12.11.2007

Background for Nathan McCall's Them

A few nights ago, I had the privilege of listening to a reading and lecture by Nathan McCall, a professor at Emory University, former journalist, and bestselling author. His new book, Them, describes the interaction of whites and blacks in a historic black neighborhood, The Old Fourth Ward, in Atlanta, GA.

Nathan McCall started to write the novel because he was interested in explaining a phenomenon happening in American cities: white inflight. After integration started in the 1950s, white people left the inner city to create all white suburbs outside the perimeters. Now, due to burdensome traffic and a desire for closer access to the commercial core, white people are moving back into the inner city. Though this is happening everywhere, from Harlem to Oakland, CA, Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward is an interesting case, as this neighborhood has historically been an all black neighborhood. Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up in the Old Fourth Ward on Auburn Avenue, and Auburn Avenue, once known as the 'richest negro street in the world' was the center of the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta.

Though the book deals mainly with the white-monied/black-poor dichotomy, McCall does admit that the gentrification in inner cities is not happening solely as a result of 'white' inflight. Wealthy blacks are also moving into these areas, and are, according to McCall received in the much the same way that whites are.

McCall's real message, both in the book and from his lecture stand, is one of maintaining diversity. As inner cities become wealthier, aspects of in-town life will improve for everyone: better schools, cleaner,safer streets, more diversions, but McCall believes that this doesn't have to happen at the expense of the poor people. It is not necessary for poor people to move in order for the inner city to improve, which, he argues, many people believe. McCall urges city planners and city politicians to make a commitment to including low income housing in their development plans.

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