November 5, 2018; CityLab
Just two years ago, Stockbridge, a city of a little over 27,000 people located a half-hour south of Atlanta, was named in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as being among the “10 best US cities for African Americans.” And it was only this January when the city’s first Black mayor, Anthony Ford, took the oath of office.
But apparently, some white residents weren’t too pleased to be in Stockbridge. Rather than move, they had a better idea: vote to secede. The good news is that the effort failed by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent, with 3,473 votes in favor of secession and 4,545 votes against. The less good news is that the vote was held at all.
According to CityLab, the effect of this vote would be to remove from Stockbridge “the primest real estate and wealthiest households…leaving behind a smaller, mostly African American population with fewer resources to pay for Stockbridge city services.” You see, the Eagle’s Landing neighborhood of Stockbridge was rather exclusive (and whiter than the rest of the city). As Brentin Mock writes:
Less than two miles from the Vulcan Materials rock quarry, where the popular fight scenes from the movie Black Panther were filmed, and near Hawkins Middle School, where the cult-status Netflix series Stranger Things is filmed, sits the castle called Eagle’s Landing Country Club. It’s a facility of pure wealthcraft spread over acres of land, complete with a 27-hole golf course, that sits in a sentinel position in front of an even larger land mass of Georgian and Federal Colonial homes. If you’ve ever watched the reality TV show T.I. and Tiny: Family Hustle, you’ll recognize Tiny’s house in this tony neighborhood.
The vote in Stockbridge was set up in a way that was manifestly unfair, in that residents of the proposed Eagle’s Landing “city within the city” got to vote on whether to secede, while residents of the other neighborhoods of Stockbridge could only watch from the sidelines. To get this measure on the ballot, Eagle Landing secession proponents got the Georgia Legislature to pass and the Governor to sign legislation that would permit a new city to form, not by combining unincorporated areas as is usually the case, but by leaving one city to form a new one.
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The people living in Stockbridge are on the whole racially and economically diverse. According to 2010 census data, the city was 55.7 percent Black, 25 percent white, 9.5 percent Latinx, 8.6 percent Asian American, and 1.2 percent Native American. But, like many (if not most) US cities, racial segregation is high.
Vikki Consiglio, who chaired the Committee for the City of Eagle’s Landing, the pro-secession group, told CityLab that:
I serve on the Henry County zoning board and so I kept seeing all of these places like Bojangles’, Waffle Houses, dollar stores, and all this going up…and I was like, why can’t we get a Cheesecake Factory, or a P.F. Chang’s, or a Houston’s? We have areas that have high incomes, so what’s the deal?…We want it to be that and more. We don’t want [Eagle’s Landing] to go down.
Had secession been approved, it would have greatly impacted residents in Stockbridge because they would have had to pick up the bill from the hit the city’s tax base would have suffered. Stockbridge Mayor Anthony Ford told CityLab that “this particular de-annexation is looking to take that primary economic corridor out of our city limits and put it in this other city, and that would be revenue we no longer have to pay off our debts that we owe…If it goes through, we would have to impose a property tax on the remaining folks, and we don’t have a property tax right now.”
Mayor Ford’s victory statement reflects the hope that the city can move forward now that the secession effort has been defeated at the polls. “We are extremely excited and grateful…we will continue to move forward united as one dynamic community made up of diverse Americans who proudly contribute to their society. We will celebrate a centennial birthday in 2020. Stockbridge continues to be a leader in the region and we will continue to represent all of our citizens.”—Martin Levine and Steve Dubb