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White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

(Politics and Society in Modern America)

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  393 ratings  ·  46 reviews
During the civil rights era, Atlanta thought of itself as "The City Too Busy to Hate," a rare place in the South where the races lived and thrived together. Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, however, so many whites fled the city for the suburbs that Atlanta earned a new nickname: "The City Too Busy Moving to Hate."

In this reappraisal of racial politics in modern Amer
Hardcover, 325 pages
Published October 2nd 2005 by Princeton University Press (first published 2005)
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4.18  · 
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 ·  393 ratings  ·  46 reviews

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Sanjiv Sarwate
Oct 08, 2013 rated it liked it
This was a well-put-together, if infinitely depressing, look at the process of white flight in Atlanta, a city which dubbed itself "too busy to hate" and used a form of half-measures to try and preserve the Jim Crow system until it ultimately became unsustainable.

What really jumps out in these pages is the visceral hostility that white residents of Atlanta towards sharing space with African-Americans, particularly the depth of this feeling among those who were on the lower end of the economic sp
Aug 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
kruse works with an apparently narrow narrow topic — the history neighborhood-based desegregation within atlanta. impressively, he manages to document how more or less every major conservative policy position on every major domestic issue can be seen to flow from this issue.

kruse's book is a detailed account, relying mostly on secondary sources, of the evolution of desegregation in atlanta. starting with neighborhood desecration, kruse takes us through the progressive desegregation of atlanta s
May 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Kruse traces the evolution of segregationist discourse in the seemingly moderate city of Atlanta from overtly racist rhetoric to a more nuanced, rights-based argument that emphasized middle class values. Kruse displays how events in Atlanta helped spur national events which culminated in the legitimation and respectability of the separatist arguments of white suburban residents, couched in the “rights” discourse of private business, lower taxes, neighborhood schools and abti- government interven ...more
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
An engaging and accessible case study of the fights over desegregation in Post-War Atlanta. Kruse provides a solid blow-by-blow of the battles over apartheid housing, schooling, and public space. He also makes a thorough and convincing argument that modern Conservative thought and rhetoric are largely shaped by these battles. Today's Conservative movement - committed to privatization, individualism, and free enterprise, and deeply mistrustful of both "big government" and urban spaces - arose lar ...more
Mike Emett
Oct 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
The history of Atlanta's desegregation and the microscopic looks at its neighborhoods was very interesting. The argument stinks. Does not really show or prove that white flight=modern day conservatism/GOP nor was his research complete. What kind of conservatism is he referring to? Democratic conservatism, Republican conservatism, libertarian conservatism?

He cannot prove that modern day limited government appeals nationwide (he only focuses on the deep south) are found on racism. He forgets quot
Lene Jaqua
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a story of a movement running parallel to the civil rights movement, the story of white flight to the suburbs in Atlanta (and other cities in the South) as a result of desegregation policies. It describes the desegregation of lunch counters, businesses, hotels, neighborhoods and schools, and depicts the resistant “white voices” in terms of their ideologies, political stances.

The scary thing is that the rhetoric of those voices are echoed, or often down right identical to, the rhetoric of
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
A deep dive into the politics of the struggle between integration and segregation in Atlanta, primarily focusing on the postwar period until the late 1960s, as a means of documenting the development of arguments and ideologies now at the heart of the American political conservative movement.

