Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Rosalind Chou

Second Advisor

Tomeka Davis

Third Advisor

Wendy Simonds



From Spike Lee’s School Daze to The Real Housewives of Atlanta, mainstream entertainment has portrayed Atlanta as a “black mecca,” largely due to its consortium of black colleges, expansion of minority-owned businesses and growing black middle class. This title is called into question with research showing that Atlanta maintains high levels of poverty and income inequality. While a disproportionate number of blacks in Atlanta and the United States live below the poverty line, 75 percent of blacks in the U.S. report income above the poverty line. However, most research on African Americans emphasizes disadvantaged communities and many stories of the black middle class go unheard. Also, with 57 percent of blacks residing in the south, it is important that research includes stories of minorities across classes in urban southern cities such as Atlanta and its metro area. This study uses thirty-four in-depth unstructured interviews to explore the ways race and class intersects to help black Atlanta MSA residents form ideas of blackness, class identity, and the city as a “black mecca.”

Research conclusions address the various racial identifiers that exist along gender lines. While black women understand race through experiences related to hair; black men’s interaction with the police are often their first encounter with the meaning of race. This study also examines the way blacks can internalize and reinforce systemic racist ideas and stereotypes perpetuated by whites. Results also show the variances between Atlanta natives and transplants and their perspective on the city as a black mecca, the identity boundaries that exist between working and middle class blacks in Atlanta, as well as the way the city’s social institutions can promote black progression, while simultaneously reinforcing class divisions and inequality. This research gives voice to the specific social concerns of black citizens across class categories. In addition, conclusions advance race and urban scholarship by exploring the significance of race in a black metropolis and class relationships within racial groups. Lastly, findings from this study highlight experiences of a growing, yet largely under-researched population---the black middle class in the South.