GENE DEMBY, HOST:
Just a heads-up, y'all, the following episode contains some language that some listeners may find offensive.
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DEMBY: You are listening to CODE SWITCH. I'm Gene Demby.
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:
And I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji. To start this week, we've got a game for you. We're going to play some clips from some of our episodes, and let's see if you can spot what they have in common.
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JANELLE JONES: My ancestors, my parents, my grandparents, like, they are still owed something in terms of wealth from this country. Like, it has been physically taken from them.
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EZEKIEL EDWARDS: In a lot of places, the criminalization of marijuana is a tool that the police rely on and use to justify stopping and searching...
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G. CRISTINA MORA: Mexican-Americans were in Texas sometimes under Jim Crow restrictions.
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AUTUMN SAXTON-ROSS: We have to remember that we still have people that, by law, could not engage in these park spaces.
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TIANA RAMSEY: I saw on the website that school was closing down, and I'm like, where are the kids going to go now?
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: That stretch of Larpenteur that Philando got killed? We used to call that the sundown town, man. Black people don't go down Larpenteur at that time of night because they're always profiling and harassing us.
MERAJI: Any guesses?
DEMBY: Time's up, y'all.
MERAJI: All those stories we did, they all have to do with where Americans live because when we talk about race in America, we're also talking about place in America.
DEMBY: Finally, Shereen, it's our housing, segregation and everything episode. I tweet about this all the time on Twitter because so much of our beat, if you really think about it, is really about this. When we're talking about racial disparities and family wealth, when we're talking about health outcomes, when we're talking about schools closing, when we're talking about policing, we're really talking about where we live. And in America, we live apart, and none of that is accidental.
MERAJI: It's April 11, 2018. And 50 years ago today, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act. That ambitious piece of legislation was supposed to get rid of racial segregation and inequality where Americans live. And by doing that, it was going to totally change American life.
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: My name is Nikole Hannah-Jones. I'm a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine.
DEMBY: Nikole has been reporting on segregation in America for years. And when you look at where some of the most segregated big metro areas in the U.S. are, they're in places that did not have Jim Crow laws - Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston. And Nikole says that's on purpose.
HANNAH-JONES: Before the Great Migration, 98 percent of black people live in the South. In many places, black people in the South are outnumbering the white population. And so the South implements this very codified system of social control. It determines every place that black people can move, dine, attend school, even, like, where they can park. All of this is written into the law because you have a huge population to manage. For most of the history of this country, the black population in the North had been very small. There was no need to pass all of these laws to restrict and contain that population the way that there was in the South.
When black people start migrating in large numbers to the North in the 1920s and then even more in the 1940s, it's kind of too late to start passing these laws. The country is already changing. So the North reacts by simply penning black people in and containing them through housing. They don't have to pass laws if they simply act in ways that don't allow black people to live but in very small designated areas. And that is how segregation is accomplished in the North. And so if you look at the South, residentially, the South is much more integrated than the North because it didn't matter if black people lived next to you; they still couldn't go to school with your kids, and they couldn't go to libraries or whatever. But in the North, it was very different.
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DEMBY: So in the 1930s during the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted to help struggling Americans. So one of his administration's big ideas was to make it easier for everyone to buy a home because owning a home was and still is how most Americans build wealth. So they passed the National Housing Act of 1934, which introduced a bunch of ideas that Americans take for granted now, ideas like the 30-year mortgage or low fixed-interest rates.
MERAJI: But here's where it gets shady. The government was worried that all these low-income people who were suddenly eligible for home loans might end up defaulting on them, so they came up with these color-coded maps of cities that outlined which neighborhoods were safe enough to insure for home loans and which weren't. The neighborhoods that were considered too dangerous to offer home loans to - they were colored red. This is where the term redlining comes from. Neighborhoods were redlined if they had, quote, "detrimental influences" or, quote, "foreign-born people." The biggest factor in why neighborhoods were redlined was the high presence of, quote, "Negroes."
DEMBY: And the people who lived in those redlined neighborhoods - by the way, they were not necessarily more likely to bail on their mortgages. But that didn't matter. Those neighborhoods withered from the neglect, right? So businesses didn't open in them. The few people who could get homes in those places found that their home values didn't appreciate. Sometimes those homes actually lost value. And some landlords just abandoned their properties altogether. As a result, crime started to creep up.
