They say all politics is local, and for me that has always been true. This post is about something that for the weeks of the summer regularly impacted my life directly. I’m going to talk about this in relation to history, so bear with me a bit as I walk you through it. I know some folks like to silo the present from the past but I find the South has this way of mixing it all together like we do Brunswick stew, so bear with me.
Let me tell you about a couple of namesakes first. Sometime in 1922, the Mozley Family of lemon elixir fame in Atlanta sold land (about 27 acres) from their estate on the Westside of the city (where all the well to do folks lived at that time) to the City of Atlanta. This land became Mozley Park, complete with a pond and rolling hills, perfect for picnics. Unsurprisingly and like much of Atlanta’s namesakes, Dr. Hiram Mozley also was a private in the Confederate Army (1864-65, he was a little late to the party). Mozley Park sits next to Frank Lebby Stanton Elementary School, established in 1928, named for Georgia’s first poet laureate, and almost closed in 2012 except that the community rose in support to keep our school open. Frank Stanton’s work was famously written à la Joel Chandler in a dialect associated with Black and poor white folks of the time. (Kinda didn’t age well, right?) The neighborhood is framed on one side by the expansive Westview Cemetery, where Asa Candler Jr. basically set money on fire to illuminate his family’s name. If you have not yet visited it, you can see the ornate castle-like mausoleum/ evil drug kingpin lair in the last season of Ozark, as it was filmed there in 2018.
If you haven’t read White Flight, by Kevin Kruse, you’re missing out. It details a great deal of my neighborhood (along with many others that followed suit) history. It tells the story of how coded language of “lifestyle” and “property rights” became the new name for segregation as white families at first blocked integration of Black families after WW II (sometimes with actual walls like on Peyton Road) and then sold en masse to Black families. Kruse’s book goes into greater detail than I shall here, but if you ever wondered why our HOAs are so strong in this state, you can thank white supremacy.
In the 60s and 70s, my neighborhood was a bastion of Black wealth and proud families living the American Dream. While the city had marches elsewhere and before my street was named for its native son writing from a Birmingham jail, stories circulate that folks came over to Mozley Park to play in the pond, dance in the Rec Center dance hall, and the car shows on Mozley Park’s circular drive are said to have been out of this world! There was a great pride in integrating a space that had been for affluent whites and named for someone who served the Confederacy. Add in that McLendon and Harris Memorial Hospitals (both Black, segregated hospitals) were up the street from the park, THE Booker T. Washington High School (the only place Black folks could be educated in the South above the 9th grade) was within walking distance, as was the Ashby Theater for entertainment and Hunter Hills Baptist congregants were still hearing the good word from Ralph David Abernathy in the flesh.
The 80s brought the crack epidemic. “Just Say No” and “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” are phrases burned into my head as a child in the 80s. Thankfully as I approach 40, (and when the victims of the meth epidemic are more white folks) we’ve finally recognized that addiction is a public health concern, not some weak moral compass as was associated with the Black community, even though we now know the CIA pushed drug sales into Black neighborhoods in Chicago previously and purposefully. The 90s saw HBCUs in Atlanta grow their economic impact on the city with Freaknic. Isn’t it funny how in the same decade we would welcome the globe with the Olympics but we couldn’t facilitate a few hundred college kids coming into the city for a week? Makes one wonder who is considered welcome in my city that’s supposedly “too busy to hate”. But I digress…
Which is what brings me to the present day and the Atlanta pool debacle. Years after the pond was filled in and a fantastic in-ground pool created in its place, the city can’t seem to get their act together.
At the beginning of the 2021 summer, all outdoor pools were opened Memorial Day weekend and declared free to the public. Thank you, Councilman Westmoreland. The kids in my neighborhood were ELATED! Maddox pool, our park’s pool, was to be open 12:30-7:00pm, Wednesday-Saturday. Literally up and down the street, Washington Park and Adamsville Rec Center both also have pools, but these are natatoriums with fees associated. The public can use them, but you have to reserve lanes in advance and there is no free play like at Mozley Park. So for a community of Black kids that traditionally have very low rates of knowing how to swim, Mozley is the place to go to beat the heat of an Atlanta summer.
