How Wealthy White Atlanta Secessionists Tried And Failed To Split From Their Black-Led City

Written by Dana Sanchez

Residents of a wealthy neighborhood south of Atlanta managed to pull off a ballot initiative that had residents voting last week in the midterm elections on a plan to secede and create a new city.

Debates on the initiative revolved around economic development and race, but 57 percent of residents in the proposed city area who cast ballots voted no, and the secessionist plan failed, Think Progress reported.

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Residents in the most affluent and overwhelmingly white sections of Stockbridge wanted to secede from the city’s predominately Black communities. They lost by a vote of 3,473 in favor and 4,545 against, as residents in the Henry County city rejected the controversial proposal to carve out a new town — to be called Eagle’s Landing — from within its boundaries.

The proposal was contentious because it would have seized the most upscale residential pockets of the existing city of Stockbridge, as well as its main commercial corridor that brings in about half of the city’s $9 million in annual revenue. L.A. Times reported. Those who would have been left behind in Stockbridge did not have the opportunity to vote.

Leaders of Stockbridge, population 29,000 and predominantly Black, filed multiple lawsuits to try and stop the referendum. They argued if the new city was created, it would have a median household income of $128,000, more than twice the income of existing Stockbridge. That would force those left behind to raise property taxes.

While secessionists claimed that their real motive was economic development, the Eagle’s Landing effort was about white residents rejecting black political leadership, Think Progress reported:

Secessionist movements are a real thing in various parts of the U.S., where groups of like-minded people seek to withdraw from their communities when social, racial, religious, or other cultural changes occur not to their liking.”

Vikki Consiglio, chairwoman of the Committee for the City of Eagle’s Landing, explained her community’s secessionist movement to Brenton Mock of CityLab, an online news site that focuses on urban issues. She said wealthy white residents wanted upscale restaurants but were afraid those wouldn’t come to the area because of the less affluent — and predominately black — communities that make up the northern half of the city.

Consiglio, a member of the Henry County zoning board, described the area outside of her gated country club community as “jinky-janky,” L.A. Times reported.

Atlanta secessionists
Photo by Stephen Cook on Unsplash

If they could create a new city, “We’d have more control of our area, and we’d get to see what comes in here,” Consiglio said. “We’d get to control zoning. We’d get to control code enforcement. Then we can hopefully hold the carrot out and say we want a Cheesecake Factory.”

Post election, the task of putting this community back together and mending fences falls to Anthony Ford, the first African American mayor of Stockbridge. “I’m relieved that the citizens of Stockbridge did not want to split the city,” he said.

Residents elected Ford in 2017, along with the city’s first-ever all-Black city council.

Instead of the traditional form of white flight — moving away from a community when it elects Black leaders — Stockbridge residents opted to “(stand) their ground…building new municipal borders around their mansions and fortresses,” Mock wrote for CityLab.

Consiglio created a nonprofit group and pressured state legislators to do what had never been done before in Georgia –incorporate a new city from within the borders of an existing city, Think Progress reported:

Typically, new municipalities in Georgia are formed from unincorporated land, not poached from existing jurisdictions. In what came as a surprise to the Black leaders of Stockbridge, the Eagle’s Landing secessionists successfully persuaded Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia legislature to change state law, permitting the redrawing of Stockbridge’s borders — against the city leaders’ will — and place the initiative on this year’s midterm ballot.”