MERAJI: And while these black neighborhoods in the cities were falling apart, white people with money from the GI Bill and these government-backed mortgages were moving to the suburbs. Developers building in those suburbs put rules in the deeds that said those homes could not be sold to black people. In some cases, the government required that those rules exist. And when those policies didn't work to keep black people out of white neighborhoods, there were times when people resorted to violence.
DEMBY: And so in the middle of the 20th century, the government was subsidizing the creation of this white middle class and building highways to these new suburbs where white people were taking their tax dollars. And that whole time, it was denying millions of black people the same opportunity to take part in the post-war economic boom. But in the 1960s, there were many who were pushing to change that. Here's Nikole again.
HANNAH-JONES: Lyndon B. Johnson, when he first began to push civil rights legislation, actually wants to push a fair housing law very early. And his aides talk him out of it because there's an understanding that the support that he had from white Northerners in Congress for civil rights legislation that was largely seen as punishing the South would all be diminished if they pushed for a fair housing law.
DEMBY: So how did Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968 - how did that change the conversation around racial discrimination in housing in America?
HANNAH-JONES: I wouldn't say that Martin Luther King's assassination changed the conversation, but what it did was it forced the passage of a Fair Housing Act that had been filibustered for a very long time. And after Dr. King is assassinated, of course there are riots in more than 100 cities. And there is a belief that the country is on a brink of revolution. And that is when we finally get the courage to pass the Fair Housing Act. But the act that's passed is actually removed of almost all of its enforcement provisions. But it does, for the first time say, that - in 1968, it is illegal to discriminate against black people in terms of housing.
DEMBY: So tell us about the Fair Housing Act and what it was supposed to accomplish.
HANNAH-JONES: The Fair Housing Act was supposed to stop racial discrimination in the procurement of housing. So prior to 1968, it was perfectly legal to deny someone the right to rent or buy a home simply because they were black. In 1968, with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, that now becomes illegal. It's the last of the great civil rights legislation to be passed. A much more little-known provision of the Fair Housing Act though actually says that in addition to barring discrimination, that governments are supposed to work to affirmatively undo the segregation that they had worked to create. Which is actually a very radical provision, which is also why it's unsurprising that that has totally not been enforced. So if you look across any northern industrial city, most black Americans are just as segregated as they were when that law was passed.
DEMBY: So you just said that part of what the Fair Housing Act was supposed to do was to affirmatively further fair housing. So can we talk a little bit about Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, the Obama-era program or policy that was supposed to get a handle on what segregation looks like in American cities?
HANNAH-JONES: Yes. So that very non-jargony (ph) term Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, if you think of what affirmative action means - right? - it's that same type of language which says it's not just passively enforcing antidiscrimination law but actively working to promote integration and undo segregation. The Obama administration sought to kind of codify these requirements - these specific requirements under Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. So they passed a regulation. But a lot of people took that as the Obama administration doing something new or expecting something new. All it actually was doing was codifying what was already in the law. It doesn't get passed until right at the tail end of the Obama administration.
So if you were going to see a suddenly aggressive enforcement of this provision - of the Fair Housing Act - there wasn't enough time left in the Obama administration to enforce it. And now, clearly, we have the Trump administration, which is removing even the language of being an enforcer of antidiscrimination in the law. Which is very interesting because that is actually its legal obligation.
DEMBY: You said that AFFH was enacted by the Obama administration at the tail end of the Obama administration. Why was it something that they turned to towards the end of his presidency?
HANNAH-JONES: So there's a reason why we've made the least progress when it comes to civil rights in terms of housing and schools. And that is because that is civil rights made personal. This is not whether or not you can go to a restaurant or not, but it's who's going to live next to you and whose kids are going to sit in the classroom with your own kids. And for that reason, because we are a fundamentally racist country, what you have found is that whether you are a progressive administration or a conservative administration, no one has wanted to touch the issue of fair housing. You can look at your most segregated cities in the country, and they're all in blue states. And they are all in democratic places.
