Some residents want Buckhead to be its own city, the latest in a string of political schisms based on race and class in the metro area.
On the evening of August 7, Kenon Jennings was discovered shot near Hide Kitchen & Cocktails, a popular hookah lounge in one of Atlanta’s many thriving business districts. Jennings died later, becoming one of 65 people murdered in Atlanta during that week in 2021, compared to 46 killed during the same period in 2020.
Jennings was also the ninth person murdered in Atlanta’s police Zone 2, which includes Buckhead, compared to six the previous year. The killing, according to Buckhead resident Bill White, is yet another indication that the area known for its mansions, high-end restaurants, and luxury stores needs to take public safety into its own hands.
White is the CEO of the Buckhead City Committee (BCC), a group attempting to persuade lawmakers and voters that the neighborhood should secede (or de-annex) from Atlanta and become a city in its own right. There are many political hurdles to overcome, but White’s group has already overcome a few of them, and a bill has been introduced in the Georgia legislature to allow the de-annexation to be voted on next year.
The push is part of a broader movement known as cityhood in metro Atlanta. More than a dozen new cities have been formed in the region since 2005, with several more hoping to join. Buckhead City, on the other hand, would be the first Georgia city to be formed by separating from an existing one.
A divorce could be financially disastrous for Atlanta. Buckhead isn’t small—it spans 24 square miles—and the proposed new city would house nearly 90,000 people, or roughly one-fifth of Atlanta’s current population. According to the Buckhead Community Improvement District, Atlanta would lose an estimated 38% of its tax revenue if Buckhead left. The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, as well as two local civic and business organizations, the Buckhead Coalition and the Buckhead Business Association, have stated their opposition to de-annexation.
Buckhead’s secession would be a blow to Atlanta’s Black political class. Beginning with the election of the city’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, in 1973, black residents have been involved in a 50-year project to gain power in the city. Today, the largest city in the South, which has one of the highest concentrations of Fortune 500 company headquarters in the country, is led by a mostly Black cast of elected officials. According to 2019 census data, Atlanta as a whole is 51 percent Black. According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis, the new Buckhead City would be roughly three-quarters white.
The 30327 ZIP code, which represents Buckhead’s most affluent neighborhoods, was the only part of Atlanta to vote for Donald Trump in 2020.
Attempts to carve Buckhead out of Atlanta have failed in the past. This one has gained traction, thanks in part to the well-connected White, who runs the Constellations Group, a consulting firm. White, a former high-dollar fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, switched allegiances to Trump after Clinton’s defeat in 2016 and helped raise millions of dollars for Trump’s 2020 campaign. Three years ago, he and his husband Bryan Eure relocated to Atlanta, Eure’s hometown.
According to a recent poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs, nearly 54% of Buckhead residents support cityhood.
Atlanta, like many other major American cities, has recently seen an increase in violent assaults and homicides. As of September 11, there had been 48 shootings in the police zone where Buckhead is located, up 50% from the same period last year and 167 percent from the same period in 2019. However, it is not Atlanta’s most dangerous neighborhood. The Buckhead zone has experienced fewer murders, shooting incidents, robberies, and burglaries in 2021 than any of the five other police zones around Atlanta, as of the week of Sept. 11.