In this WSB newsfilm clip from Atlanta, Georgia on December 14, 1964, Moreton Rolleston, attorney and owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel, speaks to a reporter about the United States Supreme Court decision upholding the public accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The clip begins with an off-screen reporter asking Rolleston if the Supreme Court decision, announced earlier in the day, surprised him. Rolleston admits that when he thought the court would rule after the hearing in October or before the election in November, he expected the court to side with the government; when the court took six weeks to issue the ruling, he did not expect the decision they issued. The reporter comments that Rolleston has been under court order to serve African American patrons while waiting for the court's decision and asks Rolleston how many he has served. Rolleston responds that he has served very few African Americans, a fact that has had little effect on his business. He adds that he believes the court's ruling requiring integrated hotels will negatively effect the South's hotel business. He anticipates Southerners will never like the decision, but will eventually get used to it. Rolleston stands in an office in front of a map of Atlanta that the camera focuses on from time to time. Rolleston reports that he plans to continue operating the Heart of Atlanta Motel and complying with the court's integration order. The reporter and Rolleston repeat the exchange about admitting few African Americans since the law's passage and its lack of consequences. When asked if he has had many white patrons cancel because of the new policy, Rolleston replies that there have been few cancellations, but many more patrons have commented that they prefer the old policy. Rolleston reminds the reporter that the Heart of Atlanta has long had a practice of only admitting out-of-town guests with few exceptions. Asked if any civil rights group has tried to test the Heart of Atlanta policies, Rolleston acknowledges that he does not know of any such tests, but that the hotel has accepted all potential guests. The reporter asks Rolleston to estimate how many African Americans have stayed at the hotel since the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed in July of that year, and Rolleston says he does not know an exact number, but it has been few. The camera focuses on the Atlanta map behind Rolleston before he begins reading from a statement regarding the decision. Rolleston declares that the "decision nullifies the rights and principles which the constitution was designed to perpetuate," opening a door to "the unlimited power of a centralized government in Washington" which does not value personal liberty. He believes the decision could lead to "a socialistic state and eventual dictatorship." After a break in the clip, Rolleston again reads from the same prepared statement, and then the reporter and Rolleston repeat the exchange regarding the number of African American patrons served by the hotel. More of the office is seen, the off-screen reporter tests the microphone, and Rolleston speaks to the reporter although his comments are not well recorded. Rolleston and the reporter review Rolleston's statement regarding his reaction to the court opinion and the number of African American patrons served several times. The clip pauses and the reporter asks what comments white customers have made regarding the hotel accepting African American customers; Rolleston reports that the white customers have had very little to say about the new situation. After Rolleston again reviews his prepared statement about the decision, he expands on his position by saying that he is disappointed because the ruling gives more power to Congress to regulate individual behavior. Rolleston and the reporter review Rolleston's reaction to the Supreme Court decision, the number of African American patrons, and the South's eventual acclimation to the ruling. The clip ends shortly after Rolleston answers the telephone. United States president Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law in July of that year. Rolleston, who operated the Heart of Atlanta Motel, and Lester Maddox, owner of the Pickrick restaurant in Atlanta, filed a lawsuit against the act arguing that it violated the fifth and thirteenth constitutional amendments. The two cases were joined into the Heart of Atlanta vs. United States case, which was argued before the Supreme Court in October 1964. The court decided in favor of the United States and the civil rights act; Rolleston continued operating the Heart of Atlanta Motel but Maddox closed the Pickrick rather than integrate.
Title supplied by cataloger.
The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.
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Cite as: WSB-TV newsfilm clip of attorney Moreton Rolleston speaking to a reporter following the United States Supreme Court ruling upholding the public accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the integration of the Heart of Atlanta Motel in Atlanta, Georgia, 1964 December 14, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 0710, 7:51/16:52, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.