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IVAN ALLEN, JR.
MAYOR OF ATLANTA, GA,
COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE
BILL TO ELIMINATE DISCRIMINATION IN PUBLIC
July 26, 1963
STATEMENT BY IVAN ALLEN, JR.
MAYOR OF ATLANTA July 26, 1963
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Senate Commerce Committee:
Iam honored to appear before your Committee.
At the beginning I would like to make it clear that I feel quali-
fied to speak on the subject under discussion which is the elimination
of racial discrimination, on what I have learned from personal
experience and observation in my home city of Atlanta, Georgia.
As perceptive men of wide experience I feel confident that you will
agree with me that this is as serious a basic problem in the North,
East and West as it is in the South.
It must be defined as an all-American problem, which requires
an all-American solution based on local thought, local action and
The 500,000 people who live within our city limits consist of
300, 000 white citizens and slightly more than 200, 000 Negro citizens.
That makes the population of Atlanta 60 percent white, 40 percent
That 60 - 40 percentage emphasizes how essential it is for the
people of Atlanta, on their local level, to solve the problem of racial
discrimination in order to make Atlanta a better place in which to
Elimination of racial descrimination is no far off philosophical
theory to the more than one million people who live in and around
Atlanta. The problem is part and parcel of our daily lives. Its
solution must be studied and worked out on our homefront.
As the mayor of the Southeast's largest city, I can say to you
out of first hand experience and first hand knowledge that nowhere
does the problem of eliminating discrimination between the races
strike so closely home as it does to the local elected public official.
He is the man who cannot pass the buck.
From this viewpoint, I speak of the problem as having been
brought into sharp focus by decisions of the Supreme Court of the
United States and then generally ignored by the Presidents and
Congresses of the United States. Like a foundling baby, this awe-
some problem has been left on the doorsteps of local governments
throughout the nation.
Now to take up specifics. You gentlemen invited me to tell
you how Atlanta has achieved a considerable measure of comparative
success in dealing with racial discrimination.
It is true that Atlanta has achieved success in eliminating
discrimination in areas where some other cities have failed, but
we do not boast of our success. Instead of boasting, we say with .
the humility of those who believe in reality that we have achieved
our measure of success only because we looked facts in the face
and accepted the Supreme Court's decisions as inevitable and as
the law of our land. Having embraced realism in general, we then
set out to solve specific problems by local cooperation between
people of good will and good sense representing both races.
In attacking the specific problems, we accepted the basic
truth that the solutions which we sought to achieve in every instance
granted to our Negro citizens rights which white American citizens
and businesses previously had reserved to themselves as special
These special privileges long had been propped up by a
multitude of local ordinances and statewide laws which had upheld
racial segregation in almost every conceivable form.
In Atlanta we had plenty of the props of prejudice to contend
with when we set out to solve our specific problems of discrimination.
In attacking these problems, I want to emphasize that in not one single
instance have we retained or enhanced the privileges of segregation.
It has been a long, exhausting and often discouraging process
and the end is far from being in sight.
In the 1950's Atlanta made a significant start with a series
of reasonable eliminations of discrimination such as on golf courses
and public transportation. We began to become somewhat con-
ditioned for more extensive and definitive action, which has been
taking place in the 1960's.
During the past two and a half years, Atlanta has taken the
following major steps to eliminate racial discrimination:
1. In September, 1961, we began removing discrimination
in public schools in response to a court order.
2, In October, 1961, lunch counters in department and variety
stores abolished discrimination by voluntary action.
3. On January 1, 1962 Atlanta city facilities were freed from
discrimination by voluntary action of municipal officials.
4, In March, 1962 downtown and arts theatres, of their own
volition, abolished discrimination in seating.
5. OnJanuary 1, 1963, the city voluntarily abolished separate
employment listings for whites and Negroes.
6. In March, 1963 the city employed Negro firemen. It long
ago employed Negro policemen.
7. In May of 1963 the Atlanta Real Estate Board (white) and
the Empire Real Estate Board (Negro) issued a Statement of
Purposes, calling for ethical handling of real estate transactions
in controversial areas.
8. In June, 1963, the city government opened all municipal
swimming pools on a desegregated basis. This was voluntary action
to comply with a court order.
9. Also in June, 1963, 18 hotels and motels, representing the
leading places of public accommodations in the city, voluntarily
removed all segregation for conventions.
10. Again, in June, 1963 more than 30 of the city's leading
restaurants, of their own volition, abolished segregation in their
You can readily see that Atlanta's steps have been taken in
some instances in compliance with court decisions, and in other
instances the steps have been voluntary prior to any court action.
