Whenever someone tries to hit Nikema Williams for not being from the city, she responds that her story is inherently Atlantean. Ms Williams, who was elected in November to the former seat of Representative John Lewis in Congress after his death last year, grew up in Smiths Station, just above the Chattahoochee River in Alabama, raised in a house without interior plumbing.
As a student at Talladega College, a historically black small school in Alabama, she and her friends traveled to Atlanta to shop and party. Ms Williams, a Democrat who recently served in the state Senate, saw black elected officials, business leaders, artists and civil rights activists. “You have seen black people fully live out the promises of this country,” she said.
“I moved here without knowing a soul,” Ms. Williams said, “but I was able to get involved, get engaged and find my way.” But, she added, “we still have a long way to go.”
A gap has always existed between the aspirations of the “Atlanta Way” and the lived reality of many residents.
“Atlanta is unique and in this special way,” Ms. Lee said. “And yet, let’s be clear when we think about what that means: we have this reality, and some sort of hype and PR campaign – and they’re separate things.”
A series of events this year shed new light on the divide.
One evening in May, after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody sparked protests across the country, crowds in Atlanta smashed windows in downtown businesses, vandalized the CNN Center and set a police car on fire. “What I see happening on the streets of Atlanta is not Atlanta,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told a press conference, which was repeatedly broadcast on local television and radio stations.
The protests took on new strength after Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man, was shot and killed by Atlanta police. Officers had been called to a Wendy’s parking lot where, according to authorities, Mr. Brooks fell asleep in his car in the driveway. The town’s police chief, Erika Shields, has resigned and the officer who shot Mr Brooks has been fired and charged with murder.