The Getaway: A Review of White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin M. Kruse

white flight

A friend who sells high-end real estate tells the story of a well-heeled Northern couple who were enchanted by the idea of owning an antebellum Southern mansion. He met them at the airport and took them to one of our charming old South Carolina towns, one that failed to be liberated by the U.S. Army in 1864-65 and thus contained several attractive properties. However, they had scarcely arrived when our prospective new citizens demanded to be taken back to the airport. It was evident that their noticing the large number of black Carolinians in the streets going about their work and leisure had led to rapid disenchantment.

This is not exactly what the author means by White Flight. He has in mind those evil Southerners who have fled Atlanta in recent decades rather than do what he considers their imperative moral duty: stay behind in pursuit of his commonplace yet fantastical daydream of egalitarian paradise. Enjoyment of taxes, crime, corruption, and non-schools seems to the author a small price for them to pay for his desideratum. But most people will sympathize with those in flight, even if they have created an endless nightmare of suburban congestion that is a damned nuisance for anyone trying to get past Atlanta to some civilized place like Forsyth or Macon.

And, of course, we all know that when Southerners do something bad, it is simply a confirmation of their especially evil, America-contaminating nature, which is a well-known fact of the universe. Never mind that Georgians in white flight were only doing what Northerners had been doing for fifty years or more with less provocation. (The minority metropolitan-area population for larger Northern cities is ten percent, compared to Atlanta’s thirty-five.)

White Flight does present some interesting history of Atlanta politics during the Civil Rights Era and since—the rocky path ascending from Southern benightedness to the glowing virtue of true American urbanism. Of course, what really happened was take-over of the city by an unholy collusion of unscrupulous “leaders” of the black community and unscrupulous rent-seeking businessmen speculating in public subsidy. Come to think of it, Atlanta has become a true American city after all, though not, of course, the American city as fantasized in the daydreams of egalitarian utopia.

This is a book written for liberal daydreamers to tell them what they are supposed to think about Atlanta. It would seem that they mistakenly honour Atlanta as a model for the success of “civil rights” and black enfranchisement. Liberal right-thinkers should be warned that there is another side. The real lesson is not in the much-celebrated defeat of segregation but in the massive flight of middle-class whites to the suburbs. Actually, this is not news to anyone except a daydreaming liberal. It is simply the established though unofficial American way. The purpose of presenting this non-news as a fresh discovery is to give liberals a comforting explanation for the electoral strength of “conservative” Republicanism. It is obviously a product of suburbanization, which, of course, is a direct result of the “racism” which caused middle-class whites to fly. Thus these bad people evaded their moral duty to stay behind in the city and create the reign of loving brotherhood that would have certainly ensued except for their cruel abandonment of the unfortunate. Instead of fulfilling the author’s mission, they fled, and, perhaps worst of all, became Republican voters.

Of course, this scenario only works if you think that it is somehow a triumph of “conservatism” that Southern voters have been co-opted into support of the national Republicans’ strange brew of state capitalism, imperialism, Christian Zionism, and police-state tendencies. But that is another story for another day.

(A slightly different version appeared in Chronicles Magazine)

SOURCE: A Review of White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism, by Kevin M. Kruse, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press; 325 pp., $35

About Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books. More from Clyde Wilson

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