Posted on March 8, 2022

Georgia Cityhood Push Divides: White Flight or Self-Rule?

Sudhin Thanawala, Associated Press, March 3, 2022

In the 2020 election, Jerica Richardson and two other Black women gave Democrats control of the commission overseeing this affluent suburban Atlanta county for the first time in decades.

Now, the Republican-controlled state Legislature has passed bills that would give three largely white parts of the county a chance to form their own governments during Georgia’s primary elections ahead of the midterms.

The new cities would take over key parts of the county’s decision-making power. Two of them would be in Richardson’s district, which GOP lawmakers have also reconfigured in a way that draws her out of her seat.

Proponents of the cityhood measures say local residents need adequate representation and greater control over development. Some critics see race as a driving factor.

Two of the cityhood efforts reflect a “pattern of backlash against the election of three Black women to the Cobb commission,” said State Rep. Mary Frances Williams, a Cobb County Democrat.


Georgia catapulted into the U.S. political spotlight in 2020 with President Joe Biden’s victory in the state and the election of two Democratic senators weeks later that gave the party control of Congress. This year’s midterm elections are sure to sustain the attention, with one of the Senate seats up for grabs, former President Donald Trump roiling the GOP gubernatorial primary and Democrat Stacey Abrams running again for governor.

But the fight for Georgia runs deeper. Over the objections of Democrats, the state Legislature has overridden local officials to redraw district maps for county school boards and commissions, including in Cobb County. Many Democrats have also opposed the legislation to hold referendums on creating the three cities in Cobb — Vinings, East Cobb and Lost Mountain — and carving out the tony Buckhead area from Atlanta.


Cobb County has long resisted an extension of the region’s commuter train system, MARTA, with some residents citing concerns it will lead to urban growth. Supporters of the Vinings, East Cobb and Lost Mountain efforts have similarly argued that they want to preserve the suburban character of their areas. Ehrhart has touted western Cobb County as a place where “there are still horse farms.”

Those arguments appear neutral on issues of race, but they have racial implications in metro Atlanta, said Michan Connor, a scholar at George Washington University who has studied cityhood efforts in the region.

Cobb County and other nearby suburban areas owe their massive population growth in part to an exodus of white residents from the city of Atlanta during the 1960s and ’70s over concerns about the civil rights movement and desegregation, Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse writes in his book “White Flight.” The newcomers opposed low-income housing and transit initiatives such as MARTA that they feared would connect them to Atlanta and its minority populations, Kruse says.

Since 2005, voters have approved more than a half-dozen new cities in the region, many of them in those majority-white suburbs. Maintaining the suburban character of those areas means continuing housing and transportation policies that have traditionally excluded Black people and other minorities, Connor said.

“They can say, ‘We’re homeowners, taxpayers. We want to preserve the kind of community we live in,’” he said. “But the history of racism in Atlanta is a material factor in all of those identities.”

Cobb County has become more diverse in recent decades, with non-Hispanic white residents making up just over 51% of the population today, compared with more than 85% in 1990. But in the area that would become East Cobb, white residents would represent more than 70% of the population, according to county estimates. Vinings and Lost Mountain would also have a significantly higher percentage of white residents than the county as a whole. {snip}