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A black mecca, in the United States, is a city to which African Americans, particularly singles, professionals, and middle-class families, are drawn to live, due to some or all of the following factors:
- superior economic opportunities for blacks, often as assessed by the presence of a large black upper-middle and upper class
- black businesses and political power in a city
- leading black educational institutions in a city
- a city's leading role in black history, arts, music, food, and other cultures
- harmonious black-white race relations in a city
New York City in particular Harlem was referred to as a black mecca during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and still is today. Atlanta has adopted the name and has been referred to as a black mecca of the south ever since the 1970s, while Black Enterprise has referred to Houston as perhaps the next.
In 1971, Ebony magazine called Atlanta the "black mecca of the South", because "black folks have more, live better, accomplish more and deal with whites more effectively than they do anywhere else in the South—or North". Ebony illustrated as evidence of "mecca" status Atlanta's high black home ownership, the Atlanta University Center (the nation's largest consortium of historically black colleges (HBCUs)), Atlanta's civil rights heritage, black business ownership, black-owned restaurants, the civic leadership of the black clergy, black fraternal organizations, and black political power in City Hall, while it also acknowledged the poverty which a large percentage of Atlanta's black population endured.
In 1983, Atlanta magazine said that Atlanta's reputation as a black mecca was "deserved because it is true" because "the metro area now has the highest proportion of middle-income African-Americans of any city in the country". A 1997 Ebony magazine article illustrated Atlanta's status as "the new mecca" (and the "land of milk and honey" for blacks) because a poll of the magazine's 100 most influential African Americans voted Atlanta overall the best city for blacks, possessed the most employment opportunities for blacks, it was American's "most diverse city", and was the city with the best schools and most affordable housing for blacks. A 2002 article in the same magazine reconfirmed Atlanta as "the new black mecca" and "the go-to city for blacks."
In 2009, the Associated Press characterized Atlanta's status as a black mecca by black political power in its City Hall.
Historically black colleges in Atlanta
Atlanta is the home of the oldest and largest consortium of historically black institutions in the nation. The Atlanta University Center consists of Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse College and the Morehouse School of Medicine. The consortium structure allows for students to cross-register at the other institutions in order to attain a broader collegiate experience.
The Atlanta Student Movement was an organization formed in the 1960s by students enrolled in Atlanta's historically black colleges that focused on dismantling systematic racism and oppression of African-Americans. Their courageous efforts led to fairer treatment and better opportunities for African-Americans in the Atlanta area.
Black entertainment mecca
In 2011 in a The New York Times article with the short title "Atlanta Emerges as a Black Entertainment Mecca", comedian Cedric the Entertainer, who hosted that year's Soul Train Music Awards, said Atlanta had always been a black mecca and continues to be one, with respect to the black musical talent in the city.
Established in 2005, the Atlanta Black Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to supporting and connecting black entrepreneurs in the Atlanta area. Established in 2019, Atlanta's Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship is America's largest center dedicated to empowering black entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Mecca for LGBT African Americans
In 2005, The New York Times reported that Atlanta had become a mecca for LGBT blacks, noting that within the African-American community in the U.S., in which being gay was slightly less accepted than in society as a whole, Atlanta formed a reputation for being a progressive place of tolerance with its "too busy to hate" mantra. Atlanta is also widely noted for its annual Atlanta Black Pride celebration. An earlier 2004 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution also documented Atlanta as a "hub" or "mecca" for black gays.
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Atlanta's status as a "mecca" for blacks is sometimes questioned, or the concept of a "mecca" refuted altogether, due to the endemic high levels of black poverty that exist alongside black success. In 1997 the Chicago Tribune published an article titled "Atlanta's image as a black mecca losing luster". The loss in "luster" was because of a reality that too many blacks weren't coming close to financial success, but rather "caught up in a vicious cycle of poverty, crime and homelessness". The city had among the highest crime rates in the nation, some inner-city blacks were unable to travel to jobs in the suburbs, and despite 20 years of black city leadership, the reality was those city officials were unable to solve these systemic problems.
