Atlanta Suburbs Want to Secede from Fulton County

YahooNews is running an AP story under the provocative headline “White Atlanta suburbs push for secession.”

A potentially explosive dispute in the City Too Busy to Hate is taking shape over a proposal to break Fulton County in two and split off Atlanta’s predominantly white, affluent suburbs to the north from some of the metropolitan area’s poorest, black neighborhoods.

Legislation that would allow the suburbs to form their own county, to be called Milton County, was introduced by members of the Georgia Legislature’s Republican majority earlier this month.

Supporters say it is a quest for more responsive government in a county with a population greater than that of six states. Opponents say the measure is racially motivated and will pit white against black, rich against poor.

It’s inevitable that race will come into these discussions, as it’s inextricably linked to urban-suburban fissures. Still, the headline takes a side, implying that race is the central motivating factor when that almost certainly is not the case.

Surely, one can explain the desire of wealthy suburbanites to keep their money within their local community independent of the racial make-up of said communities. Pouring that money into a larger pool means that they have to share. That means that their kids will go to inferior schools, their local police and fire departments will be underfunded, and that social services that go to the poor will be overfunded relative to the desires of the suburban constituency.

There are terrific arguments to be made by the downtown community as to why the suburbanites, most of whom derive their affluence owing to the city, should be compelled to pay into a common tax pool. That’s a legitimate public policy debate. Prejudging them as racist, however, poisons the well.

FILED UNDER: Media, Race and Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. William d'Inger says:

    I have lived long enough (unfortunately?) to know it doesn’t matter what the motivation is or what you and I think about it. The only thing that matters is if they have the votes to pull it off. For whatever it’s worth, I hope they do.

  2. madmatt says:

    Nobody has ever gone wrong overestimating the effect of race on any question in the south. A similar thing occurred in Detroit in the 60’s and the city has never really recovered…it creates a downward financial spiral and creates an us vs them mindset that does nothing to help!

  3. David Harris says:

    I live in the area being discussed. I definitely wouldn’t consider race the motivating factor in the decision-making process of most of my fellow residents, although I’m sure it plays a role for some of them.

    Some more history to note is that the portion of Fulton County in question was not originally part of the county, and was absorbed years ago for financial reasons. There is very little feeling of geographic or community closeness between the southern and northern portions of the county.

  4. McGehee says:

    FWIW, the “us against them” mindset at the Fulton County Courthouse was created a long time ago, and was thence bestowed upon the northern suburbs over a period of 30 years.

  5. jeff b says:

    If this passes, I hope the remaining core of Fulton county charges a $100-per-vehicle toll for these suburban jerks to enter the city proper.

  6. LaurenceB says:

    Test Questions:

    1. I propose a law restricting voting rights to only landowners who can pass a “literacy test” that I design. The practical affect of my law is that many blacks and a few whites would become disenfranchised. Would that law be fairly described as “racist”?

    2. I propose hefty fines for landlords that rent to illegal immigrants. The practical affect of my law is that all immigrants – legal and illegal – would find it much more difficult to find affordable housing. Would that law be fairly described as anti-immigrant?

    I live in “Milton” county. The neighboring county of Cherokee has passed #2. You should recognize #1.

  7. Appalled Moderate says:

    Generally, the Milton County area feels it is underserved by the Fulton County government, for the amount of tax revenue it provides to the county government. I think if you asked folks in that area, they would probably indicate that they do not care much for paying for the public hospital in downtown Atlanta, or for the mass transit system, which does not serve that part of the county well.

    It’s not race that’s the problem — it’s taxes and government services. This said, the Atlanta area has way too many local governments as it is and needs to work towards more consolidation, as opposed to more little governments.

  8. Brian J. says:

    As I’ve mentioned on every blog where I’ve seen this, the city of St. Louis did a similar thing, cutting itself off from St. Louis County, in the 1870s. The city didn’t want to have to waste its tax dollars on the rural county.

    130 years later, the county is the growth and revenue engine. The city keeps floating ideas for reunification, but the county isn’t very interested.

  9. Jerrad A. says:

    I wonder if Mr. David Harris lives in the suburbs or the urban area?

    I’m going to guess suburbs.

  10. David Harris says:

    Jerrad, I thought I stated that I lived in the area being discussed, but yes, I live in the suburban area being discussed.

    Good guess.

  11. McGehee says:

    I wonder if Mr. David Harris lives in the suburbs or the urban area?

    Let’s go to the videotape — er, I mean Mr. Harris’ own comment:

    I live in the area being discussed.

    So Jerrad, are you a psychic or what?

  12. Trackboy1 says:

    Absolutely nothing to do with race. It’s about Fulton Co. providing horrible services with high taxes. Ask any contractor/vendor who’s ever dealt with them. Go to the Taj Mahal-like Fulton Co. headquarters downtown, a temple to gov’t waste and inefficiency. County Comm. Bill Edwards runs a fifedom with little media attention. He may be the worst county commissioner in America. He’s the same guy who wanted to see parks back to Sandy Springs for $17 mil when some of those same parks had been donated to the county decades ago. The county budget should be 33% less than it is now. truly, the most corrupt, fiscally irresponsible county gov’t in the U.S.