struggled through its awkward youth in the late 1960's.  Hosea Williams became an outspoken advocate of the area.  In 1967 he worried that the neighborhood was turning "into a slum."  Despite his frustrations over absentee landlords, aggressive real estate agents, inadequate city services, unproductive zoning, and high crime rates Williams hoped to make Kirkwood a "model to Negro communities everywhere."[87]  Unfortunately, his "dream" never came to fruition, but neither did his fear.  Kirkwood did suffer decline after the late 1960's but calling it a "slum" would be an exaggeration.  The 1970 census reveals that incomes and educational levels were below the city’s average.  However the majority of the community, like that of 1960, remained in the working class, now with more service and clerical workers than craftsmen and foreman, and few white collar.[88]

            The white community of the 1950's and 60's grew up in an era of strict segregation.  They were accustomed to separate bathrooms, water fountains, waiting rooms, and perhaps most profound, neighborhoods.  As black Atlantans lost their homes to Urban Renewal and expressway construction, they were forced to find new accommodations.  The city's planners did little to prepare for this.  As a result, middle class black pioneers followed profit hungry real estate agents into seemingly impenetrable white enclaves.  Kirkwood's white community worried little when encroachment began just to their west.  They felt secure that their neighborhood was a "WHITE AREA."  As the new decade dawned, this security looked less certain.  Neighborhood residents, who had spent their lives being told not to "mix," were now faced with an almost terrifying reality.  The people that society had taught them to fear were moving next door.  This fear turned people like Harry Maico and W.T. Cooley into "rats" and housewives like Mrs. J.T. Whatley and Mary Taylor into "rabble rousers."  It inspired bombings and arson; it closed streets and relocated entire Christian congregations.  Children changed schools mid year while others were forced to endure gross overcrowding.  This fear ultimately had the power to dissolve an entire community and replace it with entirely new one.  Either community was terribly different; both were working class and Christian.  However their principal difference, race, profoundly effected the history of Kirkwood.

            Ironically, after all that drama, the white folks are back.  Beginning in the early 1980's young white pioneers arrived to make Kirkwood "gorgeous."  Instead of  dynamite, arson, and angry shouts, these new pioneers faced the frustrations of urban blight.  Sandra Oates remembers four burglaries during her renovation of 140 Howard St.  At one point thieves actually stole her kitchen sink.  Paul Moskowitz, renovator of 24 Kirkwood, had one of his guard dogs stolen from behind a six foot fence.[89] 

            In more recent years the criminal element has dissipated.  In the late 1990's, gentrifers faced some of the frustrations of their 1960's counter-parts.  Some elements of the established black community took exception to the large number of gays and Lesbians that were moving into the neighborhood.  They formed an organization, not unlike the Community Committee, to try and head off gay and white encroachment.  This organization was likewise unsuccessful.  An article in the January 28, 2002 Creative Loafing, called Kirkwood: "alternative accommodations for alternative lifestyles."  GayGuides.Com Atlanta noted that: "west of Decatur is a small neighborhood called Kirkwood.  Kirkwood is very up-and-coming, lots of old run-down homes to buy cheap and fix up.  Many gay men and Lesbians are finding opportunities there."  The premiere issue of Window Magazine, a "guide to Atlanta's gay life," went as far as calling it Atlanta's "boy's town," a reference to Chicago's famed gay enclave.[90]  Whether Kirkwood lives up to this reference remains to be seen.  The Neighborhood is still predominately working and middle class black, though there are an ever increasing number of upper middle class whites, both gay and straight.  Residents today, wonder if the early 1960's are repeating themselves in a "queer" reverse.  Perhaps they are; however the fear of the 1950's and 60's has lost its punch, so it is unlikely that this process will proceed with the urgency of years past.                                    

                                                    

                 

 

 



[1] Atlanta Journal, 17 June 1960; City Directory, 1961.

[2] Letter to residents, “Kirkwood Community Committee,” April 1962, Box 5, Atlanta Bureau of Planning Papers, Atlanta History Center.

[3] Dr. C. D. Vinson, 72 Anniston, Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC.

