The “Ellis Island of the South”

Clarkston_City_Annex,_2016

Clarkston, Georgia, with a population of 13,000, has received over 40,000 refugees over the past twenty-five years.  Katy Long of The Guardian tells the story of this extraordinary town.

Here is a taste:

How does this happen? How does a dusty, working-class city in the south not only manage to house 1,500 refugees per year, but make their welcome integral to the town’s sense of identity?…

What made Clarkston work for refugees, Bollinger says, are the opportunities afforded by its high-density apartment complexes and good transport links. It’s easy to catch a vanpool to the chicken factories one hour north, where many of the refugees first find low-wage employment. This was why Clarkston was identified in the early 1990s as a good resettlement hub, and now these same attractions – low-cost housing and proximity to the interstate – are part of what’s helping to attract young American professionals priced out of Atlanta.

Many Clarkston residents point out the town was not always so hospitable to refugees: their arrival was initially resented by many locals. But older opponents of refugees have moved on or passed away, and have been replaced by younger liberals. Bollinger calls Mayor Terry, who was elected in 2013 at the age of 31, “the physical embodiment of that change of perspective”.

Those older locals who have remained seem content to live in parallel with their refugee neighbors. Betty Cardell, 93, who has lived in Clarkston since she arrived as a war bride from California in 1950, is philosophical: “Well, they’re here. So what you going to do? They’re people like we are. I’ve never had trouble.” She has no interest in leaving. “I like Clarkston: it’s still a small town.”

This small-town feel is both part of the reason Clarkston works – and a limiting factor. For refugees, Clarkston is a starter city. Success means moving on, leaving its apartment complexes behind.

Read the entire piece here.

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