My family’s story is entangled in that historical past: My grandfather, Marque Leslie Jackson, was Martin Luther King Jr.’s physician (he as soon as took out King’s tonsils) and he usually threw himself into the activist fray, picketing segregated department shops like Wealthy’s. In the meantime, my grandmother’s brother, R.E. Thomas, Jr. (we known as him Uncle Edwin) was an lawyer who worked to desegregate Atlanta’s public golf courses in a case that went all the way in which to the Supreme Courtroom. Later, he and his spouse, Mamie, helped activists from the Pupil Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, offering them with meals, cash and a spot to remain. My mother, who grew up with Maynard Jackson (no relation) was a lobbyist for the Georgia NAACP within the ’80s, the place she labored beneath Bond and helped get anti-Klan laws handed within the Georgia Legislature. I bear in mind her getting loss of life threats.
They by no means made an enormous deal of any of it, it was one thing casually dropped into conversations after which, we moved on. These had been simply info of life, nothing extra, nothing much less.
There’s a darkish facet to all this Black privilege. The strain to excel, to continuously surmount, will be too heavy a burden to bear. Some pals, the scions of Atlanta’s Black elite, fell down and didn’t rise up, finished in by medication, suicide, despair. Usually, there wasn’t quite a lot of generational wealth to move down, because of a legacy of redlining and discrimination.
After which there’s this: Atlanta is — was — very a lot a “who’s your folks” sort of city.
Privilege, Black privilege, wasn’t precisely a monolith. The Previous Guard, from whence my people sprang, had been the merchandise of generations of amalgamation, light-skinned Black people who bought a leg up with on the racial ladder with a mixture of industriousness and a well-placed white slave-owning relative or three who (sometimes) bequeathed freedom, land, and in the event you had been fortunate, an schooling, too.
Guarding the gates of the Previous Guard had been doyennes fixated on shade and hair texture and household lineage, passing down that sense of superiority from era to era.
So. There was the Previous Guard of correct, middle-class gatekeepers like my maternal grandmother, Ruth, “membership girls” whose mission was to “uplift the race” — whereas holding the keys to the Black bourgie kingdom within the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Suppose the Hyperlinks, the Lady Pals, Jack and Jill, the Boule, the Guardsmen, all bastions of Black excellence and Black exclusion. However the ’60s and ’70s introduced within the New Guard of Black bourgie-ness, people who is likely to be of a darker hue, people who possibly didn’t have a white slave-owning great-great-grandfather who was apparently OK with proudly owning Black people, however who possibly had sufficient of a conscience to assume that proudly owning your personal blood was simply possibly kinda tousled, and they also gave their Black youngsters a little bit one thing.
The New Guard is likely to be a little bit darker, they may not have that white-adjacent-ness, however that they had cash. They’re those who bought wealthy because of grit and medical college or a building firm that made a boatload of ducats or a extremely genius manner of designing a funeral dwelling with drive-through viewing. (Sure, that basically occurred.) And that meant that they had cash — heaps and plenty of it — and that introduced a sure energy that even the color-struck doyennes of the Previous Guard couldn’t deny.
Not everybody was hip to — or pleased about — this large cultural revolution. Atlanta, in spite of everything, was a serious strategic metropolis for the Confederacy throughout the Civil Conflict, and a few Atlantans had been nonetheless preventing that combat. My mother and father, large proponents of grabbing the most effective schooling cash may purchase, enrolled me on the Westminster Colleges on the Northwest facet of city. Particularly, Westminster, with its accouterments of privilege (luxe dorms, rolling lawns, Olympic-size swimming pool) was positioned in Buckhead, dwelling of Previous Cash and Previous Southern households. (That might be the identical neighborhood, nonetheless the whitest within the metropolis, that in 2022 is making an attempt mightily to secede from the remainder of Atlanta.)