INTERVIEWS FROM COMMUNITY VOLUNTEERS
Long-time memories and recent events are an important topic of The Westview Oral History and Ephemera Project, especially the topics of gentrification and current race relations in Westview, Atlanta, and the United States as a whole.
Patricia Perdew and Michele Perry-Stewart discuss some of the pressing issues facing Westview residents today in their oral history interview. Nelly Harmon also voices her concerns with city management and public services. Finally, Mary Elizabeth Dukes talks about her fears regarding gentrification and its impact on black senior residents and their ability to remain financially secure.
See below to listen and learn more about the oral histories being done in the project.
MARY ELIZABETH DUKES
JANICE SIKES ROGERS
PATRICIA PERDEW &
Westview, originally known as West End Park, was established at the turn of the twentieth century. Before then, the Westview area saw fighting between Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War. Notably, the Battle of Ezra Church, fought in July 1864, was part of Sherman’s ‘March to the Sea’ campaign that passed through Atlanta. The area saw development roughly two decades after the war’s end. Initial plans for construction date back to as early as the 1880s, connected primarily to the construction of a streetcar line giving direct access to the growing Westview Cemetery. In 1886, the West End and Atlanta Street Railroad Company began building the line, with the company changing hands to Atlanta Consolidated Street Railway in 1891. The construction of the streetcar line not only allowed easier access to the cemetery but also to the surrounding land. Land development began in earnest in 1888, with one Mr. William M. Scott purchasing tracts of land adjacent to Westview Cemetery. By 1889, Scott was advertising his new lots in local newspapers, calling the neighborhood Westwood Park. However, the land remained largely undeveloped and lacking in public services during this time, from the late 1880s to the early 1900s.
In 1909, developer William J. Davis bought land from the Ontario Land Company. Davis’ plan was to subdivide the land he purchased into lots, renaming the area to West End Park in 1910. Interest in West End Park only grew in the following decade, with real estate developers like the Adair Brothers, Forrest and George Adair, commenting on the general improvements of Atlanta neighborhoods. During the 1910s and 1920s, the neighborhood changed names multiple times from Westwood Park to Mathewson Subdivision in 1911, Stokes in 1912, Olympian Hills in 1922, Waters Property in 1926, and Westmeath Park in 1929. Regardless of these smaller changes, the general name West End Park stuck with the area until the 1970s. By the beginning of the 1920s, land auctions ceased, and homes were now being constructed by real estate company F.P. & Geo. J. Morris. Following decades saw more real estate companies become involved in the Westview area, including Hamilton-Stokes in 1930 and Defense Homes Inc. in 1944.
1920 - 1940
In 1923, two segregated high schools opened in the area: Booker T. Washington (for African Americans) and Joseph E. Brown (for whites). There were several public housing projects also: University Homes (1932), the first black public housing project in the nation; John Hope Homes (1942); Harris Homes (1957), named for Joel Chandler Harris; and Chiles Homes (1965)—named for J.O. Chiles, a “realtor who pioneered the development of low cost housing in Atlanta.” Prominent businesses connected to the area included the Paschal brother’s lunchroom (established 1947), which was an important fixture in the African American community, and the West End Mall (constructed 1972).
1950 - 1960
The 50s and 60s saw Westview as a predominantly white neighborhood, shaped as it was by attempts to maintain a color line through urban development schemes, such as the creation of I-20 during the mid-1960s. However, local universities (close to Westview), primarily those that form the Atlanta University Center Consortium or AUC, such as Clark, Spelman, and Morehouse, all hosted young activists that participated in the civil rights movement. Student organizations like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and African-American civil rights organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had offices in the greater West End. Resident Patricia Perdew, a veteran of the civil rights movement, recalls her involvement in Atlanta-based civil rights activities. Janice Sikes Rogers, a historian of the West End, specifically, and local activist, also elaborates on her historical knowledge of the AUC Consortium and key figures involved with these Atlanta universities.
After legal segregation was ended, Westview experienced what many urban neighborhoods at the time experienced: a rapid racial change known as “white flight.” This means that as segregation was dismantled, white residents responded by leaving the neighborhood and moving to the suburbs, and for the first time African Americans were allowed to buy homes in the area. In oral history interviews with residents like Nelly Harmon, who moved into Westview in the early 1970s, you can hear how entire streets were left vacant by white families leaving the metropolitan suburbs and moving out of the Atlanta area. Nelly recalls ‘moving days’—where white families vacated entire streets all in the span of a few weeks. Mary Elizabeth Dukes speaks to the experience of newly arriving black families in the 1970s, describing the relationships she forged along the way with her neighbors in a post-segregation Westview. By 1969, Westview had transitioned and was a predominantly black neighborhood.
By the 1970s, West End Park had changed its name to Westview. It first appeared on planning maps in or around 1974, with the name likely coming from Westview Cemetery. Around the same time in 1975, the Westview Community Organization was founded. The WCO redefined the boundaries of the neighborhood, reflected in maps of the time of the City of Atlanta. These new boundaries extended Westview to Langhorn Street, the L&N Belt (which forms the current path of the BeltLine), and included the Mathewson, Olympian Hills, Westmeath Park, and Waters subdivisions. The lines between these subdivisions and their relative location between Westview and neighboring West End have blurred with time, resulting in ambiguous boundaries between both neighborhoods.
TODAYAs Atlanta continues to grow, so too has Westview’s appeal as a thriving community, conveniently close to Downtown Atlanta, while maintaining both a peaceful quiet and a growing business corridor along Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard. By the mid-2000s, with the bursting of the housing bubble and the subsequent recession, Atlanta expanded its metropolitan reach through the creation of the BeltLine. The Atlanta BeltLine, like any historical moment, produces a mixed legacy. The BeltLine has connected Westview to other surrounding neighborhoods and the Atlanta core, promising a reinvigorated housing and business market, attracting new residents as a result. On the other hand, the BeltLine is inextricably tied to gentrification and issues of increased house and rental costs, leaving many long-time residents unable to remain in their homes. There are also issues of representation, particularly of senior residents, in the planning of the BeltLine. In short, the BeltLine’s full impact on Westview is yet to be determined. Westview residents are committed to the critical dialogue needed to foster a thriving and prosperous urban community.
Long-time memories and recent events are an important topic of The Westview Oral History and Ephemera Project (WOHEP), especially the topics of gentrification and race relations in Westview, Atlanta, and the United States as a whole. Patricia Perdew and Michele Perry-Stewart discuss some of the pressing issues facing Westview residents today in their oral history interview. Nelly Harmon also voices her concerns with city management and public services. Finally, Mary Elizabeth Dukes talks about her fears regarding gentrification and its impact on black senior residents and their ability to remain financially secure. To listen and learn more about the oral histories being done in the project, click here: LINK.