A Glimpse of History
From its annexation in 1922, Kirkwood was a solidly working class neighborhood. It was, however, a segregated neighborhood. In 1960, 91% of Kirkwood households were white. Throughout the subsequent decade, Kirkwood experienced a dramatic shift in the racial composition of its residents. By 1970, 97% of Kirkwood households were black. This transition was not peaceful. In the years between 1960 and 1970, Kirkwood experienced first-hand the ugly face of the urban race relations of that era. Real estate agents, both black and white, practiced block-busting, an unscrupulous practice where agents used racial prejudice as a threat to convince white families to sell their homes at below market prices and then sold these same homes to black families at prime prices. As a 1969 Atlanta Journal Constitution article states, a white Kirkwood resident sold his home to a Decatur realtor for one of the lowest selling prices ever recorded for the property and just weeks later, a black family bought the same house for the highest price ever recorded for it. Paired with the racial prejudice too typical of the time, this economic exploitation created great enmity between long-term white Kirkwood residents and black newcomers. The manifestations of this enmity ran the gamut from the arson of a Woodbine Avenue home shortly after it was sold to a black family, to the incorporation of Eastern Atlanta Inc. by white Kirkwood residents to buy property that would otherwise be sold to black families. But the endgame of this enmity was that white residents moved en masse, eastward toward Decatur and Stone Mountain , leaving Kirkwood segregated once again.
By the late 1960s, Kirkwood was, in all respects except the housing stock, a new neighborhood with new needs. New residents tended to be younger than past residents and had more school age children as a result. There was also an increased supply of rental property owned by whites that did not want to sell their property, but did not want to continue to live there either. These trends presented challenges to a neighborhood that was still trying to define itself as a community. These challenges were met, in part, by the ardent activism of new Kirkwood residents, including civil rights leader Hosea Williams. But the work of Williams, and others, could not protect Kirkwood from the decline that faces many aging neighborhoods. Through the 1970s, Kirkwood faced urban decay, as the U.S. and Atlanta economies faltered. The average incomes and education levels in Kirkwood had declined precipitously by 1980, while the number of dilapidated homes and the crime rate had increased.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, whites in search of affordable in-town communities turned to Kirkwood . By 2000, the white population of Kirkwood increased to over 20%. But this change is again tumultuous for Kirkwood . While the black residents who moved into Kirkwood in the 1960s shared the socioeconomic status of their white counterparts, the white residents that have been moving in to Kirkwood since the late 1990s tend to have higher incomes and white collar jobs. They are also able to pay considerably more for housing in Kirkwood . Today, renovated homes range in price from $250,000 to $450,000. This shift brings with it problems that parallel the problems experienced by Kirkwood during the racial shift of the 1960s. With rapid increases in property values come rapid increases in property taxes, so rapid that many older residents on fixed incomes have difficulty meeting property tax bills. Paired with other demographic changes, the economic stress of gentrification has led to conflict. For example, in 1998 a local minister publicly called for black residents to save Kirkwood from a "white take-over." But these controversies have been countered with a strong neighborhood association, efforts toward historic district designation, funds for an improved business district streetscape, and a successful centennial festival in 1999.
Kirkwood represents the archetype of urban neighborhood change across the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. Collecting, archiving and sharing Kirkwood 's history is important for that reason alone. However, the dramatic changes Kirkwood is experiencing today make this project all the more important. The residents who lived through Kirkwood 's experiences in the 1960s, both black and white, are aging. It is essential that their histories be recorded before they are lost. It is equally important that their stories, as well as the stories of those who have moved into Kirkwood more recently, be shared. As neighborhoods experience dramatic change they run the risk of losing their shared history and sense of community. We intend for this project to help preserve the character of the neighborhood by documenting the common historical bonds that all Kirkwood residents share. Despite our differences, these historical roots tie all Kirkwood residents together in a single community and encourage a shared commitment to that community.