Lakewood Heights
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What Jim Alexander has seen in Lakewood Heights

The famed photographer, activist, and teacher has lived in Lakewood Heights since 1976. Here’s how he’s seen his neighborhood change.

Story by Nikki Roberts, Lakewood Heights Fellow
September 22, 2023
Photos by Nikki Roberts, Lakewood Heights Fellow
How we reported this story:

Canopy Atlanta asked over 50 Lakewood Heights residents about the journalism they needed. One of those community listening respondents was photographer, teacher, and activist Jim Alexander. CA first met Alexander at Community Grounds coffee shop, as other Lakewood Heights residents have, to learn more about the neighborhood’s history.

Alexander has lived in Atlanta since 1976. He relocated from New York after Maynard Jackson offered him positions at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, protecting landholdings of Black farmers in the South, and the Neighborhood Arts Center, a publicly funded community arts center. Alexander quickly settled into Lakewood Heights, where he has lived ever since.

Canopy Atlanta also pays and trains community members, our Fellows, to learn reporting skills to better serve the community. Nikki Roberts, a Canopy Atlanta Fellow, conducted this interview.

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I was at a Black political event in Washington D.C., taking pictures of Johnny Ford and Jesse Jackson, when Maynard Jackson walked by. I walked up: “How you doing, Mayor Jackson? I’m Jim Alexander.” He said, “You look like you know what you’re doing. What else do you do besides photography?” Photography wasn’t always a real job for Black folks, you know?

“I’m the director of a Black arts organization in Connecticut . . . and I teach photography.” He said, “You need to come to Atlanta, because I started an organization [the Neighborhood Arts Center], and we need artists with skills to teach.”

When I first came here, I was on Cleveland Avenue, so my wife and I could get a better look at Atlanta and where we wanted to live. We were in an apartment complex on Cleveland Avenue, because one of the assistant managers was someone that I knew in the north years ago. That’s where we lived for about six or seven months. Then we purchased the house on Browns Mill Road . . . in June of ‘77.

“One of the things that I liked doing was going to this coffee shop all the way up in Cascade Heights in the mornings and sitting down with friends. I wanted one in our own community without going way up there.”

Jim Alexander
Once I moved in the house, this white lady lived between me and a white family. She told the white man who owned the house on the other side of her, that he better do what she’s doing and find a buyer, before him and her end up being the last white people on the street. His son told me what the lady had said. She’d just smile and laugh with me and my wife, but she don’t know that I knew what she said. . . .

She moves out of Browns Mill, buys a double-wide trailer, and moves out in the suburbs. Some white guys ended up beating her up, taking her paycheck on a day when she came home from work, and stole her car. I found this out a year, maybe two years later when the father told me. That’s what happened to her running away from me. [laughs]

White folks, they were not being part of the community—they were living there.

I would say the community was 80 percent Black by the time I left Browns Mill Road.

There were paraprofessionals, then of course later on, MARTA workers. People can live fairly good, because they had MARTA [rail], and MARTA offered retirement. General Motors and Ford were around, but that was a few years later.

My kids had the Boys and Girls Club. That was a lifesaver for a long time, someplace to go to until the parents got off from work. You got to remember: There was a bus, but there was no MARTA train and bus line that covered everywhere. People had to get in all kinds of ways.

My wife and I had a home daycare center. Back there they had a program where people can have up to six children in their home, and they got a small subsidy. That money allowed my wife to stay home and take care of our kids and six other children. . . . People up the street from us on Browns Mill and Jonesboro had a daycare center; my wife took over as the manager.

FCS [Focused Community Strategies] came around and asked, “What are some things that are needed in the community?” . . . One of the things that I liked doing was going to this coffee shop all the way up in Cascade Heights in the mornings and sitting down with friends. I wanted one in our own community without going way up there.

FCS is more than coffee; it’s an organization that has a vested interest in the community. We support it in several ways: We make sure that we go get our coffee. We buy vegetables without looking at the price, because we know and understand what FCS is. And we donate a few dollars every year.

I live in a building with 100 apartments. My wife and I were the second or third tenants in the building; we really moved into the building before it was officially opened, over 20 years ago. . . . A lot of the people that I knew back when I moved from Browns Mill Road in 2007 unfortunately have transitioned. But through my children, who grew up and went to school in the area, I still see and know others from time to time, who of course are my children’s age in their 40s and 50s. A lot of the people who are in my building are old people. They are the grandparent community; a lot of them whose kids have kids who live in the community. The grandparents’ children may live in apartments. But a lot of their houses are gone.

Editor: Christina Lee

Contributing Reporter: Ann Hill Bond

Canopy Atlanta Reader: Heather Buckner

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