Highways divided Atlanta’s historic Black neighborhoods. Now lawmakers want to reconnect them

atlanta traffic
Traffic flows in and out of downtown Atlanta on the I-75/I-85 Connector.

John Bazemore / AP Photo

Georgia Democrats in Washington are pushing for funds from the American Job’s Plan to be used to reconnect neighborhoods divided by highway infrastructure in the 50s. The bill could make its way to President Joe Biden’s desk by October.

Officials say it would redesign or remove those barriers that cut through communities of color, after the 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act.

But some of those who study and preserve Atlanta history are skeptical. Akila McConnell is a historian and the founder of Unexpected Atlanta, which leads historic tours and food walks in the Old Fourth Ward and Sweet Auburn neighborhoods.

She spoke with WABE’s “All Things Considered” about Sweet Auburn, a community that was once a bustling Black business mecca, until the construction of the Downtown Connector. Similarly, in Atlanta’s Summerhill community – first settled by freed slaves – Interstate 20 led to the demolition of housing units and Black-owned businesses.

McConnell started the conversation by saying it’s difficult to turn back the wheels of time.

Lily Oppenheimer contributed to this report.