Assistant professor of communication studies and African American studies program coordinator Dr. Rhana Gittens Wheeler recently authored three informational signs installed at the historic Atlanta neighborhood of Blandtown — one of the first Black neighborhoods established in the region after the Civil War.
Founded in 1870, Blandtown was a bustling community that thrived on shared resources. Many Black families migrated to the area and the neighborhood grew to have at least 500 residents by the 1950s. The segregated public school available in Atlanta was too far to send their children, so the community raised funds to open their own school.
In 1952, however, the unincorporated community was annexed by the city of Atlanta, redlined and eventually rezoned as a heavy industrial area. The once-thriving community hemorrhaged residents. In the 2000s, the area was again rezoned for commercial residences and luxury homes. The displacement of the Black community that once thrived there is considered a prominent example of gentrification.
Dr. Gittens Wheeler’s signs tell this story, shining light on the history of Blandtown and educating residents both new and old.
“It fills me up with emotion to be a part of remembering this community. Through this work and the interviews I’ve had, I’ve come to better understand how significant “home” is to the human spirit and also the devastating toll displacement has on communities,” says Gittens.
Dr. Gittens Wheeler’s research focuses on cultural gentrification and its effects on Black identity. Serendipitously, Blandtown was just one of the case studies explored in her dissertation. Through interviews with living former residents and archival research, she worked to excavate the true narrative behind the town.
Dr. Gittens Wheeler’s dissertation is currently under contract and revision for a book manuscript titled “Cultural Gentrification of the Black Mecca.”
“This project reminds me that this type of work and research is valuable and inspires me to keep remembering these communities and share this passion with my students.”