The wealthy, predominately white community of Buckhead is trying to secede from the City of Atlanta. Though calls to create a “Buckhead City” are not new, an uptick in crime in Atlanta has given the idea more traction in recent months. Here are seven things to know about the wealthy community of Buckhead trying to separate from Atlanta.
A group of Buckhead residents formed the Buckhead City Committee (BCC), formerly the Buckhead Exploratory Committee, to work towards the goal of establishing the wealthy Atlanta community as its own entity.
On its website, BCC describes itself as “a nonpartisan organization comprised of a group of diverse residents and business owners in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta who want the best for our community.”
Citing “neglect and disrespect” by the city of Atlanta, the BCC said crime, zoning and high taxes are among its motivations for wanting to separate.
“We filed for divorce and our divorce is final,” BCC chairman and CEO Bill White told CNN. “We’re forming our own city; we’re establishing our own police force and we will eradicate crime … The crime has gotten to a point where it is just unmanageable and it seems like there is no end in sight.”
On March 31, Georgia Sen. Brandon Beach and other Republican lawmakers introduced House Bill 854, which they hope will pave the way for a vote on Buckhead City to be placed on the 2022 ballot.
According to its summary, the bill’s purpose is to entitle and act to “incorporate the City of Buckhead City; to provide a charter; to provide for definitions and construction; to provide for other matters relative to the foregoing; to provide for a referendum; to provide effective dates and transitional provisions governing the transfer of various functions and responsibilities from Fulton County to the City of Buckhead City; to provide for severability; to provide for effective dates; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.”
In a separate report, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) noted that separating Buckhead from Atlanta would impact the entire city. The wealthy community contributes a great deal financially to Atlanta based on public records.
“With nearly 90,000 residents, Buckhead City would take nearly 20% of Atlanta’s population and become the 10th largest city in Georgia, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis using 2019 population and demographic estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. But it would remove about 40% of the assessed value of the city of Atlanta’s property off the books, according to Fulton County tax records,” the report states.
A poll released in August – which was commissioned by the BCC and performed by Rosetta Stone Communications – shows 62 percent of registered Buckhead voters ate in favor of putting a Buckhead City referendum on the 2022 ballot, the AJC reported.
Sixty-seven percent of respondents cited crime and public safety as their biggest concerns, the poll results show. The poll included live interviews with more than 1,300 Buckhead voters.
“We’re too far gone for the city of Atlanta to help us at this point,” said Regina, a Buckhead resident who didn’t want her last name published for fear of retaliation. “We’ve lost all faith in them.”
Since the poll was internal rather than independent, the AJC said it “gets our usual caution of taking anything paid for by one side of an issue with a grain of salt.”
When Buckhead first became a part of Atlanta in 1952, it was due to a push from then-Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield who was concerned about the growing Black population eventually wielding more power than the historic white majority, according to reports.
“The most important thing to remember cannot be publicized in the press or made the subject of public speeches,” Hartsfield wrote in a letter to Buckhead residents in 1943, according to a Northside Neighbor report. “Our negro population is growing by leaps and bounds. … Our migration is good, white, home-owning citizens. With the federal government insisting on political recognition of negroes in local affairs, the time is not far distant when they will become a potent political force in Atlanta.”
Georgia Tech Professor Ronald Baylor confirmed Hartsfield’s motivations to CNN. “It was pulled in to enhance the white population in the city and to create a white majority once again, so race was a very big factor in Buckhead coming in,” Bayor said.
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While some proponents and opponents said Buckhead residents are motivated by crime, not race, to separate from Atlanta, experts show the racial differences and potential divisions are impossible to ignore.
“Inside the new city, about 74% of residents would be white and just 11% would be Black, meaning the proportion of Black residents in Buckhead City would be smaller than is found in Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Kennesaw and Woodstock. About 8% of the population would be Asian and 5% Latino,” the AJC reported.
Several Atlanta leaders said the creation of Buckhead City would have devastating consequences. It would not solve the crime problem and would create other problems.
While Democratic Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms acknowledged a “covid crime wave” in her city, she said she doesn’t believe Buckhead City will provide the answer Buckhead residents are looking for.
“As we know, people can travel across geographic lines — they do each day, every day,” Bottoms said. “Establishing a city is not going to address that issue but it is going to be addressed through partnership and productive dialogue on how we can address crime, not just in Buckhead but throughout the city of Atlanta.”
Jim Durrett, president of the Buckhead Coalition and executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, voiced his opposition to separation in an op-ed.
“The effort by some to separate from the city of Atlanta to create a new Buckhead City is an overly divisive and damaging way to address legitimate community concerns, likely to leave bigger problems in its wake.,” Durrett wrote.
“We need Atlanta to be healthy. We all want the capital city of the state of Georgia to be a healthy city, to be complete, to be vibrant, to have all of the amenities that we want, wherever we live within the city,” Durrett said in a different article about the attempted break. “You pull Buckhead out of the city of Atlanta and it’s a very different city.”