The author lets the primary source documents, interviews, newspaper articles, and speeches do the heavy lifting. He sets up the story by establishing the political realities of the area at the time: state gov
May 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Though this book is advertised as explaining how modern American conservatism's roots lie in the segregationist movement, it's mostly just a history of the civil rights movement in Atlanta with a focus on the demographics of each side. Kruse does compellingly compare the rhetoric of middle-class segregationists with the rhetoric of Contract-with-America-style secessionists, and frequently makes the point that the segregationist response to enforced integration was often to abandon the integrated ...more
Really interesting study of White Flight in Atlanta, a good complement to Sugrue.
This book is part of a wave of pretty solid social/cultural histories that used local studies to examine national historical trends, many of them published by Princeton University Press in the 2000s. Kevin Kruse looks at Atlanta in the mid-twentieth century and the ways it dealt with race, specifically as it pertained to desegregation and class. For decades, Atlanta had prided itself on being forward-thinking and racially moderate- the “town too busy to hate.” That all went out the window once i ...more
This is a history, based in a case of study of Atlanta specifically, of how desegregation and the flight of the white middle class in response has proven to be a foundational element for the modern conservative movement, particularly its objection to the public provision of goods like education, housing, and mass transportation. Unlike in the rest of the state, urban Atlanta’s large black population was sufficiently politically strong enough in the post-WW II era (and found a partner in Mayor Wi ...more
Lance Eaton
Kruse traces a fascinating and compelling discussion of white supremacy, Atlanta's history, and the rise of the modern day conservatism. He starts with the assumption, often touted by Atlanta leaders that they have addressed the segregation issue and found a peaceful way to coexist. Kruse punches large holes in this idea by looking at how white people used whatever means necessary to distance people or color from places of power and community or by removing themselves and creating new places to ...more
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Scholarly, but readable, account of the integration of elections, housing, public accommodations, and schools in Atlanta in the 1940's through 1960's. Due to a minimalist approach to compliance with civil rights laws that was developed by the white power structure and accepted by black business and religious leaders, Atlanta avoided the initial violent response to federal edicts that was common elsewhere in the South, and gained the sobriquet of the "city too busy to hate." The author shows, thr ...more
Fraser Sherman
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
While Atlanta in the post-WW II years portrayed itself as "the city too busy to hate," willing to take moderate, reasonable steps toward integration, Kruse shows that there was no shortage of hate. While business and civic leaders saw advantages to taking baby steps, the white working-class saw themselves sold out by people whose private schools and private clubs would never have to accept blacks. After neo-Nazis and the KKK tried taking a stand, segregationists rebranded with the euphemistic " ...more
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ah, now I definitively know why I had a fear of surburbia growing up and why I still fucking hate it. Kruse lays out and structures his argument well, using each chapter to explore a facet in the white upper and middle class anxieties and fears in response to the African American flight from the rural South to urban centers, and how they created a variety of systems (red lining in real estate groups, refusal to desegregate schools, defunding public programs that in turn lower property and presti ...more
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and thought-provoking, this book filled in a lot of gaps for me. Not sure I agree with the basic premise that the roots of modern conservatism come from racist segregationalists, who twisted conservative ideals to justify their own misconceptions.

I'd recommend this book to anyone curious about this period of history, especially Atlantans.
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and hard to put down. It outlines the ways that our current-day conservative politics has its roots in the fight against desegregation. The only issue is that in bringing us up date with the shifting demographics of the Atlanta area it completely ignores the increasing numbers of Latinos and Asians in the decades following the 1970s.
Jon C. Hooper
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reinforced how racist the south was and still is

It’s hard to believe the true hatred there was and still is for black Americans in the south. Belief of the inferiority of blacks by whites is truly sad and disgusting. We have such a long way to go to true integration and no discrimination.
Dan Cotter
Oct 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very well researched, well written book about the racial tensions and White flight in Atlanta. The city went from “the city too busy to hate” to “the city too busy moving to hate.” Learned a lot from reading this book and it is worth a read.
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book to read if you ever want to completely lose faith in humanity. Enraging, infuriating, and jaw-dropping, this is the kind of book that will want to make you give the middle finger to the very concept of history.
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's a solid piece of scholarship that uses Atlanta as a lens to look at the country as a whole. Kruse explains the suburban character of Nixon's southern strategy, the racist origins of school choice arguments, and why Atlanta's MARTA trains don't go anywhere.
BJ Cefola
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's hard to overstate the degree to which the modern Republican Party is animated by a desire to discriminate against people they hate in general, and people of color in particular.
Mark Stratton
May 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook, history
My eyes weren’t opened, but I did learn some things. Well written, and engagingly read.
Dave Wein
Feb 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Amazing to think this was only 60 years ago and considered acceptable
Anna Mclamb
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fantastic history of Atlanta
Kathryn French
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Well written and researched but unutterably sad. It’s an excellent look at how we’ve arrived in 2018 with the huge divisions across the political spectrum.
Elizabeth Ruth
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Required reading if you live in this city.
Jul 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
In 1975, when I (visibly "white" and unaware of my Cherokee ancestry) started kindergarten in a small south-Arkansas town, my teacher was black, and quite a few of my classmates were too. Then my parents moved me to a new school for 1st grade – this time all-white. And the year after, we moved several counties away, where, shockingly, there were no black people at all (later I found out it was a "sundown town"). Of course my parents insisted none of these moves had anything to do with race (raci ...more
May 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
After experiencing the school redistricting process in the Atlanta Public Schools over the 2011-2012 school year, I was fascinated to read this comprehensive history of desegregation efforts in Central City Atlanta. Since I moved to the area in 1997, I had always wondered how the city had transitioned from legally segregated to its current quasi-state (neither legally segregated nor socially integrated). 'White Flight' gives a comprehensive history of the years immediately after WWII through the ...more
Jan 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I wish all of my peers would read this book. My high school classmate Kevin Kruse is the author; he's now a history professor at Princeton, but that's just the reason why I (and now you) found out about it. The reason you should read it is that Kruse has chosen a powerful and proximate subject matter: the pro-segregation activists in Atlanta, and the morphing of their overtly racial arguments to more ostensibly neutral ones, some of which are still used in politics today.

