Credit: courtesy of Kamau Franklin
Fight Over Community Fridge Highlights Gentrification Battle In Atlanta Community
The fight for the identity of an Atlanta neighborhood has citizens taking sides.
Pittsburgh is one of Atlanta’s oldest neighborhoods. It was founded in 1883 by formerly enslaved Africans who became industrial workers, mostly in railroad repair. The smoke from the railyards resembled the heavy smog produced by the steel mills of Pittsburgh, Pa. That is how the neighborhood got its name.
One of the legacy residents of Pittsburgh is Bettye Dickson. She has lived on Welch Street since 1941. Dickson has seen the area go through recession with homes boarded up and beloved neighbors moving out.
Now, she is seeing something else: new neighbors, many of whom don’t look like her. She does not have a problem with new people moving in. But she is not OK with all of the changes.
“One of the young men, he has a house — and I think he owns property across the street — had chickens in the yard,” Dickson said. “And, so I told him, ‘Listen! Chickens belong in the country. They do not belong in the city.’ He thought it was funny, but it really wasn’t.”
Nicole Gordon-Hay is a three-year resident of the southwest Atlanta neighborhood.
“Everyone knows each other,” Gordon-Hay said. “We have several residents that have been here upwards of 40 years and then the newer ones, like me, have been here for three to five years. And of that group, I’m the eldest. I’m in Gen X and the rest of the newer owners are millennials.”
The chickens were a problem for Dickson. But a bigger issue among neighbors was a community fridge installed in the green space at the end of the street.
Karl Kamau Franklin is the founder of Community Movement Builders. The organization owns a home on Welch Street that is run as a community center. Franklin and community activists with Free99Fridge brought the brightly colored yellow refrigerator and pantry to the Pittsburgh neighborhood.
Free99Fridge describes itself as an Atlanta-based grassroots organization committed to fighting for food justice and addressing the needs of neighbors through mutual aid.
Franklin said he brought in the refrigerator as a way of helping residents in need of food during the pandemic and economic downturn.
People come to donate food to the refrigerator and take free food from the refrigerator.
But the good deed has drawn complaints from neighbors about homeless people being drawn to the neighborhood. Franklin said that response is why he is critical of gentrification.
“People who are new to a neighborhood [are] not thinking about the neighborhood they’ve moved into or the people that have lived there for decades or even the crisis situation that they may be in because of the pandemic," Kamau said. "So, access to food and healthy food may be limited,”
Franklin also had a mural commissioned on the side of the community center that reads: “Protect the Black Community. Stop Gentrification.”
But not all of the complaints are from white residents. Though Gordon-Hay values the refrigerator and used it after she became unemployed, she sees a problem with it, and that position has put her at odds with supporters of the free fridge.
“We’ve been attacked when we bring this up, as somehow being elitist, to care about your property values — which I really don’t understand,” Gordon-Hay said. “For many of us in the Black community, it is our only way that we are able to build generational wealth.”
Recently, the situation has been somewhat resolved. Gordon-Hay filed a lawsuit in small claims court against Franklin, Community Movement Builders and Free99Fridge organizer Letisha Springer. They decided to move the fridge out of the neighborhood.
However, Gordon-Hay said now the neighborhood is divided and many residents are not speaking to each other.
But the charitable effort is not over for Franklin. He said he plans to put in a new community fridge on the nonprofit's property.