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
. But Clayton County isn’t part of MARTA, and last year, 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
“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
“It’s transportation apartheid,” he says.
“One guy told me it takes him about 30 minutes to get here from where he lives, but if ladies are
walking, it probably takes them longer,” McMillan said, as she walked from the bus to her car
parked at the Home Depot. “Because I have walked, and it takes me about 40 minutes to walk
from where I live to the bus stop.”
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More than half a century after Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery,
Alabama, prompting an 11-month boycott that led to integration of that city’s bus system,
African Americans and Latinos are still struggling with an unequal transit system.