[4] United States Census Bureau, US Census of Population and Housing 1950, Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area: Atlanta, GA, (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1952) tracts D-5, D-6, D-7, D-8; United States Census Bureau, US Census of Population and Housing 1960, Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area: Atlanta, GA, (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1962) tracts D-5, D-6, D-7, D-8; United States Census Bureau, US Census of Population and Housing 1970, Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area: Atlanta, GA, (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972) tracts 205-208; United States Census Bureau, US Census of Population and Housing 1950 - Block Statistics, Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area: Atlanta, GA, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1952) tracts D-5, D-6, D-7, D-8; United States Census Bureau, US Census of Population and Housing 1960 - Block Statistics, Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area: Atlanta, GA, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1962) tracts D-5, D-6, D-7, D-8; United States Census Bureau, US Census of Population and Housing 1970 - Block Statistics, Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area: Atlanta, GA, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972) tracts 205-208.

[5] These streets are identified by the Kirkwood Neighbors Organization. Kirkwood Neighbor's Organization Atlanta, Georgia, Location, Kirkwood Neighbor's Organization, 10 April 2002 <http://www.historic-kirkwood.com/location.html>.

[6] History, Kirkwood Neighborhood Organization, 15 April 2002 <http://www.historic-kirkwood.com/location.html>.

[7] US Census, 1950, tracts D-5, D-6, D-7, D-8.

[8] “Notes for the Meeting with Empire Real Estate Board Committee,” 10 March 1961, Box 6, ABP Papers, AHC.

[9] Kevin M. Kruse, "White Flight: Resistance to Desegregation of Neighborhoods, Schools and Business in Atlanta, 1946-1966," ms., Cornell, 1997, 131.

[10] Kruse, “White Flight,” 163.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Play Bill, “Stunt Night,” Kirkwood School, 22 November [1954]. Kirkwood School File, Atlanta Public School Archive. Photos from the estate of Miss Eleizabeth Silvey, [1954], Kirkwood File, APSA.

[13] Kruse, "White Flight," 163.

[14] Atlanta Journal, 10 March 1956; Atlanta Daily World, 10 March 1956.

[15] Housing Coordinator's Office, "Report on the Southeast Kirkwood Transition Area," 26 August 1960, Box 5, ABP papers, AHC.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Telephone Memo, 2 February 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC. 

[18] Ronald H. Bayor, Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta, (Chapel Hill: UNC, 1996) 73; Kruse, “White Flight,” 167.

[19] Kruse, "White Flight," 167.

[20] Eastern Atlanta Inc, “Prospectus,” “Use of Proceeds,” 1961, Box 6 ABP papers, AHC.

[21] Housing Coordinator's Office, "Report on the Southeast Kirkwood Transition Area," 26 August 1960, Box 5, ABP papers, AHC.

[22] Atlanta City Directory, 1950 and 1958-59; Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP papers, AHC.

[23] Pair & Maico, Flier, [1960], Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC; Woodbine Ave, Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC. 

[24] Kirkwood Residence, Petition to sell, [June 1960] Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC; Atlanta Constitution, 21 May 1960; Atlanta Daily World, 22 May 1960.

[25] Atlanta Daily World, 10 June 1960; Atlanta Constitution, 10 June 1960.

[26] Though Whatley was unsuccessful in pinning Cooley with any of her charges of unethical business practices, which included verbal threats, lying, and bribery; she did get a completely unrelated thirty dollars back that Cooley apparently owed her from 1956.

[27] Atlanta Journal, 3 May 1960; Petition to sell, [June 1960], Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC; City Directory 1960-1966.

[28] Atlanta Journal Constitution, 22 May 1960; Atlanta Daily World, 24 May 1960.

[29] William Hartsfield, Letter from Hartsfield to Georgia Association of Real Estate Boards, 24 May 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC.

[30] Atlanta Journal, 27 May 1960.

[31]  Postcard, Addressed to Mayor Hartsfield, 19 May 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC.

[32] Atlanta Journal, 20 May 1960; Atlanta Daily World, 22 May 1960; Atlanta Constitution, 21 May 1960; Atlanta Constitution, 26 May 1960; Atlanta Journal, 26 May 1960.

[33] Atlanta Constitution, 13 July 1960.

[34] Atlanta Constitution, 13 July 1960.

[35] Housing Coordinator's Office, "Report on the Southeast Kirkwood Transition Area," 26 August 1960, Box 5, ABP papers, AHC

[36] Ibid.

