East Lake Meadow: A Public Housing Story

(Rochester, NY) – East Lake Meadows, the public housing project opened by the Atlanta Housing Authority in 1970 and demolished a generation later, is the subject of a new documentary by Sarah Burns and David McMahon (THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, JACKIE ROBINSON) that tackles the impact of racism on housing while also exploring the daily lives of those who called East Lake Meadows home. East Lake Meadow: A Public Housing Story, which is executive produced by Ken Burns, premieres Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV.

In 1970, the Atlanta Housing Authority opened the 650-unit public housing community called East Lake Meadows on the edge of Atlanta. Built on the former practice golf course of the Atlanta Athletic Club, which had moved north as part of the white flight that was impacting Atlanta and cities around the country, East Lake Meadows quickly became home to many thousands of low-income Atlantans, mostly African American.

Initially praised for the spacious units and new construction, East Lake Meadows quickly became known as “little Vietnam,” a moniker that was intended to capture the rampant crime and violence that overwhelmed the community. Shoddy construction and a lack of funding left the project and surrounding landscape in disrepair and led to a rapid decline in the quality of life. As public housing developments in Atlanta and across the country were further abandoned and stigmatized, and as a drug epidemic swept through cities, East Lake Meadows became nearly uninhabitable. As the film shows, however, residents — many of whom had no other place to go — continued to call it home, creating strong bonds despite the many challenges they faced.

East Lake Meadow: A Public Housing Story tells the stories of more than a dozen families who lived in the community between the 1970s and its demolition in the mid-1990s, including the Lightfoot family and four generations of the family of Eva Davis, the long-time tenant leader at East Lake Meadows. The film documents the tremendous hardships faced by East Lake families; the lack of access to grocery stores and fresh produce; the impact of devastating unemployment and poverty; conditions that included mold, leaky pipes, and collapsing walls and ceilings; and the seemingly ubiquitous presence of crime, drugs and guns. It also follows the births of children, celebration of holidays, daily activities in schools and the ways in which residents were “making a way out of no way.”

Pictured: Eva Davis leans against a telephone pole, the buildings of of East Lake Meadows appear behind her. Atlanta, GA. September 8, 1986. Use restricted after June 3, 2020.

Tags:

 


WXXI is the essential, life-long educational media resource for the Greater Rochester area. WXXI puts the community first with programming that stimulates and expands thought, inspires the spirit, opens cultural horizons and promotes understanding of diverse community issues. Log on to wxxi.org for more information about our services and programs.

 

WXXI Media Contact:

Kristin Tutino

Creative Services Department

585-258-0253
pressroom@wxxi.org

 



Go to the NPR Pressroom

Go to the PBS Pressroom

Get logos for Media Use

Read our Media Policy

Radio Archives

TV Archives