The Politics of Black Excellence: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Black Politics


ACLS Fellowship Program


Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences


This project examines how black political leaders in Atlanta in the 1970s and 1980s managed three challenges associated with the postindustrial urban crisis—crime, family instability, and joblessness— with what this project calls the “politics of black excellence.” This approach entailed the expansion of existing practices of racial uplift into the realm of policy. Adherents sought to discipline black people with policies purported to fortify black communities against the internal threat of “black-on-black” crime, restore the black nuclear family, and cultivate diligent black workers. This study argues that in proposing reform of the self, the family, and black communities as solutions to structural crises, Atlanta’s black political class innovated new modes of black politics and Democratic governance.