So the Obama administration understood going in how difficult this was going to be. And from my reporting, talking to people who had been working on this behind the scenes, it took a very, very long time for them to get the political will within the administration to push for this and within the department to get enough people to sign on to get the language just right so it was pushing but not pushing too hard. So that's why it came at the end - literally - because it took them that long to actually get the support to do it. White liberals are no better on this issue than anyone else. And I think that's the myth, that, you know, the racism problem is the South, but it is not - and particularly, like I said, when it comes to housing.
DEMBY: Can you tell us about like what the long-term effects of - how housing segregation has shaped the lives of people in ways that are like less obvious than just where you live?
HANNAH-JONES: Housing is everything. There's a reason why, when you want to buy a house and you go to a real estate agent, they don't say home, home, home. They say location, location, location. Because there is an understanding that where you live affects every aspect of the quality of life that you will have. When you take the group of people upon which our racial caste system was built and you separate them and you ghettoize them, then you can just deny them all of the normal services that anyone else would receive without worrying that it would harm you at all.
So when you look at the effect of segregation on black folks, they're more likely to live in areas with, you know, toxic waste and environmental issues. They're more likely to live in places where there are food deserts and no grocery stores. Their schools are the lowest-performing schools. They're less likely to have, you know, infrastructure and investment placed into their communities. Jobs, you know, you think about where big employers go into, they are not going into the segregated black communities. Transportation, all of the things that people look for when they want to move into a house when they have choice are often denied these communities. If you don't study race, it's actually kind of remarkable the extent to which black communities are intentionally segregated and then intentionally cast aside for things that most Americans would take for granted.
DEMBY: Nikole Hannah-Jones covers civil rights and racial injustice for The New York Times. She was a 2017 recipient of the MacArthur genius grant. Thank you, homie - appreciate you.
HANNAH-JONES: Thank you.
MERAJI: When we come back, we're going to visit a street that's in hundreds of cities across the country. It's a border with an ironic name. And chances are, there's one near you.
DEMBY: And who's afraid of a new Chocolate City in the South? It turns out that a lot of the black people there are, and it's right in MLK's backyard.
MERAJI: Stay with us.
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DEMBY: CODE SWITCH. So as we just heard, Martin Luther King's assassination was a big reason that the Fair Housing Act gathered enough political momentum to pass in the first place.
MERAJI: So it's kind of ironic then that the streets named after him enjoy a certain reputation.
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CHRIS ROCK: He also said, man, you know what's wild? Martin Luther King stood for nonviolence. Now what's Martin Luther King? A street. And I don't give a fuck where you are in America, if you're on Martin Luther King Boulevard, there's some violence going down. It ain't the safest place to be. Sad, sad, sad.
MERAJI: That's Chris Rock from his stand-up special "Bring The Pain." The punchline of his joke is something that Tanvi Misra of CityLab has been reporting on for years. Hey, Tanvi.
TANVI MISRA: Hey, guys.
MERAJI: Y'all remember Tanvi. She's also a CODE SWITCH alumna.
DEMBY: So, Tanvi, a few years ago, you did some really, really interesting reporting on the many Martin Luther King Boulevards and avenues and streets all across the country.
MISRA: Right. So after 1968, they started popping up all around the country. A geographer told me that, as of 2017, there were more than 955 streets named after King in 41 states, DC and Puerto Rico. And like Chris Rock suggested, they tend to be in poor segregated areas that have a lot of problems.
DEMBY: So we went to one of those MLK Boulevards in Baltimore.
MISRA: This MLK Boulevard goes through historically black West Baltimore, not just out. It's six lanes with a median in the middle. Neighborhoods to the west of it shows signs of neglect and disinvestment - boarded-up homes, dilapidated facades, crumbling sidewalks.
JOHN COMER: MLK Boulevard is ground zero of economic pain, traumatized communities.
MISRA: That's John Comer. He's a community organizer who's lived in Baltimore for seven years.
COMER: This is the area where the five fingers of oppression have come down the hardest. This is West Baltimore.
MISRA: We were standing on the gone off MLK and Franklin in West Baltimore, where the fist of oppression hits people especially hard.
DEMBY: Back in the 1960s, black people lived in the area where MLK Boulevard was eventually built, but they were forced to move in order to make way for the construction of this boulevard, which was created to help mainly white suburbanites get to and from work. It had the effect of making it so nobody had to go into neighborhoods in West Baltimore if they didn't live there.
