Historically, most government public policy decisions affecting Afro-Americans and low income persons have been made without their knowledge or participation. Government officials often make decisions without considering the potential impacts on the neighborhood's economy, environment, health or customs. Various recent government public policies and programs designed to enhance the physical and economic well being of such communities have often not achieved the desired results. Several key variables can be cited to account for this state of affairs and two of the most significant factors are the lack of input from the "target population" as well as the absence of black and minority researchers in evaluating the results of policies in such areas as community and economic development, education, employment, environment, health, housing, planning and public finance and transportation.

Atlanta University has a long tradition of research and analysis on the condition of Afro-Americans. Between 1898-1914, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, then at Atlanta University, organized a series of conferences on the problems and conditions of American Blacks which focused on such topics as business, crime, education, health and mortality, social welfare policies for Blacks and urbanization. At the time these were the first efforts to build "an increasing body of scientifically ascertained fact" and made Atlanta University the "only institution in the world carrying on systematic study of the Negro and his development, and putting the results in a form available for …. scholars." Twenty monographs on various phases of Black life were generated by these conferences. The data collected were a necessary prerequisite for developing public policies and programs designed to alleviate the plight of African-Americans. The University’s publication of PHYLON: A Journal of Race and Culture from 1939-1996 has carried on the DuBois tradition.

In 1968 Clark College established the Southern Center for Studies in Public Policy (SCSPP) as a research, training, teaching and community outreach organization to more effectively provide needed services to people of color and low income communities. It was designed to serve as a mechanism for faculty and students to develop competence in the formulation, assessment and implementation of public policies which impact African-Americans and low income people in the South. The goal of the SCSPP was to seek ways to improve the relative economic, educational, political and social position of disadvantaged people, principally through research, training and technical assistance. The research creates the knowledge to develop more effective strategies, policies and programs.

In 1969 the SCSPP combined with the Voter Education Project to establish the Georgia Service Center for Elected Officials to provide technical assistance to newly elected Black officials. The Center helped to establish the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials (GABEO) in 1973 and served as its secretariat for five years. Finally, the SCSPP provided assistance to community organizations on a variety of public policies affecting low income and people of color.  Continuing in the 1970's, the SCSPP's efforts were focused on providing people of color and poor persons with the information and training necessary to impact the policy-making process in areas such as public school integration, mass transit planning, voter education/participation, economic and community development, and the legislative process.

However, in the 1980s, the SCSPP concentrated on local, regional, and national urban economic problems of business development, employment, and poverty, conducting more than 50 studies to explore ways to improve the conditions of people of color in urban areas.  The consolidation of Atlanta University and Clark College in 1988 to form Clark Atlanta University (CAU), the SCSPP’s capabilities to conduct research/ policy analysis on issues impacting poor and people of color in the South was greatly enhanced. The SCSPP began to provide new data on the past and contemporary predicament of African-Americans and analyze existing and proposed public policies which have the greatest impact on the lives of Black Americans, particularly those living the South: community and economic development, criminal justice, education, employment, environment, health, housing, public finance, social welfare and transportation.

Furthermore, in the decade of 1990s, numerous studies were conducted on racial disparities in business, criminal justice, education, housing, political representation, transportation, and legislative outputs that impact people of color and low income.

Because of the growing concerns over the enormous economic, environmental, political, and social consequences of the plethora of governmental programs, the SCSPP makes possible the coordination of the vast array of multi-disciplinary and systematic research on public policy issues. It has multifaceted responsibilities and serve a two-fold purpose. First, it provides citizens with a clear picture of the policy process and access points as well as assist in developing and designing new procedures, mechanisms and strategies for democratizing the government, planning and decision-making processes, and enable affected publics to more effectively impact the policy process. Second, it provides a framework to ensure that government decisions more accurately reflect a community consensus on policies to be implemented, modified, or eliminated.