Visiting professor hosts lecture on white flight

Serena Golden

Princeton University history professor Kevin Kruse said some white people have replaced the term gentrification with “reclamation” as white people move back into urban centers.

Although reclamation implies an attempt by white people to take ownership of predominantly black areas, Kruse suggests the process of gentrification could actually be a step towards racial reconciliation and rebuilding communities in the wake of white flight. Rather than reclaiming an area, some white people are aiming to improve conditions resulting from white flight by moving back.

Kruse came to Macon in January to host a lecture on white flight in the integration -era of Atlanta. In 2005, Kruse wrote a book titled, “White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism.” A Nashville native, Kruse now teaches history at Princeton.

Kruse’s research has shown that racial reconciliation raises complicated questions for young white people, such as the ethics of gentrification.

“Their part of reconciliation is that process of gentrification,” Kruse said. “It’s moving back into the city and taking a stake in what they are involved in, in community in the broadest sense.”

Kruse said he was drawn to write about Atlanta because of its history as “the city too busy to hate” during integration, but he noticed a gap in stories about what everyday white people were doing at the time.

“The vast majority of whites who had grown up in segregation and still supported it, but weren’t kind of manning the barricades, weren’t featured in stories. I thought, well, that’s an important tale we need to tell,” Kruse said.

In his research, Kruse found interesting responses from white people in integration-era Atlanta.

“They asked a lot of important questions. They weren’t just dug in on resistance, they were trying to find a way through it,” Kruse said. “It’s still a point in the ‘50s where whites are giving honest answers. They’re not embarrassed about their support of segregation.”

Although his book was released fifteen years ago, Kruse said he has seen a renewed interest in the topics he outlines. He said people are picking up his book again due to a resurgence of people who are not shy about white nationalism.

“In the late ‘40s, they learned that these open appeals to racism didn’t quite resonate. Instead, they would have to use coded language,” Kruse said. “There’s much more of an open, in-your-face embrace of white nationalism in society today.”