MISRA: And all of this was happening during a time of massive white flight from Baltimore. Between 1970 and 1980, more than 110,000 residents left the city. That's when black people became the majority of the city's population. Not only does this boulevard serve as an indicator of the lack of progress on MLK's goal, but it was itself an obstacle to that progress. It's what in urban parlance we call a border vacuum.
MERAJI: Wait. Real quick. What's a border vacuum?
MISRA: So it could be a highway or a stadium or a parking lot. Basically, a feature of the urban landscape that divides communities and restricts one-to-one interactions between residents. And so this border vacuum, it isolated neighborhoods on the west side from downtown. There's always been segregation in Baltimore. What this street did was help cement it. Here's John Comer.
COMER: It feels like a border because of - it's a busier thoroughfare. You know, there's not a lot of white families that live on this side. And then you look across the street and you see high rises or corporate offices, see that big crown on top of a building down there, which is a bank, I believe.
DEMBY: There are roads in lots of American cities that work just like this, like this Martin Luther King Boulevard, like borders, right? And there are all types of consequences that come from living on the wrong side of that border. It means going to schools with fewer resources and lots of poor students. Carver High School on the west side of Baltimore is almost entirely black. And about 8 in 10 kids who go there are eligible for free or reduced lunches, which is the most-common metric that people use to measure student property. So about 80 percent of the kids there are poor.
MISRA: Baltimore is an older city, and it's poor neighborhoods are full of decaying housing stock that hasn't been renovated or repainted in a long time. Children over here are twice as likely to have lead poisoning than children who grew up elsewhere in the city.
DEMBY: And the thing about borders is that they have to be patrolled. So if you live on this side, the police are just going to be a fact of your life.
MISRA: In 2016, the Justice Department found that the Baltimore City police had routinely violated the civil rights of black residents living in the poorest neighborhoods. It was revealed that the city had actually been using a secret spy plane for high-crime areas that it hadn't even told residents about.
MERAJI: A secret spy plane - what?
MISRA: Yes, just google Baltimore spy plane. It was, like, a whole thing.
DEMBY: We reached out to the Baltimore Police Department, and they did not return our request for comment.
MISRA: So just a few blocks away on the other side of the road from where we were standing the other day with John is the neighborhood of Mount Vernon. A bit further north is Bolton Hill. Both are what John calls pockets of white prosperity.
COMER: They have money. They have power with that, and they have the complexion, many times, to get things done.
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DEMBY: In 2016, the Baltimore City Paper did this big visual project called Mapping Baltimore. They took these maps that looked at different aspects of life in the city. One map looked at the city's racial demographics. Another one looked at median life expectancy in different parts of the city. There was one for levels of employment, and another one for a median household income. If you look at all those City Paper maps, you see this pattern. You could really easily layer each of those maps one on top of the other. And what they would show would lineup really easily because the neighborhoods with the lowest household income - those were the places with the lowest employment. And those were the places that didn't have grocery stores. And those were the places with the most vacant homes and the most homicides. And those neighborhoods - those neighborhoods - they lineup eerily well with the old government maps of redlined neighborhoods in Baltimore from 70 years ago.
COMER: We are not problems. We are only demonstrating symptoms of a problem, which is policies, government, racism.
DEMBY: And all this affects property values decades later. Take Mount Vernon which is just on the east side of Martin Luther King Boulevard, across from where we're standing. On Zillow, the median home value there was around $187,000, right? I mean, that's the median, but there were houses on the market over there that were going for more than half a million dollars, right? But in Harlem Park, on the side of the street where we were talking to John, the median home value was only $52,000. So these homes were only half a mile away, but they were roughly a quarter of the value.
MISRA: And all of these phenomenon - the poverty, the health, the struggling schools, the run-ins with the police - they all come together in a story that you've probably heard of. Freddie Gray grew up with his mom and his siblings in a crumbling house here on the west side - a five minute drive from where we were standing. In that house, he was exposed to dangerous amounts of lead paint. A few years later, he went to Carver High - that high-poverty school we mentioned earlier - before he dropped out. And then he had lots and lots of run-ins with the police for petty crimes, including the one on April 12, 2015, that would eventually result in his death.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Look at his [expletive] leg. That boy leg look broke.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Oh, my God.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: His leg broke, and y'all dragging him like that.