The one great disadvanta
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Kevin M. Kruse (PhD, Cornell University) is Professor of History at Princeton University. Dr. Kruse studies the political, social, and urban/suburban history of 20th-century America. Focused on conflicts over race, rights, and religion, he has particular interests in segregation and the civil rights movement, the rise of religious nationalism and the making of modern conservatism.

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“If we truly seek to understand segregationists—not to excuse or absolve them, but to understand them—then we must first understand how they understood themselves. Until now, because of the tendency to focus on the reactionary leaders of massive resistance, segregationists have largely been understood simply as the opposition to the civil rights movement. They have been framed as a group focused solely on suppressing the rights of others, whether that be the larger cause of “civil rights” or any number of individual entitlements, such as the rights of blacks to vote, assemble, speak, protest, or own property. Segregationists, of course, did stand against those things, and often with bloody and brutal consequences. But, like all people, they did not think of themselves in terms of what they opposed but rather in terms of what they supported. The conventional wisdom has held that they were only fighting against the rights of others. But, in their own minds, segregationists were instead fighting for rights of their own—such as the “right” to select their neighbors, their employees, and their children’s classmates, the “right” to do as they pleased with their private property and personal businesses, and, perhaps most important, the “right” to remain free from what they saw as dangerous encroachments by the federal government. To be sure, all of these positive “rights” were grounded in a negative system of discrimination and racism. In the minds of segregationists, however, such rights existed all the same. Indeed, from their perspective, it was clearly they who defended individual freedom, while the “so-called civil rights activists” aligned themselves with a powerful central state, demanded increased governmental regulation of local affairs, and waged a sustained assault on the individual economic, social, and political prerogatives of others. The true goal of desegregation, these white southerners insisted, was not to end the system of racial oppression in the South, but to install a new system that oppressed them instead. As this study demonstrates, southern whites fundamentally understood their support of segregation as a defense of their own liberties, rather than a denial of others’.” 1 likes
“IN JANUARY 1959 Police Chief Herbert Jenkins found a poem tacked to a bulletin board at his departmental headquarters. Tellingly, the anonymous author had titled it “The Plan of Improvement,” in sarcastic tribute to Mayor Hartsfield’s 1952 program for the city’s expansion and economic progress. The poem looked back over a decade of racial change and spoke volumes about the rising tide of white resentment. It began with a brief review of the origins of residential transition and quickly linked the desegregation of working-class neighborhoods to the desegregation of the public spaces surrounding them: Look my children and you shall see, The Plan of Improvement by William B. On a great civic venture we’re about to embark And we’ll start this one off at old Mozeley Park. White folks won’t mind losing homes they hold dear; (If it doesn’t take place on an election year) Before they have time to get over the shock, We’ll have that whole section—every square block. I’ll try something different for plan number two This time the city’s golf courses will do. They’ll mix in the Club House and then on the green I might get a write up in Life Magazine. And now comes the schools for plan number three To mix them in classrooms just fills me with glee; For I have a Grandson who someday I pray Will thank me for sending this culture his way. And for my finale, to do it up right, The buses, theatres and night spots so bright; Pools and restaurants will be mixed up at last And my Plan of Improvement will be going full blast. The sarcasm in the poem is unmistakable, of course, but so are the ways in which the author—either a policeman himself or a friend of one—clearly linked the city’s pursuit of “progress” with a litany of white losses. In the mind of the author, and countless other white Atlantans like him, the politics of progress was a zero-sum game in which every advance for civil rights meant an equal loss for whites.” 1 likes
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