[37] Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC.

[38] All emphases are expressed in the quotes as the appeared in the originals.  Robert B. Clifford, Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC.

[39] T.M. Snipes Jr, Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC; Atlanta City Directory, 1961-1962; Yahoo People Search, 25 June 2002 <www.yahoo.com>.

[40] C.D. Vinson, Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC; Atlanta City Directory, 1962.

[41] Terressa Moore, Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC; City Directory, 1960-1963. Ema Williams, personal interview, 19 April 2002.

[42] Kirkwood Residence, Petition to sell, [June 1960], Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC; Atlanta Georgia, map, (New York: Sanborn 1978).

[43]  Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC.

[44] Daisy Johnson, Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC; Atlanta City Directory, 1960.

[45] Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Kirkwood Residence, Petition to sell, [June 1960], Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC.

[48] Housing Coordinator’s Office, “Report on the Southeast Kirkwood Transition Area,” 26 August 1960, box 5, ABP papers, AHC.

[49] Whitefoord Ave. Baptist became Turner Monumental African Methodist Episcopal in 1962, Turner then moved again in 1966 to Howard St. Kirkwood Residence, Petition to sell, [June 1960], Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC; City Directory 1962; Corner Stone, Turner Monumental AME, 60 Howard St, 10 April 2002.

[50] Housing Coordinator’s Office, “Report on the Southeast Kirkwood Transition Area,” 26 August 1960, Box 5, ABP papers AHC; Atlanta Journal,  9 June 1960; Atlanta Daily World, 10, 11 June 1960; Atlanta Constitution, 10 June 1960

[51] Henry Avery, Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC.

[52] Mrs. Robert’s move added suspense to the already outlandish Cooley trial.  Many area residents learned of her action as they sat in the courtroom.  The hearing was interrupted by the president of the South Kirkwood Neighbors Association, W.R. Porter, who announced the move and the on going protests to the gallery.  Housing Coordinator’s Office, “Report on the Southeast Kirkwood Transition Area,” 26 August 1960, Box 5 ABP papers, AHC; Atlanta Constitution, 17 June 1960; Atlanta Journal, 17 June 1960; Atlanta City Directory, 1960-1961.

[53] Atlanta Constitution, 10 June 1960; Atlanta Journal, 12 August 1960; Atlanta Daily World, 14 August  1960.

[54] Kirkwood Survey Response, 12 June 1960, Box 5, ABP papers, AHC; Atlanta Daily World, 29 January 1961; One hundred percent of the addresses on Woodbine Cir changed occupants from ‘60 to ‘61. Atlanta City Directory, 1960-1961.

[55] Minutes of the Kirkwood Churches Committee, 7 February 1961, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC.

[56] Minutes of the Kirkwood Churches Committee, 7, 9, 14, 21 February 1961, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC.

[57] Minutes of the Kirkwood Churches Committee, 21 February 1960, Box 5, ABP papers, AHC;  Minutes of Kirkwood Community Committee, 21 February 1960, Box 5, ABP papers, AHC.

[58] Atlanta Constitution, 24 February 1961.

[59] "Notes for the Meeting with Empire Real Estate Board Committee," 10 March 1961, Box 6, ABP Papers, AHC.

[60] Notes on Empire Meeting, “Suggestions for March 10, 1961 meeting,” Box 6, ABP papers, AHC.

[61] Flier, "Distress Call," [March 1961], Box 6, ABP Papers, AHC.

[62] Letter to residents, “The Kirkwood Community Committee,” April 1962, box 5, ABP papers, AHC.

[63] Bayor, Race, 226; Nellie Jane Gaertner, "A History of Murphy High School," student report, 1972, Murphy High School File, Atlanta Public School Archives;  Mark Huie, "Factors influencing the Desegregation Process in Atlanta School System," diss., University of Georgia, 1967, Murphy High School File, APSA.

[64] Atlanta Daily World, Sunday Classifieds, July - December 1961: homes are listed on Rogers and Clifton, by mid 1962 listings include Clay and Wyman.  Harry L. Mitcham, “Summary of remarks made by Housing Coordinator,” 11 February 1962, box 5, ARB papers, AHC.  Sixty-three percent and ninety-one percent of the houses on Anniston and Montgomery respectively, changed occupancy, many long term, from 1961 to 1962, these figures are significantly higher then preceding and subsequent years.  Atlanta City Directory 1960-1963.