DEMBY: According to The Baltimore Sun, the cops rolled up on some bikes that day. They made eye contact with Freddie, and he took off running. They caught him. They found a knife in his pocket. They put him in a van. Within a week, he died from injuries he sustained while in police custody.
MISRA: After Freddie's funeral, Baltimore erupted in unrest.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: (Unintelligible).
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: (Unintelligible). We're in the process of undoing racism.
COMER: You know, some people called them riots, but it was an actual uprising.
MISRA: John remembers watching the National Guard barreling down MLK Boulevard in armored Humvees. He said the unrest wasn't anywhere near there, but that a lot of people around there felt like the National Guard was coming down this road named for Martin Luther King as a show of force - to send a message.
COMER: There were a lot of residents who said they hadn't seen anything like that since MLK's assassination and the uprising that took place during that time in Baltimore.
DEMBY: Freddie Gray's death was reported in the news as another grim story about a black person who died at the hands of the police. There were questions about rogue cops and bad apples and Freddie Gray's criminal history. The parts of the story that weren't talked about in the news nearly as much - that was this older, deeper context that made this fateful encounter likely to happen where it happened - redlining, struggling schools, policing borders, segregation.
MISRA: There's some research that came out that got a lot of attention a couple of years ago. It's by two economists named Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren. And it showed that if you're a child growing up in a poor segregated neighborhood in Baltimore, the likelihood of you escaping poverty as an adult were the lowest of any place in the entire country. It makes you wonder how Freddie's life would've been if he had grown up in a different zip code just on the other side of MLK.
MERAJI: Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab, a publication of The Atlantic, that focuses on cities and how they work. To read more of Tanvi's coverage of the streets named after Martin Luther King, go to citylab.com/mlkstreets.
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DEMBY: According to Tanvi's reporting, the majority of the nearly 1,000 streets named after Martin Luther King, they're in the south - Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, the Carolinas. But no state has more than King's home state of Georgia, which has at least 75.
MERAJI: And right now, Georgia is in the middle of a quiet geographic revolution. The suburbs outside of King's hometown, Atlanta, have been rewriting their maps in a way that has seen a bunch of new cities sprout up over the past two decades. The proponents of these new cities say they're doing it just so they can have more say in their local government and how it zones land. But a lot of people think that this new movement towards cityhood in Georgia is actually about keeping segregation in place.
DEMBY: DeKalb County was once where the white folks in the Atlanta region fled as the city itself became blacker. But now the county itself has become mostly black and middle class, and most of those black people live south of this big street called Memorial Drive. Most of the white people live north of Memorial Drive. The north is wealthier. It's where all the businesses are and where people go to shop. CityLab's Brentin Mock has been reporting from DeKalb County for the last several months.
You've been writing about this thing that's happening - in DeKalb County, in particular - called the cityhood movement.
BRENTIN MOCK: Right.
DEMBY: What is the cityhood movement?
MOCK: If you can imagine, most of DeKalb County for most of its history was not incorporated, meaning you had a bunch of land that did not belong to any particular city. They were just these neighborhoods that were located all across DeKalb County. They were represented governmentwise by DeKalb County leadership. All of the things that normally would be handled by a city or municipal organization is handled by the county.
MOCK: Getting around 2005, 2008, though, you had certain unincorporated neighborhoods who, for a number of reasons, did not want to be governed by the county anymore. They decided that they were going to organize into their own municipality. And the first neighborhoods to do this in DeKalb County were these predominately white, wealthy neighborhoods.
DEMBY: So the ones north of Memorial Drive.
MOCK: All of them north of Memorial Drive.
DEMBY: What was the first neighborhood to do this thing where it seceded and became its own city?
MOCK: Yeah, so the - you know, the first domino to fall, if you will, was this city called Sandy Springs, formerly the neighborhood of Sandy Springs. It's north of the city of Atlanta. It's not in DeKalb County. It's actually in Fulton County. But this was, again, a white neighborhood. It was kind of filled with, you know, white expats from Atlanta, people who had fled the city when the leadership became black.