You can imagine my surprise when I found out that there were some folks charging admission from these same kids to enter the public pool. The kids complained and I double checked. I called the number listed on the flyer, announcing the pools were open. It was listed as Atlanta Aquatics. I left a message asking for clarification on pool hours and admission. I also walked my happy behind down there to see what was up. I specifically inquired with the lifeguards (all teens) and the security guards about admission to ensure there wasn’t one. They assured me there wasn’t. There were signs with rules stating there were. I took inventory of the site, names of folks, and walked through the area. I also took pictures and later emailed city council members and Parks and Recreation regarding the kids being charged. The appearance of the pool grounds was pretty sad. No chairs or tables for anyone to sit. Cubby holes for kids to place their stuff that was far enough away from the security sitting in the shade to not be able to discern if something was taken. The entrance required one to enter through the bathrooms that were an absolute mess! On my way home, I ran into an adult neighbor with children and asked her if she’d gone to the pool and if she’d been charged. She confirmed some teens had tried to charge her before but when she pointed out that wasn’t correct, the person who was identified as a manager reminded the teen that admission was no longer required. I shared all of the above with city council members who said they’d look into it. I also reached out to my neighbors who are part of the ‘Friends of Mozley Park’ to offer to clean the grounds because someone needed to.
Oh, and I got a random text message sending me the Mozley Park pool’s number later that day. When I asked from whom the text came, I received a call from the number explaining that they worked for the city and received my message. They weren’t Aquatics, and were aware of the mistakenly printed number. The person on the other end of the phone wanted to make certain I got the right number to call. I was grateful for the kindness, and tried that number as well, just to be sure. No answer.
Then the pool was closed when it should have been open. My husband inquired this time. By the time he got to the pool there was a police officer present complete with a full tactical (his word not mine) chest rig accompanied by what he was pretty sure was a Fulton Co. Sheriff’s Deputy. The pool was open and they explained to him that without security the life guards will not open the pool. Sometimes there are delays for either group, and that can delay a pool opening. I had just assumed it was because a teenage lifeguard overslept.
What has been fascinating to learn is that even though Atlanta has a police force (with a brand spanking new $230 M budget and a new training space that could house 4 of Tyler Perry’s compounds in it) along with the Atlanta Public School System having their own certified police department, we hire ADDITIONAL off duty officers as security for our pools through a city contract. This is an extra budget line item, along with the teenage lifeguards. Whereas Adamasville and Washington Park have permanent city funded staff for their natatoriums, Mozley Park and other outdoor pools utilize contracted lifeguards.
Lawd, this is so Atlanta.
Our already employed workforce cannot be compensated at rates that correspond to the work they’re required to do, so we contract it out. We have neither the funds to pay the contractors more nor do we have the ability to guarantee safety.
What is saddest to me is that in my neighborhood, the folks most served by the outdoor pools are the demographic (boys, ages 12-18) that folks like to attribute the “rise in crime” about which the city is clamoring.
We have the funds and resources for ‘Cop City’, it seems noticeably odd that we know what challenges exist yet dedicate funds elsewhere.
Did I mention that F.L. Stanton is 100% Title I? Did I also mention that Mozley Park has had discussions over the last decade or so about changing the name to honor someone other than a snake oil shyster/Confederate soldier? It seems that the pride in overcoming segregation is lost somehow in renaming the space where the battle was won. Ironically, if you go further back in history, the neighborhood was called Battle Hill, as some of the Civil War battles were actually fought here (Battle of Ezra Church). In building the park, the trenches and brestworks of the Civil War had to be leveled, if that tells you anything.
In a city that has the second highest property taxes in the state can we not ensure that a hallmark of our history, a cultural identity marker cannot be better maintained? I mean, it’s a pool. How hard is this? And our response to the shooting is to close ALL the pools down?!? One of the few free sources of fun for kids who’ve been cooped up inside in front of screens for the last year, this is our answer?!? Does anyone else not recognize that frustration without outlet and boredom leads to more crime in kids? Maybe that was just me, growing up. Rural settings allow for a lot of space between neighbors so kids’ shenanigans often aren’t felt as closely as in urban settings.
I just can’t ignore this foolish short sightedness and poor stewardship of resources- both capital and physical. The very roads around me bear the names of freedom fighters that are homegrown, y’all, but we can’t let our kids go swimming because we can’t promise they won’t kill each other? Lord have mercy on us all that we can’t offer our neighbors better than this!
Atlanta, we can do better.