Go to the next article or back to the Color of Money index or Power Reporting


The Color of Money

Day one, article three

A tale of two neighborhoods,
one black and one white

By Bill Dedman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published May 1, 1988, Page A14

Copyright 1988, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Gresham Park neighborhood in south DeKalb County is quiet and neat. The houses are simple starters built after World War II: brick over granite, two or three bedrooms, one bath.

The neighborhood between McLendon Elementary School and the old Scottdale textile mill in north-central DeKalb is older: mostly wood-frame houses, some of them shotgun houses, some still with outhouses and chicken coops.

There also are some differences in the people who live in the two neighborhoods. The residents of Gresham Park make a little more money than the residents of McLendon. They are better-educated. They stay in the neighborhood longer.

And most residents of Gresham Park are black. Most residents of McLendon are white.

There is a difference in where they borrow money, too.

In black Gresham Park from 1981 through 1986, banks and savings and loan associations made 25 home-purchase loans in an area that has 1,728 single-family structures, according to federal reports reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In white McLendon in the same period, banks and savings and loans made 176 loans in a neighborhood of 1,438 single-family structures.

That's a difference of eight times the number of loans per 1,000 households.

Bankers contend that the difference in lending between white and black neighborhoods in metro Atlanta is probably caused by higher turnover in white neighborhoods. Real estate records for Gresham Park, McLendon and 21 other neighborhoods checked by the Journal-Constitution suggest otherwise.

Turnover in Gresham Park is less than in McLendon -- 50 percent less. But, of the homes that are sold, banks and savings and loans finance 31 percent in McLendon, while they finance 4 percent in Gresham Park, according to 1986 and 1987 records analyzed by the Journal-Constitution.

Gresham Park homebuyers receive the other 96 percent of their home loans from unregulated mortgage companies, finance companies, the seller and other individuals, often at higher interest rates than those offered by banks and savings and loans.

Several real estate agents who work in Gresham Park say they have learned not to send black applicants to banks and savings and loans.

"I normally refer to a bank or savings and loan only if the buyer requests it," said Jan Reese, whose "for sale" signs dot the neighborhood. "They are more conservative. They want the strongest, most stable customers. It's a domino effect: If they would do a few, they would get a reputation and we would send them more buyers."

Gresham Park used to be a white neighborhood. In the late 1960s, a few blacks moved into the neighborhood, then a few more, then the rush began.

"The whites were leaving in panic trying to get away from black folks," remembers Pat Chapman of Garden Circle, one of the few whites who stayed. "It's still one of the nicest neighborhoods anywhere. It's not a high-income area, but the blacks who moved in are making more money than a lot of the whites who moved out."

The neighborhood fought the white flight. A biracial group called South DeKalb Neighbors accused real estate agents of steering whites away from the neighborhood and blacks into it. Residents sued to stop blockbusting, where homeowners are scared into selling because of racial change; they won a judgment, but the racial change continued.

The neighborhood was 88 percent black by the 1980 census, and the Atlanta Regional Commission estimated it was 93 percent black in 1987.

Since the shift, the remaining whites and the new blacks of Gresham Park and all of south DeKalb have claimed they haven't been getting their share of county money. They have argued for more money for their schools. They suspect the banks are avoiding their neighborhoods.

John Whitaker, who is white, represents south DeKalb on the county's Community Development Advisory Council. He tried to help his daughter apply for a home loan in south DeKalb.

"They always find the smallest things that they possibly can to deter you. I've had people at banks to tell me that they don't lend in (ZIP code) 30032 (Belvedere in south DeKalb)," Whitaker said. "You won't get one of them to say it out loud, or they'd lose their job."

Up north in McLendon (ZIP 30033), banks and businesses are investing in the neighborhood. The DeKalb Farmers Market is nearby. MARTA has a new bus garage. Marketsquare mall has been renovated. Several apartment complexes have been added.

The small shopping centers near Gresham Park are not being renovated. Only in the past three or four years have residential builders worked near Gresham Park. And Gresham Park has no new apartments.

"There have been people who wanted to do (an apartment complex), but no one would lend them the money," said Mary Dennis, a planner in the county's Community Development Department.

A strong sense of community courses through Gresham Park. Residents proudly note that the Gresham Park Mets won last year's state Little League championship for 5-and 6-year-olds. In 1983, the Gresham Park Athletics made it to the national tournament for 9-and 10-year-olds.

The Athletics' parents raised money for the trip with barbecues and a car wash. And some expenses they put on a VISA card.

A look at Gresham Park, McLendon

Gresham Park residents in south DeKalb earn more money, are better-educated and live in newer homes than residents of the McLendon area in north-central DeKalb, but they receive one-eighth as many of their home-purchase loans from banks and savings and loans. One possible reason: Most residents of Gresham Park are black.

Gresham Park


% minority



Income (1980)



% high school graduates



% homes owner-occupied



Age of homes, years



Home-purchase loans



% by banks, S&Ls



% by mortgage companies



% by seller, other



Note: Loan figures are for 1986-87. Amounts for home-purchase loans by banks and savings and loans do not include unregulated mortgage companies owned by them.

Sources: Loan data from Real Estate Data Inc., which compiles information on real estate sales from county records. Demographic data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1980.


Go to the next article or back to the Color of Money index or Power Reporting


Reprinted with permission from The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution. Further reproduction, retransmission or distribution of these materials without the prior written consent of The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution, and any copyright holder identified in the material's copyright notice, is prohibited.


Please send comments and story ideas to Bill Dedman, Bill@PowerReporting.com

Home page: Power Reporting