Post-Apartheid South Africa v. Decatur, Ga.: race, class, and capital

Gentrification is global. Decatur, Ga., resident Ted Baumann compares and contrasts gentrification and the politics of race and class in his adopted Georgia city and in a post-Apartheid South African suburb in a new two-part National Council on Public History post. From the History@Work post, “Race, politics, and property: Two cases of gentrification”:

My experience in Decatur has been different – especially the absence of any organised resistance in the low-income community to domination by gentrifiers and real estate interests – but remains eerily similar in some ways.  Many of those who drove the exclusionary MID agenda in Muizenberg considered themselves socially and politically progressive, just as many Decatur gentrifiers do, and reacted with anger at suggestions of racism.  As in Decatur, vicious personal attacks and slander were directed at me and other “treasonous” property owners who sided with the refugee/renter population.  And as in Decatur, it was largely impossible to raise issues of equity and social justice with people who reduce all social relationships to impersonal market transactions, regardless of their effects.

Why did Muizenberg, unlike Decatur, successfully resist exclusionary gentrification?  Above all, it is due to South Africa’s political traditions of grassroots mobilisation, as well as a clear understanding of the links between race, class, and property forged in the long struggle for multiracial democracy.  Unlike Decatur, where low-income African Americans seem politically isolated and resigned to the outcomes of municipal elections, South Africans understand clearly that formal democracy is no substitute for direct action. Moreover, Muizenberg was home to many white veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle who understood that formal democracy had not undone the spatial and economic legacy of apartheid.  Despite the fact that they stood to benefit economically from the MID’s gentrifying agenda, they allied themselves with their poorer neighbours.


Read more about gentrification in Decatur, Ga.:

John Blake. “Building Bridges Instead of Barriers Oakhurst Presbyterian’s Diversity Demonstrates a Church Can Challenge Prejudice, Not Reinforce It.” The Atlanta Constitution, June 3, 1995.

Dana Blankenhorn: Census Lessons on Gentrification.” Accessed May 17, 2012.

Petra L. Doan and Harrison Higgins. “The Demise of Queer Space? Resurgent Gentrification and the Assimilation of LGBT Neighborhoods.” Journal of Planning Education and Research (January 6, 2011).

Ralph Ellis. “Family Dollar — A Good Fit?” Decatur-Avondale Estates Patch. Accessed June 4, 2012.

David Goldberg. “Changing Times Gentrifying Decatur Neighborhood Struggles with How to Continue Its Comeback but Retain Racial and Economic Diversity.” The Atlanta Journal the Atlanta Constitution. January 4, 1999.

Karen Hill. “Convenience Store Gets to Keep Alcohol License: [Home Edition].” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, March 30, 2000.

———. “Decatur’s Southwest Zone Worst for Crime: [Home Edition].” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, August 12, 1999.

———. “Fence Across Alley Leaves Oakhurst Neighbors Divided: [Home Edition].” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, November 9, 2000.

———. “Oakhurst Killing Still Unsolved Despite Concerns About Armed Robbers, Business District Remains Vibrant: [Home Edition].” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, October 18, 2001.

———. “Boomtown: Decatur Fills Gaps, Adds Downtown Inhabitants: [Home Edition].” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, January 1, 2004.

———. “Building on the Past: Older Communities Such as East Point, Oakhurst Gain Vigor as Locals Open Businesses: [Home Edition].” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, July 31, 2000.

———. “Changing Neighborhood: Oakhurst Plate Too Full?” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, August 12, 1999.

———. “Currents: Groundbreaking Today for Oakhurst Redevelopment News and Views from the People Shaping the Future of DeKalb: [Home Edition].” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, March 22, 2001.

———. “Decatur Taking Bite Out of Gentrification.” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution. March 4, 2002.

———. “Decatur’s Dilemma Commitment to Diversity Collides with Gentrification: [Home Edition].” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, August 3, 2003.

———. “Election 2005: Decatur Commission: Challengers Say Issues Overlooked They Charge Zoning, Traffic, Gentrification Not Addressed.” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution. October 20, 2005.

———. “Neighborhoods in Flux: Decatur Erects Building Limits.” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution. December 1, 2005.

———. “Neighbors Help Oakhurst Elderly Pay Rising Taxes.” The Atlanta Constitution. 2001.

———. “Parents Unite to Integrate Schools Oakhurst Vows to Buck Trend of Resegregation.” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution. 2003.

Russ Alan Prince and Lewis Schiff. The Middle-class Millionaire: The Rise of the New Rich and How They Are Changing America. 1st ed. New York: Currency/Doubleday, 2008.

Raines, Laura. “Oakhurst South Decatur Area Sees Upswing in Popularity and Property Value: [Home Edition],” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 20, 2004.

Revolutionary Spirituality. Oakhurst Presbyterian Church-One Black Jesus, One White Jesus. Podcast, Oct. 24, 2011.

David S. Rotenstein. “Reviving South Decatur Through Urban Homesteading.” Times of DeKalb 6, no. 2. DeKalb History Center Newsletter (2012): 1, 4–5.

———. “Documenting Gentrification: A Video Rough Cut.” History@Work, July 21, 2013.

———. “Gentrification Hits Small Cities Too: Unsustainable Policies in Decatur, Georgia.” Tikkun Daily Blog, March 26, 2013.

———. “Preservation Conversations: When History at Work Is History at Home (Part I).” Blog. History@Work, September 14, 2012.

———. “Preservation Conversations: When History at Work Is History at Home (Part II).” Blog. History@Work, September 21, 2012.

———. “Super-gentrification: It’s Not Your Mama’s Loft Rehab.” National Trust for Historic Preservation LinkedIn Group, March 4, 2013.

South Decatur Community Council. “Editor’s Note.” South Decatur Speaks, April 1979.

Nibs Stroupe and Caroline Leach. O Lord, Hold Our Hands: How a Church Thrives in a Multicultural World : the Story of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church. Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

Bill Torpy. “Reverse White Flight Trendy Buyers Head to Eastern Atlanta, but Not All Change Is Welcome.” The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, March 21, 1999.


On this site, Decatur posts are grouped here.


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