- The Washington Times - Friday, January 8, 2010

ATLANTA (AP) | In the cradle of the civil rights movement, a new secession effort is under way that would break off Atlanta’s predominantly white, wealthy suburbs to the north from poorer, black neighborhoods in the south.

There’s a renewed push to take some northern suburbs out of Fulton County, Georgia’s most populous and home to most of the city of Atlanta, and put them under the now-extinct Milton County.

Its supporters hope resurrecting the county would give residents there more responsive government. But opponents say the measure is racially motivated and will open up a deep rift between black and white, rich and poor in a state with a complicated racial history. The area that would be split off is more than 75 percent white, while a large block of the remaining portion of Fulton County is 90 percent minority.

“It sends a message when you say the hometown of Dr. Martin Luther King is going to be split apart in a kind of latter-day secessionist movement,” said state Sen. Vincent Fort, Atlanta Democrat.

The idea isn’t a new one. But these days, there’s some muscle behind the movement now that its sponsor is about to become House speaker pro tem, the second-most powerful position in the Georgia House of Representatives. The measure made it out of House committee this year. It’s been stymied so far by questions about the counties’ financial viability and the tangle of laws that would have to be changed in order for the split to occur.

The region that became Milton County was originally part of the Cherokee Indian Nation until the state of Georgia grabbed the land in the 1830s. The Cherokees were expelled to what is now Oklahoma, and cotton plantations flourished there, helped along by cheap slave labor before the Civil War.

But a boll-weevil infestation in the early part of the 20th century ravaged the county’s economy, which relied almost exclusively on the cotton crop. After limping along financially, Milton County was folded into Fulton County in 1932 during the Great Depression.

The shotgun marriage worked as the sprawling new Fulton County grew and thrived.

But it’s that very growth that has made Fulton County residents frustrated by the unwieldy behemoth the county has become, saying it’s slow to respond to their concerns and wastes money.

The legislation’s sponsor, state Rep. Jan Jones, Alpharetta Republican, denies that race is behind the proposal.

“That’s just misguided rhetoric that ignores the merits,” she said.

Mrs. Jones said that with more than 1 million residents, Fulton County is simply too bloated to really be considered local government.

Her bill would amend the Georgia Constitution to allow the return of Milton County. It would need a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the state legislature and must then be approved by voters because state law limits the number of counties to 159.

If the legislature approves the measure, it would be on the ballot in November, but the split wouldn’t take place until 2013.



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