The transformation of the South’s economy was coupled with an even more remarkable alteration of society in the area of race relations. Black soldiers returning home from World War II were often in the forefront in demanding change. In general, young people were no longer willing to tolerate the indignities their parents had suffered. Soon the white politicians found themselves confronted with a movement demanding an end to racial segregation and discrimination.
In 1946 a federal court knocked down Georgia’s white primary law, a device to ensure white control of party machinery. That February the vote of Atlanta blacks made the difference in sending to Washington a white liberal, Helen Douglas Mankin, the first Georgia woman elected to Congress. Police departments began to hire black officers, first in Savannah in 1947, then in Atlanta the next year; at that time, however, black police were only allowed to arrest fellow blacks.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 decided, in Brown v. Board of Education, that segregated schools were unconstitutional. Soon Georgia blacks filed a number of cases in federal courts to force public schools and colleges to abide by the Brown decision. In January 1961 two students, Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, forced the University of Georgia to open its doors to black students. That fall, following a federal court order in the case of Calhoun v. Latimer, the Atlanta public schools began to desegregate. Over the next decade the tradition of segregated education was fundamentally altered.
The civil rights movement in the United States was centered in Atlanta, which was the home of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
In March 1960 black college students in Atlanta, and soon other Georgia cities, began holding sit-ins at segregated restaurants, lunch counters, parks, and churches. The nonviolent protests also included marching, picketing, and occasional boycotting of stores.
While demonstrators were usually met with hostility, they sometimes got results. In Atlanta, for instance, business leaders feared the negative publicity the city received when it arrested or harmed peaceful demonstrators. Progressive mayors such as William B. Hartsfield and Ivan Allen, Jr., had worked hard to build Atlanta into the commercial and transportation center of the South. They advertised Atlanta as “the city too busy to hate.” By 1961 they were willing to end segregation at lunch counters and negotiate with civil rights leaders on other reforms.
At the same time, many Georgia politicians in the 1950s and 1960s engaged in massive resistance to integration of public facilities. Following Brown v. Board of Education the state threatened to cut off public funding to any school that integrated. In 1956 the state flag was changed to include the Confederate battle flag. For some this was merely a way to honor the memory of the brave soldiers who fought for the Confederacy, but for others it represented resistance to federal attempts to change the racist laws and customs of the past. In 1964 Congress passed a civil rights act that ended segregation in public places. Lester Maddox became a folk hero to some whites by closing his Atlanta restaurant rather than admit black customers. Two years later he was elected governor. While his record as governor was more progressive than his image, he nevertheless symbolized a defiant Georgia that stood outside the national mainstream. In 1971 Maddox was succeeded by a man who projected a much different image—Jimmy Carter. In his inaugural address Carter said something that Georgians had not heard a governor utter since Reconstruction.
The achievement of the civil rights movement in transforming attitudes was apparent when Carter announced: “I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over. Our people have already made this major and difficult decision, but we cannot underestimate the challenge of hundreds of minor decisions yet to be made.” Carter went on to call for equal opportunity for all. Five years later, he was elected president of the United States. Carter himself has often credited the civil rights movement with making it possible for statesmen from the Deep South to ascend to the presidency. He represented a new generation of Southern leaders who no longer had to defend segregation and thus could appeal to the majority of Americans outside the region. Carter was perhaps correct that the majority of Georgians, sometime in the 1960s and 1970s, stopped trying to defend segregation and white supremacy. A change in practices, to some degree, led to a change in attitudes. Yet a backlash against the civil rights movement was also apparent. The integration of the Atlanta public schools, a high crime rate, high taxes, and the high cost of housing, were contributing factors to white flight, the movement of white residents from the city to the suburbs. Atlanta went quickly from being a majority-white to a majority-black city, encircled by a ring of white communities. In 1968 Georgians were so disenchanted with both the Democrats and the Republicans that they cast their presidential ballots for third-party candidate George Wallace of Alabama, the onetime symbol of Southern resistance to school integration. "Georgia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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