The Civil Rights movement brought great upheaval and change to American society. Southern cities like Birmingham and Nashville witnessed violence and hostility, but Atlanta was different. The end of segregation in Atlanta began in 1960 with a series of sit-ins and boycotts organized by students from the six colleges in the Atlanta University complex. One of these students, Herschelle Challenor, a graduate of Spelman College, describes how blacks were not allowed in parks, swimming pools, libraries, or restaurants. Atlanta students decided to challenge segregation and focus on integrating public accommodations and lunch counters. She describes how they marched to downtown Atlanta, sat at lunch counters, and were arrested while the white community responded by closing their restaurants. Claude Sitton, a reporter for the New York Times, states that Atlanta lacked the drama witnessed elsewhere because black and white leaders did not want violence. Mayor William B. Hartsfield, Coca Cola president Robert Woodruff, Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph McGill, and Chamber of Commerce president Ivan Allen, Jr., (later mayor), believed Atlanta’s progress could be destroyed by civil disruption. They worked with black leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to end the boycott, open the restaurants, and integrate schools. Rick Allen, an author, comments that Atlanta was fortunate to have such a leading citizen as Robert Woodruff who brought a world view to the situation. Challenor believes the main lesson from the sit-ins is that one person can make a difference and working with others in a case that is just can bear fruit in this country. Sitton thinks the most important thing to remember about Atlanta is that blacks and whites working together can achieve very important change and do it peacefully. “When we work together,” he states, “we can do it.”
Teacher tip: Ask students to focus on the comments Rick Allen makes about Robert Woodruff and the closing comments made by Herschelle Challenor and Claude Sitton. What personal values are being communicated about or by these people?