In this WSB newsfilm clip dated Saturday, September 25, 1967, a panel of seven Atlanta African American community leaders, including Georgia state senator Leroy Johnson, attorney Horace T. Ward, attorney William H. Alexander, and Reverend J. D. Grier answer questions about a petition that has recently been presented to the Atlanta Board of Education with regard to its delay in desegregating the city's
schools. Three members of the panel are unidentified.
The clip, which is about six minutes long, begins with a shot of Georgia state senator Leroy Johnson explaining that the group of African American community leaders and civil rights activists who have banded together to protest the inaction of the Atlanta Board of Education in desegregating Atlanta schools have made a commitment to wait for the Board of Education's decision that upcoming Monday. After that date, he is not certain what will happen if the Board of Education decides against granting the demands listed in the petition. Atlanta attorney William H. Alexander adds that there is a consensus that, after Monday's deadline arrives, they are willing to use all of the power at their disposal to "resolve the issue," but will have to wait until Monday to respond to anything specific.
A member of the audience then asks Senator Johnson if he thinks a protest movement
might come (the question is truncated by a break in the clip); Johnson replies that any protest movement in Atlanta will be a nonviolent movement, confirms that those opposed to the Board of Education may be at a negotiating impasse and that people are ready to protest. He notes that fifty citizens asked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to come into Atlanta, and that on Monday, September 25, a group of fifteen hundred to two thousand people met at Reverend Howard Creecy's Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Atlanta to protest against the acts of the Board of Education. He reminds the audience that if protests ensue, it is because of the inaction of "those who could have granted the relief, but did not."
Next, in response to a question that was not captured in the recording, Senator Johnson says that he has not reviewed an incomplete list of five answers given by the Atlanta Board of Education, that body's response to an eleven-demand petition submitted to them by a local alliance of civil rights groups. The list was delivered to Reverend Samuel Williams, chairman of Atlanta's Community Relations Commission (an organization established to communicate race discrimination grievances to City Hall) by the Board of Education. He then suggests that Mr. Williamson (presumably Q. V. Williamson, member of the Atlanta Board of Aldermen) may have more to say on the issue. Johnson reiterates that he is waiting until Monday, October 2 to acknowledge the Board's response, as that remains the deadline for the Board of Education to respond fully to the petition. When asked by a reporter if the panel would respond to a partial fulfillment of demands on the Board of Education's part, he replies that he would prefer to not answer any
Next, William H. Alexander, responding to a question about jobs, reiterates that the panel members are willing to use all of the power at their disposal, but does not believe that he can define specific actions at this time. Next, Atlanta attorney Horace T. Ward explains to reporters that the petition has grown out of "an accumulation of frustration and efforts" to improve educational opportunities for African American children. As Ward begins to speak, Johnson lights up a cigarette and begins to smoke. The camera closes in for a tighter shot of Ward, who notes that this is not the first time such an effort has been made, nor has the petition been precipitated by any single event, rather, the endeavor to eliminate double sessions and to improve educational facilities in Atlanta schools is consistent with "the original desegregation suits." He is presumably referring to the 1958 lawsuit Calhoun v. Latimer, where the NAACP Legal Defense Fund assisted in filing a federal lawsuit against the Atlanta Board of Education requesting the elimination of the city's segregated school system.
Next, Senator Johnson emphasizes that it was the spirit of the Board of Education and their subsequent actions that prompted the delivery of the petition and the request that the board act on the eleven demands. A member of the audience asks "Did the William Fountain High School...Elementary School figure into this?" Johnson acknowledges that the school was mentioned as a complaint in the statement (They are probably referring to William A. Fountain Elementary School in Forest Park, Georgia). After one more break in the clip, Reverend J. D. Grier adds that there are more African American students in schools that have fewer African American staff to support those students; he goes on to say that he does not see "any reason why Washington High should be on triple session and Northside not on double sessions." Grier then recommends that the Board of Education look at the overall space available in all of the Atlanta schools.
In 1967, thirteen years after the Supreme Court ruled the unconstitutionality of school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Atlanta schools were still insufficiently desegregated. Attempts to integrate the Atlanta public schools began in 1958 with the Atlanta lawsuit Calhoun v. Latimer, however, sustained resistance from the Atlanta Board of Education and segregationist state and local government officials necessitated decades of constant legal pressure before meaningful integration of the school system was achieved. The Atlanta schools operated under a "freedom of choice" plan throughout most of the 1960s, which in theory allowed African American parents to request transfers for their children to attend predominantly white schools. In practice, however, African American students were screened based upon unfair criteria, few transfers were granted, and African American students remained in inferior and overcrowded schools. On September 11, 1967, a coalition of Atlanta civil rights groups that included members of the Atlanta Summit Leadership Conference, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) presented a list of eleven grievances to the Atlanta Board of Education. Their list of demands included requests to eliminate overcrowded schools, double session schedules, and racial discrimination in student, faculty, curriculum, and administrative matters. The Board of Education, led by chairman Ed S. Cook, responded that five items on the list would be addressed as soon as paperwork could be completed; the remaining six items on the list would be discussed with civil rights activists in two weeks. The timeframe of the Board of Education's response caused a rift amidst members of the coalition of civil rights leaders; some members were satisfied by the two-week deadline for a response, some were not and demanded an immediate reply instead. Tensions were further exacerbated when the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce extended invitations to representatives of the Atlanta Summit Leadership Conference to negotiate with Board of Education officials, but excluded other civil rights organizations. Despite these disagreements, the pressure against the Board of Education continued. Pickets and sit-ins took place at Board of Education superintendent John W. Letson's office, evening rallies were held at local African American churches, further legal action was pursued by the NAACP, and the potential threat of mass demonstrations remained constant. The Board of Education ultimately responded to the eleven demands on Monday, September 25th; however, nearly all of their answers were rejected as insufficient by the coalition of civil rights groups.
Former title "WSB-TV newsfilm clip of a panel of African American leaders explaining their demands to the Board of Education, Atlanta, Georgia, 1967 September 30." Further research of the events in the clip determine that the date
depicted is September 25, 1967.
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.
Local identification number: Clip number: wsbn52051