In the wake of slavery and failed Reconstruction policies, black Georgians attended segregated schools, were disenfranchised at the ballot, and often denied access to services from white-owned businesses. Sparked by the move to integrate schools after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, African Americans pressed for equal rights under the law in response to nearly 100 years of segregation and mistreatment.
Albany native Rutha Mae Harris recalls life in the segregated town of Albany. In 1961 activists like African-American activists like Harris and Charles Sherood organized marches in the streets and were arrested for it. They protested those arrests and when they were not protesting, they were in churches organizing and planning. Harris explains how Albany churches were filled with people singing about freedom and how singing empowered her.
Marie Cochran, an art instructor at Georgia Southern University, was one of the first children to integrate the schools in her hometown of Toccoa. Her art installation, "Freedom School," first shown at Atlanta's High Museum, includes two school desks, one bearing the names of students. It personally relates to the Civil Rights Movement and shows how far we have come, provoking the viewer with its images and symbols to ask questions about that time in history.
Herschelle Challenor, a graduate of Spelman College, describes the challenges of segregation in Atlanta during the 1950s. 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.
Tony Grooms, an author and poet living in Atlanta, describes how events he saw on television as a young boy became topics in his stories, like police using powerful fire hoses to stop the protesters or seeing James Brown was on the Ed Sullivan Show. We are reminded that while many things on television may be forgettable, every now and again, there is something that stays with us that we never forget.
Farmer Felder Daniels, Doug Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia, Lillie Rosser, a former housecleaner and now an assistant pastor at an Atlanta church, and Tena Butler, who attended segregated schools in Savannah, discuss the economic impact of the Civil Rights Movement and the challenges African Americans in Georgia faced.