And there was a guy named Oliver Porter who was kind of the mastermind behind this - convinced state lawmakers that this was a necessary thing to do. And then once Sandy Springs became a city in 2005, that basically, like, opened a pathway for a lot of other white neighborhoods to do the same. And so right next door to Sandy Springs in north DeKalb County - that's when you have Dunwoody. Dunwoody incorporated into a city in 2008. The neighborhood of Brookhaven incorporates into a city in 2012. And then that's followed by the neighborhood called Tucker, which incorporates in 2015.
DEMBY: So when Sandy Springs was doing this, did they ever talk about race and how it was going to play out?
MOCK: Not explicitly. In fact, they would deny that race has anything to do with it - not just in Sandy Springs, but even in Tucker, Brookhaven and Dunwoody. For them, they would very much say that this is about more control over their tax dollars, you know, having more control over zoning decisions, land use decisions, all of which, of course, can be used as code words - right? - for talking about race. When you say, well, we want to have the power to zone for low density - meaning less families living in a certain area - or we don't want multifamily housing - meaning we don't want apartment buildings, which could be code for, we don't want low-income people living here - you know, all of these kinds of things actually were the kinds of rules and policies and ordinances that they put in place once they became cities, all of which were things that were more difficult to do when they were under the governance of the county leadership - the county leadership, of course, since the early 2000s, being controlled by African-Americans.
DEMBY: It sounds like what you're describing - all these cities popping up - it sounds like secession.
MOCK: Right. It is. I mean, if you can imagine, it's kind of like a series of Brexits, right? Like, if DeKalb County is like the European Union of sorts - it's not apples to apples, but yeah. They're kind of breaking off. They're deciding, not only do we want to have our own governance structure - many now of these places do have their own mayors and city councils - but now they don't have to share all of their resources, meaning their tax revenue...
MOCK: ...With the rest of the county. In the meantime, DeKalb County still provide services to all of the county, including the new cities.
DEMBY: Huh. So who's paying for that, then?
MOCK: The burden of paying for that ends up getting redistributed back to the people who still live in unincorporated DeKalb, most of which is below south Memorial Drive, most of which is predominantly African-American. And because a lot of the people who live in south DeKalb end up going to north DeKalb to work, you know, to go to the movies, to shop - their sales tax dollars, they end up subsidizing the lifestyles of the people who live in the north.
MOCK: And all of this is made possible, of course, because of the segregation that exists throughout DeKalb County.
DEMBY: All these white cities are popping up on the north side. What are the black people in south DeKalb saying about that as it's happening?
MOCK: Well, I mean, they can't escape the racial optics of this. And so, you know, in a lot of black people's minds that I spoke to when I went there to report this out, they very much did look at it as, like, another form of white flight.
DEMBY: Huh. OK. All right, so Brentin, tell us about Greenhaven.
MOCK: So there's a woman who lives in south DeKalb. Her name is Kathryn Rice, and she came up with an idea about four years ago to take the unincorporated parts of south DeKalb and incorporate that into a city called Greenhaven.
KATHRYN RICE: I did not initially advocate for cityhood because I didn't see the need for it. And then, right next to us, a city called Avondale wanted to annex some property. It was commercial property, and it bordered south DeKalb. And that's when I realized, this is right on our border.
MOCK: Kathryn basically was of the mindset to say, like, look, we should have more control over what's going on with our tax dollars - right? - so that they could, you know, start to bring in the kinds of skyscrapers and malls and hotels that you see in north DeKalb.
DEMBY: So what would Greenhaven look like?
MOCK: We're talking about roughly 125 square miles, about 300,000 people, roughly 87 percent of whom would be African-American. To put this in perspective, the average city that has formed in DeKalb has been about 50,000 people. If it were to form, it would be the second largest city in Georgia, literally, next to Atlanta.
MOCK: It would also replace Atlanta as, like, the new chocolate city in Georgia.
DEMBY: OK. On the surface, that sounds like a reasonable idea, so are most people on the south side in agreement with her? Do they want Greenhaven to come to fruition?
MOCK: It's hard to quantify, but by all accounts, from what I've seen, there's large swaths of opposition to this Greenhaven proposal - a very organized opposition to this proposal.
DEMBY: From black folks?
MOCK: From mostly black people.