In each instance the action has resulted in white citizens relin-
quishing special privileges which they had enjoyed under the
practices of racial discrimination. Each action also has resulted
in the Negro citizen being given rights which all others previously
had enjoyed and which he has been denied.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Atlanta has achieved only
a measure of success. I think it would assist you in understanding
this if I explained how limited so far has been this transition from
the old segregated society of generations past, and also how limited
so far has been the participation of the Negro citizens.
Significant as is the voluntary elimination of discrimination in
our leading restaurants, it affects so far only a small percentage of
the hundreds of eating places in our city.
And participation by Negroes so far has been very slight. For
example, one of Atlanta's topmost restaurants served only 16 out of
Atlanta's 200,000 Negro citizens during the first week of freedom.
The plan for eliminating discrimination in hotels as yet takes
care only of convention delegates. Although prominent Negroes
have been accepted as guests in several Atlanta hotels, the Negro
citizens, as a whole, seldom appear at Atlanta hotels.
Underlying all the emotions of the situation, is the matter of
economics. It should be remembered that the right to use a facility
does not mean that it will be used or misused by any group, espe-
cially the groups in the lower economic status.
The statements I have given you cover the actual progress
made by Atlanta toward total elimination of discrimination.
Now I would like to submit my personal reasons why I think
Atlanta has resolved some of these problems while in other cities,
solutions have seemed impossible and strife and conflict have
As an illustration, I would like to describe a recent visit of
an official delegation from a great Eastern city which has a Negro
population of over 600,000 consisting of in excess of 20% of its
The members of this delegation at first simply did not under-
stand and would hardly believe that the business, civic and political
interests of Atlanta had intently concerned themselves with the
Negro population. I still do not believe that they are convinced
that all of our civic bodies backed by the public interest and sup-
ported by the City Government have daily concerned themselves
with an effort to solve our gravest problem -- which is relations
between our races. Gentlemen, Atlanta has not swept this
question under the rug at any point. Step by step - sometimes
under Court order - sometimes voluntarily moving ahead of
pressures - sometimes adroitly - and many times clumsily - we
have tried to find a solution to each specific problem through an
agreement between the affected white ownership and the Negro
To do this we have not appointed a huge general bi-racial
committee which too often merely becomes a burial place for un-
solved problems. By contrast, each time a specific problem has
come into focus, we have appointed the people involved to work
out the solution. . . Theatre owners to work with the top Negro
leaders . . . or hotel owners to work with the top leadership. . .
or certain restaurant owners who of their own volition dealt with
top Negro leadership. By developing the lines of communication
and respectability, we have been able to reach amicable solutions.
Atlanta is the world's center of Negro higher education.
There are six great Negro universities and colleges located inside
our city limits. Because of this, a great number of intelligent,
well-educated Negro citizens have chosen to remain in our city.
As a result of their education, they have had the ability to develop
a prosperous Negro business community. In Atlanta it consists of
financial institutions like banks - building and loan associations -
life insurance companies - chain drug stores - real estate dealers.
In fact, they have developed business organizations, I believe, in
almost every line of acknowledged American business. There are
also many Negro professional men,
Then there is another powerful factor working in the behalf of
good racial relations in our city. We have news media, both white
and Negro, whose leaders strongly believe and put into practice the
great truth that responsibility of the press (and by this I mean radio
and television as well as the written press) is inseparable from
freedom of the press.
The leadership of our written, spoken and televised news
media join with the business and government leadership, both white
and Negro, in working to solve our problems.
We are fortunate that we have one of the world famous editorial
spokesmen for reason and moderation on one of our white newspapers,
along with other editors and many reporters who stress significance
rather than sensation in the reporting and interpretation of what
happens in our city.
And we are fortunate in having a strong Negro daily newspaper,
The Atlanta Daily World, and a vigorous Negro weekly, The Atlanta
The Atlanta Daily World is owned by a prominent Negro family -
the Scott family - which owns and operates a number of other news-
The sturdy voices of the Atlanta Daily World and the Atlanta
Inquirer, backed by the support of the educational, business and
religious community, reach out to our Negro citizens. They speak
to them with factual information upon which they can rely. They
express opinions and interpretations in which they can have faith.
As I see it, our Negro leadership in Atlanta is responsible and
constructive. Iam sure that our Negro leadership is as desirous of
obtaining additional civic and economic and personal rights as is any
American citizen. But by constructive I mean to define Atlanta's
- Negro leadership as being realistic - as recognizing that it is more
important to obtain the rights they seek than it is to stir up demon-
strations. So it is to the constructive means by which these rights
can be obtained that our Negro leaders constantly address themselves.
They are interested in results instead of rhetoric. They reach for
lasting goals instead of grabbing for momentary publicity. They are
realists, not rabble rousers. Along with integration they want
I do not believe that any sincere American citizen desires to
see the rights of private business restricted by the Federal Govern-
ment unless such restriction is absolutely necessary for the welfare
of the people of this country.
