Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Joyce King

Second Advisor

Kristen Buras

Third Advisor

Sarita Davis

Fourth Advisor

Chara Bohan


The Black middle class presents sociologists with unique opportunities to understand social mobility. Critical race theory (CRT) is an essential tool in Black class studies because it helps to identify ways that meritocratic discourses mask inequity and oversimplify the process of social mobility. Changes in the sociopolitical and racial landscape between the 1960s Civil Rights movement and the death of George Floyd in 2020 necessitate innovative studies of success and social equity ideologies in the Black population. This study is an integrated mixed-methodological analysis of core Black middle-class people living in Atlanta, Georgia. The research questions are: 1) What are the success narratives of Atlanta’s core Black middle class, that is, how do members account for ‘success,’ however it is defined?; 2) What are the values and motivations that shape how this class conceives or understands success and how do these relate to various cultural practices? ; 3) If distinct success ideologies can be delineated, how does each relate to equity and social justice concerns?; and 4) What role, if any, has education played in the success narratives and values of this class? Data were collected from sixteen participants via concept mapping and semi-structured phenomenological interviews. During concept mapping, participants brainstormed ideas, organized those ideas conceptually, and indicated values related to success, education, and social justice. Five people from the concept-mapping group were recruited to provide 90-minute phenomenological interviews to contextualize concept map findings. Data from concept mapping was analyzed using multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis; two coding phases were conducted to analyze interviews. This inquiry is significant because it centered Black experiential knowledge to construct a conceptual framework of success and social equity values of an understudied demographic. The study can inform education policymakers and social justice reformers about education, social equity, and success priorities from a seemingly privileged population; complicating meritocratic notions. In addition, it illustrates the utility of an integrated mixed-method research design in conducting sociological studies. Finally, the study is an example of honoring scholar and familial ancestors to continue the work of racial uplift.


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