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VIA: New York Times

During the housing boom, Henry County, a suburb of Atlanta, had its share of racial tension as more and more blacks joined the tens of thousands of others pouring in, creating a standoffish gap between the newcomers and the county’s oldtimers.

But the recession has begun to erase those differences.

Blacks and whites have encountered one another in increasing numbers recently in the crowded waiting rooms of the welfare office and at the food pantry, where many of both races have ventured for the first time. Struggling black-owned businesses are attracting the attention of white patrons. Neighbors are commiserating across racial lines.

At the Division of Family and Children Services, Keasha Taylor, 36 and black, helped explain the system recently to a white mother. Ms. Taylor, who was there because her family had been evicted, told the mother, who was in line for food stamps, that a child with acute asthma might be eligible for Social Security.

“Right now, a lot of white people are in this situation,” Ms. Taylor said, recalling the conversation later. “We’re already used to poverty; they’re really not.”

Denese Rodgers, the county director of social services, who is white, has held several lunch meetings at A J’s Turkey Grill, owned by Diane Walker, a black woman, in hopes of helping business.

“It was in one of our abandoned strip malls, a forlorn looking kind of place, but when you walk in, it’s just pristine,” Ms. Rodgers said. “She’s doing everything right, it’s just not full.”

Peggy Allgood, a 54-year-old black woman who lost her job and four-bedroom house and is now living in a trailer park, said she had noticed the recession obliterating racial differences up and down the economic scale.

“It’s gotten to the point where everyone I talk to, their hours have been cut, their jobs have been cut,” Ms. Allgood said. “My neighbor, she’s white, she’s trying to find a job. She hasn’t had any luck.”

The recession hit Henry County, for years one of the nation’s fastest growing areas, at a time when it was already struggling to come to terms with startling demographic change. In 1990, the county was almost 90 percent white. Now, as its population has more than tripled to 192,000, according to 2008 census estimates, the white percentage of the population has shrunk to 60 percent.

The county’s elected government is still all white and Republican, and some leaders and newcomers alike have tried in various ways to make local board and governments more diverse. But nothing else has worked to remove barriers as quickly as economic hardship.

“There used to be a lot of racial tension here, but everybody knows that we need each other to survive this recession,” said Eugene Edwards, the president of the Henry County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “People now, they seem to be starting to care for one another.”

Read more here.

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