How Covid-19 Exposed the Deep Divide between White Rural Georgia and AtlantaRoundup
tags: Southern history
James C. Cobb is a contributing editor at Zócalo Public Square and the Spalding Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Georgia. He was born and raised in rural Hart County, Georgia.
The number of Georgia’s confirmed coronavirus cases jumped by 30 percent in the seven days before Governor Brian Kemp appeared at the state capitol in Atlanta on April 20. There and then, he announced that he was relaxing his previous shelter-in-place order and allowing gyms, barbershops, tattoo parlors, and ultimately, restaurants as well, to reopen.
This was hardly welcome news a scant five miles to the northeast, where experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were warning that such a move would be extremely risky until “the incidence of infection is genuinely low.” Although these same Atlanta-based experts had cautioned in mid-February that people who contracted the virus but remained asymptomatic could still infect others, Kemp claimed to have heard that early warning for the first time only on the eve of his grudging and long-overdue April 2 announcement that he was imposing restrictions in the first place.
The CDC has been in Atlanta since its beginnings in 1946. Its rise to prominence as one of the world’s most respected public health protection agencies has long been a point of pride for the city’s perennially image-polishing, growth-obsessed leaders. By the 1970s their ardent courtship of the approval and capital investments of Fortune 500 executives had led disgusted rural Georgians to complain that Atlanta had been surrendered to the Yankees yet again, and this time without a single shot being fired.
But rural antagonism toward Atlanta is hardly of recent vintage. It has been a defining element in Georgia politics for almost 150 years. And therein lies much of the story behind the story of the Georgia governor’s apparent aloofness to the health jewel in his own capital’s crown, and to all the CDC expertise that could have helped avoid the healthcare disaster that may soon envelop his entire state.
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