Harlem in New York City was widely noted as a black mecca during the 1920s and 1930s. In March 1925 the leading magazine Survey Graphic produced an issue entitled "Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro" that was devoted to the African-American literary and artistic movement now known as the "Harlem Renaissance". Alain Locke guest-edited this issue. Much of the material appears in his 1925 anthology "The New Negro." In 1965, author Seth Scheiner published the book Negro Mecca; A History of the Negro in New York City, 1865-1920.
The 2001 book Harlemworld documented that the concept of Harlem as a black mecca at that time (i.e. seven decades after the Harlem Renaissance) was still present among many residents - a concept that was "history-laden" or even quasi-mythical.
Mecca for West African Muslim immigrants
Black Mecca: The African Muslims of Harlem was also the title of a 2010 book by Temple University professor Zain Abdullah about Muslim West African immigrants in New York City, using "Mecca" not only in the generic sense of "a place that people are drawn to" but also playing on the original meaning of Mecca as the Muslim holy city.
In 2016, Black Enterprise called Houston the "next great Black business Mecca". The Houston metropolitan area boasts an accomplished and strategically networked community of African American entrepreneurs, executives, and business leaders as any city in the country. Houston also claims one of the most robust and effective business development and advocacy organizations in the country. The Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1935 as Houston's first black civic organization and currently led by Chairwoman Courtney Johnson Rose, is the go-to source for business development and strategic partnership opportunities, as well as education, capital, and contacts for entrepreneurs. Mayor Sylvester Turner, the city's second and current black mayor (elected in 2016). It is worth noting that it was during the mayoral term of Lee Brown (1998-2004), Houston's first African American mayor, that the city was named No. 1 on Black Enterprise's list of Top Cities for African Americans to Live, Work, and Play, edging out perennial black business meccas, including Atlanta, Harlem, and Washington, D.C.
The Houston area is the only metropolitan area in the nation to have more than one HBCU with over 8,000 enrolled students. Texas Southern University is one of the largest and most comprehensive HBCUs in the nation. Prairie View A&M University (immediately northwest of Houston) is also one of the largest HBCUs in the nation and the second oldest public university in the state.
Other U.S. cities and statistics
Comparison of black-majority cities at the time of the 2010 US Census:
|City||Black population, 2010||Black-owned firms, 2007||Black median household income, 2009|
In the 1850s, the city of Chatham, Ontario was referred to as the "Black Mecca of Canada", as a final stop on the Underground Railroad. A museum in the city, the Black Mecca Museum, still bears this name. The small city was home to a number of black churches and business, with Black Canadians making up 1/3 of the city's population and controlling a significant portion of the city's political power. Nearby Dresden and Buxton were home to thousands of land-owning black residents. The 2021 documentary, The North Star: Finding Black Mecca explores this chapter of Chatham's history.
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- "Further, by 1920 Harlem had gained a symbolic significance for blacks which caused it to be referred to as a "mecca" by scholars of the period" in Carolyn Jackson, "Harlem Renaissance: Pivotal Period in the Development of Afro-American Culture", Yale University.
- reference to the text "Harlem—the Mecca of the Negroes the country over" in Wallace Thurman's 1928 book Negro Life in New York's Harlem, in Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America, Little, Brown, 2011.
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- "the city that calls itself America's ' Black Mecca'"; in William Booth, "Atlanta Is Less Than Festive on Eve of Another 'Freaknik'", The Washington Post, April 18, 1996.
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- "the city that earned a national reputation as America's 'black mecca'"; in David J. Dent, In Search of Black America: Discovering the African-American Dream, Free Press, 2001.
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- "And, they said, don't forget Atlanta's reputation as a black mecca"; in "Georgia second in nation for black-owned businesses", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 5, 2010.
- "Atlanta is New Mecca for Blacks", Ebony, September 1997.
- "Atlanta's allure as the black mecca"; in "Atlanta contest shows battered black electorate", Associated Press article on MSNBC, December 4, 2009.
- "Atlanta, black mecca of the South", Ebony, August 1971.
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