Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Fifty-six-year-old Carolyn McMillan considers herself lucky. To get to work, she can drive to the Home Depot parking lot on Jonesboro road in Clayton County Georgia, then take a bus to her clerical job in downtown Atlanta.
“I’m just barely making it,” McMillan says. “Because I have to put gas in the car. I’m just barely making it.” Not too long ago, McMillan could take a local bus before switching to the Atlanta system, or MARTA. But Clayton County isn’t part of MARTA, and the year before last, Clayton eliminated all bus service. Today it stretches south of Atlanta in an endless string of fried chicken joints, tattoo parlors, check-cashing stores and used car lots.
In the 1970s, when Clayton County voted not to become a part of MARTA, it was then a mostly white, rural place. Now, as more affluent whites flock to downtown Atlanta, Clayton County is mostly black.
“Transportation in Atlanta has always been mired in race and racism,” says Robert Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Center at Clark Atlanta University. When Atlanta began building its commuter rail system in the 1970s, white communities like Clayton County wanted no part of it.
“Public Transit was equated with black people and poor people and crime and poverty. And when the Metropolitan Atlanta Transportation Authority was created MARTA, it was a running joke that MARTA” – he spells it out – M-A-R-T-A – “stood for moving Africans rapidly through Atlanta.”
“It’s transportation apartheid,” he says.
Back of the Bus Airs: Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 9PM on 820 AM and Monday, February 13, 2012 at 8PM on 93.9 FM, 820 FM, and NJPR
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