On the other hand, following the line of thought of the decisions
of the Federal Courts in the past 15 years, I am not convinced that
current rulings of the Courts would grant to American business the
privilege of discrimination by race in the selection of its customers.
Here again we get into the area of what is right and what is
best for the people of this country. If the privilege of selection
based on race and color should be granted then would we be giving
to business the right to set up a segregated economy? . . . And
if so, how fast would this right be utilized by the Nation's people?
. - « And how soon would we again be going through the old turmoil
of riots, strife, demonstrations, boycotts, picketing?
Are we going to say that it is all right for the Negro citizen
to go into the bank of Main street to deposit his earnings or borrow
money, then to go the department store to buy what he needs, to go
to the supermarket to purchase food for his family, and so on along
Main street until he comes to a restaurant or a hotel -- In all these
other business places he is treated just like any other customer --
But when he comes to the restaurant or the hotel, are we going to
say that it is right and legal for the operators of these businesses,
merely as a matter of convenience, to insist that the Negro's
citizenship be changed and that, as a second class citizen, he is
to be refused service? I submit that it is not right to allow an
American's citizenship to be changed merely as a matter of con- |
If the Congress should fail to clarify the issue at the present
time, then by inference it would be saying that you could begin dis-
crimination under the guise of private business. I do not believe
that this is what the Supreme Court has intended with its decisions.
I do not believe that this is the intent of Congress or the people of
Iam not a lawyer, Senators. iam not sure I clearly under-
stand all of the testimony involving various amendments to the
Constitution and the Commerce clause which has been given to this
Committee. I have a fundamental respect for the Constitution of
the United States. Under this Constitution we have always been
able to do what is best for all of the people of this country. I beg
of you not to let this issue of discrimination.drown in legalistic
waters. Iam firmly convinced that the Supreme Court insists
that the same fundamental rights must be held by every American
Atlanta is a case that proves that the problem of discrimination
can be solved to some extent. . . and 1 use this "some extent"
cautiously . . . as we certainly have not solved all of the problems;
but we have met them in a number of areas. This can be done locally,
voluntarily, and by private business itself! —
On the other hand, there are hundreds of communities and
cities, certainly throughout the nation that have not ever addressed
themselves to the issue. Whereas, others have flagrantly ignored
the demand, and today, stand in all defiance to any change.
The Congress of the United States is now confronted witha
grave decision. Shall you pass a public accommodation bill that
forces this issue? Or, shall you create another round of disputes
over segregation by refusing to pass such legislation?
Surely, the Congress realizes that after having failed to take
any definite action on this subject in the last ten years, to fail to
pass this bill would amount to an endorsement of private business
setting up an entirely new status of discrimination throughout the
nation. Cities like Atlanta might slip backwards. Hotels and
restaurants that have already taken this issue upon themselves
and opened their doors might find it convenient to go back to the
old status. Failure by Congress to take definite action at this
time is by inference an endorsement of the right of private business
to practice racial discrimination and, in my opinion, would start
the same old round of squabbles and demonstrations that we have
had in the past.
Gentlemen, if I had your problem armed with the local ex-
perience I have had, I would pass a public accommodation bill.
Such a bill, however, should provide an opportunity for each local
government first to meet this problem and attempt to solve it ona
local, voluntary basis, with each business making its own decision.
I realize that it is quite easy to ask you to give an opportunity to
each businessman in each city to make his decision and to accom-
plish such an objective. . . but it is extremely difficult to legis-
late such a problem.
What I am trying to say is that the pupil placement plan,
which has been widely used in the South, provided a time table
approved by the Federal courts which helped in getting over troubled
water of elimination of discrimination in public schools. It seems
to me that cities working with private business institutions could now
move into the same area and that the federal government legislation
should be based on the idea that those businesses have a reasonable
time to accomplish such an act.
I think a public accommodation law now should stand only as
the last resort to assure that discrimination is eliminated, but that
such a law would grant a reasonable time for cities and businesses
to carry out this function before federal intervention.
It might even be necessary that the time factor be made more
lenient in favor of smaller cities and communities, for we all know
that large metropolitan areas have the capability of adjusting to
changes more rapidly than smaller communities.
Perhaps this, too, should be given consideration in your
legislation. But the point I want to emphasize again is that now is
the time for legislative action. We cannot dodge the issue. We
cannot look back over our shoulders or turn the clock back to the
1860's. We must take action now to assure a greater future for
our citizens and our country.
A hundred years ago the abolishment of slavery won the
United States the acclaim of the whole world when it made every
American free in theory.
Now the elimination of segregation, which is slavery's step-
child, is a challenge to all of us to make every American free in
fact as well as in theory - and again to establish our nation as the
true champion of the free world.
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I want to
thank you for the opportunity of telling you about Atlanta's efforts
to provide equality of citizenship to all within its borders.