The Journal of Urban Affairs invites article submissions for a special issue on “Black Meccas of the South,” guest edited by Kali-Ahset Amen (Emory University) and Deirdre Oakley (Georgia State University).
Employing an inter-American framework to interrogate and reposition the Black Mecca landscape, this special issue will: (1) attend to the time-specific, particular and undertheorized character of southern cities as actual and possible Black Meccas; (2) contend with the conceptual limitations of U.S.-centric, northern, and nation-bound categories of urban black place-making; and (3) explore the significance of economic, cultural, and people flows between hemispheric southern spaces (e.g. U.S. Deep South, the Caribbean, and coastal regions of Central and South America) in the making and re-scaling of black/Afro-descendant urban place and space. For this special issue, we invite submissions of empirical, theoretical, and review papers that examine these issues in relation to urban Afro-descendant populations along a number of place-making dimensions.
Interested authors should submit a 150-word abstract to the guest editors by email at JUAblackmeccas@gmail.com. Abstracts must be received by December 15, 2017. Following the review of abstracts, selected authors must submit final papers to the guest editors for initial evaluation by March 30, 2018. Once evaluated, the guest editors will instruct the authors to upload their papers to Scholar One for peer review. Questions about this special issue should be submitted to the email above.
Overview. In the U.S. context, the term Black Mecca has typically referred to cities where African Americans have better employment opportunities, a large black middle class, a black political elite, historically black colleges and universities, as well as prominent incubators of black arts, music, culture and other innovations. Depending on their location, such cities may or may not feature black demographic majorities. In the North and Mid-West, New York, NY and Chicago, IL have been regarded as black cultural meccas since the 1920s. An anchor for black middle class strivers, Washington, D.C. long reigned as a Mid-Atlantic mecca, bearing the moniker “Chocolate City.” Atlanta, GA emerged as the archetypal, modern Black Mecca, first noted in a 1971 Ebony Magazine article touting this southern city as a place where “[b]lack folks have more, live better, accomplish more and deal with whites more effectively than they do anywhere else in the South—or North” (Garland 1971: 152).*
Black Meccas are at a crossroads. Today, widening social inequality confounds the prosperity narrative at the core of the Black Mecca ideal. Major U.S. cities are facing structural transformations (e.g. gentrification, suburbanization of poverty, labor deskilling, and redistricting) that have diminished or reconfigured traditional political-economic and place-based markers of the Black Mecca. Persistent anti-black racism only compounds the racial taint of these shifts. While similar pressures affect all Black Meccas, southern cities like Atlanta, Miami, FL and Charlotte, NC have shown modest resilience as sites of black opportunity and are even growing as destinations for black migration. Some black migrants are heading South from northern metropolitan areas once known as Black Meccas; others are emigrating across national borders to and from Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America; still others have relocated from coastal southern cities in the wake of man-made and natural disasters. In view of these realities, we suggest that relational and comparative analytics are needed to understand racial and place formation in historical and emergent Black Meccas of the South in particular.
Regional and racial place-making reconsidered: Black Meccas of the Inter-American South. Our interest in the South responds to the northern and western regional bias dominant in African American urban historiography until the turn of the millennium. We seek to engage an expanding volume of scholarship which investigates, on the one hand, contemporary urban cultures of the black U.S. South, and varied articulations of blackness in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, on the other. The cultural, economic, environmental, and political ties among these geographies are long-standing, as are their variegated linkages to U.S. imperial and racial projects.
Since the 1990s, urbanists have connected local processes of place-making to global systemic processes that reinscribe space within a global political and cultural economy. Likewise, interdisciplinary scholars of the “new Southern studies” framework appeal to the analysis of a transnational South that locates regional processes within a global context. Along these lines, we define the inter-American South as a transoceanic geography that includes the U.S. Deep South, the Caribbean, and coastal regions of Central and South America with significant densities of Afro-descendant populations. We urge attention to trans-local and transnational processes that shape the conditions out of which Black Meccas emerge, decline, shift, or fail to exist at all. Attending to the interplay of urbanization, racialization, and black empowerment in Latin American and Caribbean cities is of key importance because they have been significant centers of innovation for Afro-descendant populations. In many cases, they are places from which Afro-descendants have migrated to Black Meccas of the U.S. South over the generations. With this broader framing in mind, we seek to highlight the interconnectedness of southern places and peoples, even as we probe local singularities of black agency and spatiality.
*Phyl Garland “Atlanta: Black Mecca of the South” Ebony Magazine, August 1971, pp. 152-160.