“That’s good but they have to keep it affordable”

On a sunny Sunday morning, the Summerhill section of Atlanta looks a lot like any other medium-income, mixed-race, inner-city neighborhood. There are mothers pushing baby strollers and fathers taking their sons to the local playground.

On the last Sunday in April to be more specific, the 500 block of Martin Street, a main artery of the historically Black neighborhood in the shadow of what is now known as Center Parc Credit Union Stadium (formerly Georgia State Stadium, Turner Field and originally Fulton County Stadium), was every bit the picturesque postcard. Along with the parents and kids were goats. 

“It’s good to have the children of this neighborhood to be able to see some things grow,” said Rosco Cummings, owner of JD’s Summerhill Variety Deli on the corner of Martin and Crumley Streets, about the adjoining farm next to his store. 

There are also chickens and a small vegetable garden. Cummings, who also co-owns a small restaurant/night club, Monticello, in Marietta, bought the business a year ago this month. 

“Since we opened we have worked seven days a week and during that time I have gotten to know a lot of people here,” he said of his customers. 

The goats and chickens also help attract the children in the neighborhood, most of whom I see during consecutive trips have been white. 

Summerhill is one of Atlanta’s oldest Black enclaves, or at least it was. The new homes being built through the section, down Hank Aaron Drive, on Bill Lucas Drive, on Bass Street, Terry Street and Martin Street, are priced between $350,000 and $500,000. 

On the previous Saturday a trip down Martin Street, across the street from historic Mount Carmel Baptist Church, has a lot currently under construction at 727 and 729 Martin Street. 

The location is prime for a family as it is directly across the way from a small playground. The expected price however will mean a family from Summerhill will more than likely not be the one moving into the homes being built there. 

The same could be said for the grey three-story home currently under construction on a corner lot between Bass and Terry Streets, steps away from the Now Faith Apostolic Ministry church. The two-car garage and tall windows will fetch a high asking price from suitors interested in moving into a neighborhood just minutes from the state capitol and downtown. 

Again, this will most likely bring a new family into Summerhill that isn’t familiar with its dwindling history. 

About the new homes being built and the influx of new customers that frequent his corner store Cummings said, “That’s good but the homes have to be affordable. You have to be fair. You have to have a mixture of people so we can all adapt with each other’s backgrounds.” 

Summerhill is growing, that’s for sure. Who is benefiting most from that growth is another question.

“A lot of stuff they’re doing to try and take over isn’t good.”

The Summerhill section was one of the first for freed slaves to begin working on building a new life following the end of the Civil War. 

In a state with the racist reputation of Georgia, having a neighborhood sectioned off for Blacks was both necessary and a blessing. 

From that point forward Summerhill was for Black Atlanta what parts of Marietta, Forsyth, Cumming and Sandy Springs became for white Atlantans. 

A slice of life amongst one’s people. The embodiment of America, or at least a safe space for generations to survive and thrive. Today that description is difficult to associate with Summerhill. 

Willie Smith walked across the street to see what all the fuss was about. He had been watching my tour of the goat pen and chicken coup and wanted to know what I was doing in Summerhill that morning. 

Following introductions, I asked how long he had lived in the neighborhood. “I have been here 40-50 years,” said Smith, 68. “My mother used to run the store on the corner. Before they built some of these houses me and my friends used to play in these lots.” 

Smith spoke of Summerhill long since passed. He told a story of the similarities of how construction in and around Summerhill today and on the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which opened on April 9, 1965, forced a lot of his friends and neighbors out of their homes.

 “A lot of stuff they’re doing to try to take over isn’t good,” said Smith. “Some of the white folks that are moving here are OK, but some act like we are in their neighborhood.” 

A one-bedroom 475-sq. ft. studio apartment in the Broadstone Summerhill, an apartment building at 100 Fulton Street, SW, is going for  $1,530-$1,680 per month according to an apartmentguide.com search.

A two-bedroom apartment in a building at 29 Little Street is a bit more affordable at $1,145 a month. 

For the people I saw eating breakfast at the many trendy restaurants on Capitol Avenue that may not be a problem. 

Audis, BMWs and in one case a electric blue Massarati, were parked in front of Big Softie, an ice cream parlor, Little Tart, a pastry shop, Halfway Crooks, a popular restaurant, and Little Bear, a high-brow eatery that has a carrots and bok choy salad on the menu. 

The outdoor picnic tables at Wood’s Capel BBQ are a popular meeting spot on a day as warm and sunny as this past Sunday. 

There were no Black people enjoying the smoked chicken wings, brisket grilled cheese or the jalapeno and oaxaca cheese smoked sausage during either of my visits. It is safe to say Summerhill’s old guard isn’t rushing over to Wood’s to enjoy the brisket tacos.

 “I was born and raised right here and I have seen the changes, and it ain’t been good,” said Nate, 55 (he only wanted to give his first name), a self-described “Grady baby”.

 “I have been here since 1965 and my family stayed all over Summerhill. “You’re putting white people in our area and asking us to move and a lot of us can’t say anything because Black lives don’t matter when it comes to business.” 

“It’s a good thing the neighborhood is safer but it’s a bad thing that they are trying to price people out.” 

Cheney Stadium sits in the middle of Summerhill. An athlete’s paradise with lush green space and a track surrounding it, this is where residents would play if possible. 

Sunday morning the outdoor stadium was locked and QB Culture founder and coach Omolulu Hines, a former college quarterback and before that a start with the Riverdale High School Raiders, had his charges working out at the Phoenix Park II located across the street from Cheney.

He needed the space and always chose Summerhill as the place to work out. 

“I used to run the hills in Cheney but sometimes it’s locked and we just have to do what we have to do over here,” said Hines, 40. 

Three young athletes, the youngest an 11-year-old with a rocket arm, quick feet and what looks like a bright future, go through drills while Hines barks orders and instructions. 

All three quarterbacks’ fathers look on from the sidewalk. 

“The visual changes of the neighborhood are good, the upgrades are good too, but Summerhill is still going to be Summerhill and that culture will still be the same,” said Hines. “The people who have always lived here and use these parks as a  safe haven shouldn’t have to be locked out.” 

Hines, a personal trainer, has been working out young athletes in Summerhill the past seven years. 

“Summerhill has changed but it hasn’t changed,” he says, remembering that he saw a few men barbecuing under a cluster of trees the previous day. 

Hines, a homeowner in Henry County, some 30 miles south of Summerhill added, “It’s a good thing the neighborhood is safer but it’s a bad thing that they are trying to price people out.”

There are two sides to Summerhill and the gap between the two is growing. For better or for worse remains to be seen.

A pair of teenagers enjoy ice cream from Big Softie, one of the many businesses opened on the Summerhill side of historic Georgia Avenue. (Photo Credit: Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice)
A pair of teenagers enjoy ice cream from Big Softie, one of the many businesses opened on the Summerhill side of historic Georgia Avenue. (Photo Credit: Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice)

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...

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