When civil rights history becomes a civil rights issue

History News Network has published my article, When a City Turns White, What Happens to its Black History?

Anti-historic district sign from 2007. Photo by author, August 2011. Sign still in place, Sept. 2012.

Anti-historic district sign in Decatur’s gentrifying Oakhurst neighborhood. Photo by author, August 2011. The sign remained in place through 2013.

The HNN article is the first of several on history and historic preservation in Decatur that will be published over the next year. My book on structural racism, gentrification and housing history in Decatur will cover all of these issues.

The HNN article doesn’t explicitly  state it, but I believe the problems laid out in the article are not a history problem; they are a civil rights problem. Gentrification and demographic inversion are rapidly diminishing Decatur’s African American population. Decisions by Decatur’s elected and appointed officials offer irrefutable evidence that their city’s community and economic policies embrace gentrification and demographic inversion as municipal growth strategies.

The erasure of black history and culture from the contemporary landscape and the historical record is as much of a civil rights issue as the city’s police racial profiling. As I have told folks in presentations and conversations about Decatur, erasing Decatur’s African Americans and their history is little more than an invisible form of ethnic cleansing that is related to the mass incarceration of African Americans and the substantial prison economy that has developed to profit from it. It is, in effect, another example what author Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow.”

© 2015 D.S. Rotenstein

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