[65] Harry L. Mitcham, "Summary of remarks made by Housing Coordinator", 11 February 1962, Box 5, ABP paper, AHC.

[66] Atlanta Georgia, map, (New York: Sanborn, 1978).

[67] Zoning Ordinance of the City of Atlanta, Georgia District Map, map, (Atlanta: Department of Planning, 19 May 1964) 123, 124; Harry L. Mitcham, "Summary of remarks made by Housing Coordinator", 11 February 1962, Box 5, ABP paper, AHC; Minutes of the Kirkwood Churches Committee, 21 February 1961, Box 5, ABP Papers, AHC..

[68] Atlanta Daily World, 12 September 1962.

[69] Atlanta City Directory, 1950-1966.

[70] Eleven of the thirteen occupied houses changed listings from 1962 to 1963. Atlanta City Directory, 1962, 1963.

[71] Compared to past years that had only one or two. Atlanta City Directory, 1950, 1958/59-63.

[72] Bayor, Race, 229.

[73] Jim Bailey, personal interview, 5 March 2002.

[74] Jim Bailey, personal interview, 5 March 2002; Atlanta Journal, 1 September 1964.

[75] Atlanta Journal, 1 September 1964. Atlanta Inquirer, 5 September, 17 October 1964.

[76] Corner Stone of Israel Baptist Church, 112 Howard St., 10 April 2002; Decatur Seventh-Day-Adventist, “Our History,” 15 April 2002 <http://www.tagnet.org/atlbelv/history.htm>.

[77] Carlile and Carlisle Family History, 25 April 2002, <http://franklin-sarrett.com/carlislehistory6.html>. Corner Stone of Turner Monumental A.M.E. Church, 66 Howard, 15 April 2002; Atlanta City Directory 1965.

[78] Atlanta Area Parishes, 25 April 2002, <http://www.episcopal-atl.org/PARISHES/sttimdec.htm> The church confirmed that it is the same St. Timothy’s. Atlanta Georgia, map, (New York: Sanborn 1978); Atlanta City Directory 1963-1965; Harold Martin, Atlanta and Environs A Chronicle of Its People and Events Years of Change and Challenge, 1940-1976 (Athens: University of Georgia, 1987) 425.

[79] Atlanta City Directory, 1963-1965; Martin, Environs, 425.

[80] Atlanta Journal Constitution, 21 March 1999.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Atlanta Constitution, 26 January 1965, 16 February 1965; Atlanta Journal, 26 January 1965; Atlanta Daily World, 26 January 1965; Atlanta Inquirer, 30 January 1965; Rose Thompson, “The History of Kirkwood School,” student research paper, 1972, Kirkwood File, APSA; Atlanta Public Schools Personnel Directory, 1950 - 1971.

[83] Bayor, Race, 232-235; Atlanta Constitution, 26 January 1965; Atlanta Journal, 26 January 1965; Atlanta Daily World, 26 January 1965; Atlanta Inquirer, 30 January 1965.

[84] A quote from the mother of one of the seven white students that remained after January 25th.  Atlanta Daily World, 26 January 1965.

[85] Bayor, Race, 235; Thompson, "History of Kirkwood School," student research paper, Kirkwood File, APSA; Nellie Jane Gaertner, "A History of Murphy High School," student report, 1972, Murphy File, APSA.

[86] Atlanta City Directory, 1950, 1958/59-1966.

[87] DeKalb New Era, 27 July, 3 10 August 1967.

[88] US Census, 1970, Tracts 205-208, Tables p1 - p4.

[89] Atlanta Constitution, 11 June 1980.

[90] Creative Loafing, 28 January 2002; GayGuide.Com, 30 April 2002 http://www.gayguides.com/atlanta/general.html>; Window Magazine, Your Guide to Atlanta’s Gay Life, Spring 2002, 10.

 

 

 

This was a paper I wrote while in graduate school at Georgia State University in 2002.  I submitted it for publication but unfortunately I got to busy to complete the revisions, so it has just sat on my computer.  Rather than leave it lost forever, I figured I’d put it out on the web for whoever was interested.  I can be contacted at hogechad@gmail.com.