To Build Our Lives Together: Community Formation in Black Atlanta, 1875-1906 / Edition 1
After Reconstruction, against considerable odds, African Americans in Atlanta went about such self-interested pursuits as finding work and
housing. They also built community, says Allison Dorsey. To Build Our Lives Together chronicles the emergence of the network of churches,
fraternal organizations, and social clubs through which black Atlantans pursued the goals of adequate schooling, more "pull" in local politics, and greater access to municipal services. Underpinning these efforts were the notions of racial solidarity and uplift. Yet as Atlanta's black population grew--from two thousand in 1860 to ten thousand in 1870 to forty thousand at the turn of the century--its community had to struggle not only with the dangers and caprices of white laws and customs but also with internal divisions of status and class.
Among other topics, Dorsey discusses the boomtown atmosphere of post-Civil War Atlanta that lent itself so well to black community formation; the diversity of black church life in the city; the role of Atlanta's black colleges in facilitating economic increase and upward mobility; and the ways that white political retrenchment across Georgia played itself out in Atlanta. Throughout, Dorsey shows how black Atlantans adapted the cultures, traditions, and survival mechanisms of slavery to the new circumstances of freedom.
Although white public opinion endorsed race uplift, black Atlantans who took this path and achieved some measure of success were inevitably resented by whites. The Atlanta race riot of 1906, which marks the end of this study, was no aberration, Dorsey argues, but the inevitable outcome of years of built-up white apprehensions about black strivings for social equality and economic success. Denied such benefits of full citizenship, the black elite refocused on building an Atlanta of their own within a sphere of racial exclusion that would remain in force for much of the twentieth century.
Allison Dorsey is an associate professor of history at Swarthmore College.