The Neighborhood Union and the Transformation of the West Side of Atlanta
Hancock, Brittany Leigh
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The Neighborhood Union, an African American clubwomen’s association, focused its activities on the West End neighborhood of Atlanta, and worked from to 1908 to 1961 to achieve improvements in this community. Neighborhood Union members dedicated their lives to uplifting their neighborhood and used sly measures to fight against racial inequalities. The Neighborhood Union turned inward to solve neighborhood problems, such as the city providing only very few municipal, social, and civic services for African Americans. Neighborhood Union members solved these problems with or without the support of the white political patriarchal power structure and diligently worked to provide vocational training, child-rearing strategies, educational reform, improvements in public health, and care for their neighbors to members of the community during the Great Depression. Through the Neighborhood Union’s carefulness, the organization transformed the shape of the West Side of Atlanta from a run-down section of the city with few vocational courses and extracurricular activities for youth, derelict streets and schools, and few public health services, into one with hope through the creation of playgrounds and sponsoring child-centered programs, vocational training for young adults, addressing the lack of municipal services through public health campaigns, improved educational facilities, and increased access to health services. The NU crafted strategies to improve their neighborhood and other black neighborhoods in Atlanta, despite living under an oppressive white male patriarchal structure. To create such improvements required the NU to turn both inwardly and outwardly, providing services the city failed to provide, while also reaching out to white allies and white policymakers for community improvements. The Neighborhood Union used two community building strategies to improve their neighborhoods, the first of which included focusing its efforts on children and women. This strategy evolved from the Neighborhood Union’s belief that children, as future citizens and representatives of the race, needed to learn necessary skills to effectively combat racial inequities. Their focus on women stemmed from this conviction, with the strategy being that women, as caretakers of children and the home, possessed the most direct influence on these future citizens; therefore, these women needed to receive training and skills necessary to effectively raise successful children. The Neighborhood Union’s second strategy focused on teaching preventative education, designed to thwart social, personal, and health maladies before they occurred, such as the spread of disease, vice, and crime. The Neighborhood Union’s legacy is apparent throughout the modern-day West End neighborhood of Atlanta. Presently, Booker T. Washington High School, the first black high school in Atlanta and the creation of which the Neighborhood Union helped to secure, is still a publicly run school as of 2015. The Neighborhood Union’s years of fighting for healthful recreation avenues for children contributed to the establishment of Washington Park, which is still in existence and located near Booker T. Washington High School. The NU also played a direct role in the formation of the Atlanta School of Social Work, now the Whitney M. Young School of Social Work at Clark Atlanta University. Finally, its most enduring legacy, the Neighborhood Union Health Center, secured during the 1950s, still serves its community at 186 Sunset Avenue. The Neighborhood Union undoubtedly changed the character of its community, fighting against an often reluctant city government to ensure for citizens and future citizens the rights to receiving education, public health, and social services. The Neighborhood Union’s lasting legacy, which is still apparent in present-day Atlanta more than a century after their efforts began, exemplifies the abilities of regular citizens to fight against oppression and inequality to bring about real and tangible changes that enduringly impact communities.