America's blackest city elected a Democratic Socialist mayor and there are problems

Politico has published a lengthy story about a suburb of Atlanta called South Fulton. South Fulton has been dubbed the blackest city in the United States with a population just over 100,000 of which about 9 out of 10 residents are black.

For many years, the area that would eventually become the city of South Fulton was an unincorporated part of Fulton County. As many other parts of the county decided to incorporate and become cities, South Fulton initially refused to go along with the trend. In 2007, residents voted down a proposal to incorporate fearing it would result in higher taxes. But over time nearly all of the rest of Fulton County did incorporate and South Fulton realized it had better jump on the bandwagon or it would wind up being divided up among the other newly formed cities. So in 2016 the area voted again and finally became South Fulton.

And here’s where things get interesting. Recently the city elected a new Democratic Socialist mayor named khalid kamau (yes, all lowercase) who has some very distinct ideas about what the blackest city in America should look like.

Pronounced kuh-LEED kuh-MAH-oo, the mayor legally changed his name when he was 18, choosing to use all lowercase letters in the West African Yoruban tradition that prizes the community over the individual. Whereas the former mayor and most of the council members practice the incremental, integrationist, typically more moderate politics of Atlanta’s Black elite, kamau is much more radical — a gay, Christian, socialist, self-described “elected activist” and “Black nationalist,” a former film student, flight attendant, bus driver, Black Lives Matter organizer and city council member. As mayor, he has to this point, and to the constant consternation of his fellow Democratic South Fulton elected officials, stressed his slogans of “America’s Blackest City” and “Black on Purpose.” His goal, he has said, is to create here not only a “laboratory” for progressive policy but “a real-life Wakanda” — the fictional Black African empire that is the setting for the movies “Black Panther” and the forthcoming “Wakanda Forever.”

And here now, at this press conference on the top step of the building in which he lives in a one-bedroom apartment in a ramshackle condo complex called Camelot, just off the blighted Old National Highway, kamau turbocharged the increasingly definitional tension of South Fulton. He accused the city of hiding public records. He all but called the police department corrupt. He attempted to fire the city attorney. He reiterated his request to hire a therapist for the city.

You’ll be shocked to learn that this didn’t go over well with South Fulton’s city council against whom he also railed in his speech.

In South Fulton, the city hall doesn’t look like a city hall— an unremarkable brick building on Fulton Industrial Boulevard, cars and trucks whizzing by. Inside, the city council meets in a drab room with fluorescent lights and a makeshift dais. And in a specially scheduled meeting four days after kamau’s Camelot press conference, in a tense convening in which it felt like most of the onlookers on-hand were kamau supporters from the area’s Black activist community, the council effectively un-fired the city attorney — kamau could do what he did, according to the city charter, and the council also could do what it did — voiced strenuous support for the police department and its chief, stripped kamau of his duty as chair of this meeting and finally and unceremoniously instituted a vote of no confidence in the mayor.

“A vote of no confidence in Mayor khalid kamau is warranted. It is necessary,” said a practically seething Corey Reeves, the mayor pro tem. He called kamau’s remarks earlier in the week “misleading,” “false” and “simply irresponsible.” He “stood on the steps of Camelot condominiums,” Reeves continued, “and instead of calling out the slum lords, he chose to call out this council by saying there is a culture of corruption, a culture in which it is perceived he is the nucleus.” He said he and his fellow members of council had been “rendered choiceless” in their no-confidence vote…

…the rest of the city council took turns censuring the mayor.

Natasha Williams said he was “acting in ways that are contrary to this council and to this city.”

Eventually the story gets around to what it is kamau wants to do besides attack the other elected leaders in the city:

“South Fulton is the Blackest city in America,” he said in an interview with prideindex.com. “As such, our greatest challenges are connected to the systemic racism that all majority Black cities face — undervalued homes, underperforming schools, and lack of access to capital for local businesses. I want to use our $127-million budget to invest inward — to buy and develop our land and cultivate our local businesses,” he added. “My detractors are afraid that my inwardly focused economic development strategy will scare away ‘white’ investment. This is ludicrous on its face. We have had generic, race-neutral economic development campaigns for decades that have yielded no actual economic development.”

But while he may not see turning away “white” investment as a problem, members of the city council and other state officials do.

“Wakanda forever?” fellow state rep. Debra Bazemore said. “I’m like, ‘You do know that’s fictional, right? You do know that was a movie?’”

“I was born and raised in Savannah,” said council member Helen Willis, “and they did not become one of the top tourist spots in America by selling it as being a majority Black city.” She recalled a recent disconcerting conversation with a developer. “One of the things that was shared with me was, ‘I wanted to come in and meet the leadership, but I have to be honest with you: When I heard the ‘Black on Purpose,’ when I heard, ‘The Blackest City in America,’ me being Caucasian, that was very intimidating to me. Does that mean that you don’t welcome me because I’m Caucasian and you are ‘the Blackest city,’ you are ‘Black on Purpose’? And I had to spend time explaining to this person who wants to extend their business in our city and who’s doing a great job with the business they currently have that, no, that is not the vision, and that is not the narrative of the majority of the council members. That is one person. That is not how we feel.”

“My grandparents were sharecroppers. My great-grandparents were slaves. Does that mean that I need to lead with that in every conversation all the time? No,” said council member Natasha Williams. “I think that when you start to focus on the things that divide us you lose sight of the things that unite us.”

A city resident named Corey Critell is also quoted in the story saying something similar:

“I’ll be direct and frank. My mom’s white, my dad is Black, and for most of my life I grew up in a white community, so this has really been my first time immersing in a Black community. And what I’m finding is that there’s a lot of people in this area, politicians, citizens of the area, that talk about Black Lives Matter, talk about supporting our own kind, but I’ll tell you: I get a lot more support for business in communities that are predominantly white communities. And that’s a problem,” he said.

Mayor kamau responded to this criticism saying, “We have to apply critical race theory to our policymaking. And critical race theory teaches us that we can’t compete with Fayetteville…You have to make a commitment to sacrifice.” And that, he says, is what being black on purpose means.