In this WSB newsfilm clip from Washington D.C. on May 25, 1961, Atlanta mayor William B. Hartsfield speaks to a reporter about the Freedom Rides and about race relations in Atlanta, Georgia.
The clip begins with Mayor Hartsfield standing outside near an unidentified building. An off-screen reporter asks Hartsfield about his reaction to the Freedom Ride. The Freedom Ride began as an interracial journey through the South testing segregated transportation facilities and was sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a New York-based Civil Rights organization. Hartsfield reports that he did not hear about the Freedom Ride until after they passed through Atlanta. Blaming "publicity that put some people under tension," he recognizes that both the Freedom Riders and the white community made mistakes in the situation. Hartsfield acknowledges that African American citizens deserve full freedom everywhere; he also calls for restraint and compares efforts to force confrontation to digging holes in wet sand. Although he is saddened by the violence and arrests in Alabama and Mississippi, Hartsfield expresses pride that there were no confrontations with the Freedom Riders while they were in Atlanta or in Georgia. He explains that people in Atlanta are too busy building a great city to hate others. Continuing, he asserts that he and other leaders in Atlanta are working together to improve race relations and help African Americans obtain their rights.
The reporter then asks Hartsfield about his recent meeting with United States president John F. Kennedy. On May 25, Hartsfield and three other leaders of the Mayors-of-American-Unity Committee presented President Kennedy with a scroll signed by nearly 1,500 mayors expressing their support of him. Kennedy was preparing to travel to Europe the following week to meet with French president Charles de Gaulle and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. Referring to the meeting, the reporter asks Hartsfield if the mayors discussed the Freedom Rides with the president during the meeting. Hartsfield responds that the mayors met with Kennedy to express national unity; that there was not much time in the brief meeting for discussion; and that he would not have brought up the topic unless the president did. Asked if Southern mayors have had any communication about the Freedom Rides, Hartsfield replies that they have not, noting the unique situation of each community and suggesting most communities work with their state governments. Hartsfield points out that although most Southern mayors are members of the United States Conference of Mayors and the American Municipal Association, "each mayor is sort of a product of his own town." Focusing on Atlanta, Hartsfield extols the community as a "great crossroads city" with people from all over the country. He claims that this diversity leads to "a more liberal approach and a more tolerant approach to everything." Hartsfield declares Atlanta is an American city with national reputation and influence, one that cannot obsess about race any more than other major communities throughout the United States.
In 1961, CORE organized a Freedom Ride to test Southern compliance with orders to desegregated interstate transportation. Patterned after the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, the ride started in Washington D.C. on May 4. It continued without major interruption until May 14 when riders were attacked in Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama. Mobs also attacked reinforcement riders from Nashville who traveled from Birmingham to Montgomery, Alabama, on May 20. The next night, May 21, another mob of white Montgomery citizens laid an all-night siege to First Baptist Church during a mass meeting held in support of the Freedom Ride. In response, the federal government sent marshals to Alabama; eventually governor John Patterson declared martial law and sent in members of the Alabama National Guard. After further negotiations, Freedom Riders traveled from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi on May 24. Upon reaching Jackson the riders were arrested. In September the Interstate Commerce Commission ruled segregation in interstate transportation, as well as facilities serving interstate travelers, illegal.
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 a reporter speaking to Atlanta mayor William B. Hartsfield about race relations in Atlanta, Georgia and about the Freedom Rides, Washington, D.C., 1961 May 25, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 0775, 00:00/04:32, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.