DEMBY: What are the criticisms of this idea?
MOCK: You know, the criticism kind of comes in two buckets, right? When you talk to people who live and work in south DeKalb in the area that would be Greenhaven, these are people who are very sensitive about what might happen to their residential property values, to the amount of taxes that they pay. And they've kind of been bred to believe that, you know, if they were to municipalize that, that their property values would go down.
DEMBY: Because it's a black - it'd be a black city.
MOCK: Yeah. There's some unfortunate kind of racial misinformation that kind of travels throughout south DeKalb, basically that says that in an area that has upwards of, you know, basically a majority black population, that that in and of itself would scare off investors - that that in and of itself would depress property values. The research doesn't really bear it out.
Last year, there actually was a small city in south DeKalb that was formed. It's called Stonecrest. It also has about 50,000 people, but it's about 95 percent African-American. I spoke with the mayor, Jason Lary, just a few weeks ago. And, you know, the city is a year old, and he gloated about the fact that, you know, not only had property values not been depressed, the property values had actually risen - right? - which makes sense. It's a rebranding of a neighborhood. Taxes did not go up. And they've been very successful, also, in even attracting investors. In fact, they're even courting the new Amazon headquarters right now.
DEMBY: Wow. OK. So you said there are two big buckets. The first bucket is a sort of, like, practical, like, this would not be feasible from an economic sort of civic standpoint.
DEMBY: What's the other bucket?
MOCK: The second bucket is something I fielded from a lot of academics who've been studying this, you know, what we're calling a cityhood movement, and they are very much looking at it from the racial segregation standpoint, which is to say, like, hey, guys, like, let's not forget the whole reason why this cityhood movement started was white people trying to break off from the county so that they didn't have to share their resources with black people.
MOCK: You know, and so for black cities like Greenhaven or Stonecrest, which I just mentioned, to kind of use that same formula to form their own cities, what that does is that kind of leaves that - the racism that led to this undisturbed. You know, the racial segregation is not ameliorated. In fact, this kind of cements it now, right?
And so they're not against Kathryn Rice's proposal for Greenhaven in theory, but they very much do have this critique that the cityhood movement is based on racism.
DEMBY: So where we stand now is we have this segregated county outside of Atlanta with a bunch of white cities that are brand new that have popped up on the north side. They have all the money, all the resources. And a bunch of black folks who live on the south side, who are debating whether they should do the same thing. So where does that leave us now?
MOCK: So right now, the proposal is dead. Basically, Rice's proposal needs to be approved by the state legislature for the people of south DeKalb to vote on cityhood via ballot referendum. The state has not passed that legislation over the last four years. It was most recently defeated just a few weeks ago. It's died every year for the past four years, but it hasn't deterred Kathryn.
They are, you know, resubmitting the legislation for next year in 2019, and it doesn't sound like, to me, that she's willing to stop until Greenhaven becomes a city.
DEMBY: Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab where he covers urban civil rights and justice issues. Thanks. We appreciate you, man.
MOCK: Thanks for having me on.
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DEMBY: All right, y'all. Before we let you go, we have some homework. When you pick up a newspaper today - I know that's not really a thing anymore, but work with me. When you're scrolling through your news feed, pick a national news story that has ostensibly nothing to do with race or residential segregation, right? Then think about the ways that housing is actually shaping that story, the way place is used as a shorthand for politics or class, who the voices in that story are and what those voices sound like. Then, tweet at us with the #housingsegregationandeverything. Bonus points for something that we haven't considered before in this podcast.
That's our show. Please follow us on twitter. We're @NPRCodeSwitch. We want to hear from you, as always. Our email is email@example.com.
MERAJI: And subscribe to the podcast wherever find - podcasts can be found or streamed.
DEMBY: Maria Paz Gutierrez produced this episode. It was edited by Sami Yenigun, with help from Leah Donnella.
MERAJI: And a shoutout to the rest of the CODE SWITCH fam, Walter Ray Watson, Karen Grigsby Bates, Leah Donnella, Adrian Florido, Kat Chow and Steve Drummond.
DEMBY: Our intern is Kumari Devarajan. I'm Gene Demby.
MERAJI: And I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.
DEMBY: Be easy, y'all.
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