Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Patricia G. Davis

Second Advisor

James Darsey

Third Advisor

Holley Wilkin

Fourth Advisor

Jacqueline Royster


“Displacing the ‘Black Mecca’” begins by recognizing that the problem of gentrification in revitalizing center cities across the United States is complex because of the diverse ethnicities and communities that make up our cities. Instead of arguing about gentrification’s displacement of physical bodies, this project considers gentrification as a displacement of culture, collective identity, and memory. Focusing on Atlanta, Georgia, which has been heralded as the “Black Mecca of the South,” this study examines cultural gentrification of African American neighborhoods affected by Atlanta’s recent revitalization effort, the Atlanta BeltLine. African American historical trajectories in Atlanta serve a distinctive identity function in the city, narrating Atlanta as a “Black Mecca” or metaphorical origin for African American collective identity. Observing historical trajectories as spatially narrated in the landscape, this project illustrates the value of maintaining African American historical trajectories as a moral necessity in an ethnically shared space. “Displacing the ‘Black Mecca’” argues that spatial narratives of diverse identities in Atlanta must be witnessed, rather than romanticized, in order to allow multiple narratives and ethnic identities to coexist. Romanticizing of space is the use of white racial and neoliberal framing to characterize and represent a space as neat, uncontested, linear progression through time, leading to the image of Western man as a superior being. Beyond adding people of color and marginalized groups to history books, memorials, and art exhibitions, the act of witnessing brings the past injustices, trauma, and shameful memories to the forefront so that they can be acknowledged and interrogated for the purpose of redemption. This project relies on a narrative approach to rhetorical criticism and deep mapping to analyze African American visual and discursive symbols of place memory. Using a combination of interviews and textual analysis the visual objects analyzed include public narrations of the civil rights movement and historically black neighborhoods in public-art exhibitions, neighborhood names, and the built environment. Contributing to the spatial turn in the humanities, this research provides the information necessary for addressing the past creatively and reimagining our municipal spaces in a way that allows multiple narratives and ethnic identities to coexist.


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