In this WSB newsfilm clip from October 6, 1971, several African Americans, including civil rights leader and future U.S. Representative John Lewis comment on a speech recently delivered to the Hungry Club by Atlanta mayor Sam Massell.
The clip begins with John Lewis speaking to a reporter; he comments that black Atlantans have lived in the city a long time, represent its resources, and should have an interest in controlling the city, noting "we are a majority of the city, and we should control it." Next, Dr. Benjamin Mays, president emeritus of Morehouse College and president of the Atlanta Board of Education, describes Mayor Sam Massell's speech as "sincere;" he goes on to say that overall, the speech was good, and that "there are many good things in the speech which I think we need to consider very seriously." The reporter asks Mays if there were any parts of the speech that he considered "objectionable;" he responds that there were not. Next, an unidentified African American man calls the speech "an insult to all blacks who think," and criticizes Massell's departure from the podium without taking questions from the audience as "cowardice;" he suggests "frankly, if he's a statesman, he should have been talking to the Chamber of Commerce, or to the Kiwanis Club, or to the Lion's Club. This is the wrong group." He concludes "We are not responsible for white folks running from the city of Atlanta."
On October 6, 1971, Atlanta mayor Sam Massell addressed the Hungry Club, a community forum held weekly at Atlanta's African American Butler Street YMCA. Here, Massell hoped to gain support from the African American community for political measures that would discourage white flight from the city and reduce the loss of municipal tax revenue garnered from white middle-class Atlantans. In his speech, Massell suggested that black leaders "think white" and favor working "to make the city more attractive as an inducement for them to stay." He also asked that they "challenge the militant minority" and "rise above the inferiority complex that only blacks will politically support blacks." By suggesting that African American behavior, rather than white racism, caused white flight, and that electing African American candidates was secondary to appeasing white Atlanta residents, Massell alienated the majority of his African American audience with this speech. His refusal to take questions at the conclusion of the speech was equally unpopular.
Sam Massell, Atlanta's first Jewish mayor, and, as of 2010, Atlanta's last white mayor, initially adopted the strategy of the city's previous mayors, William Hartsfield and Ivan Allen, who had bridged the city's racial gap by building a coalition of African Americans and liberal and moderate whites. This changed, however, when African American vice mayor Maynard Jackson began to surpass Massell's popularity as a candidate in the black community. As re-election drew closer, Massell abandoned the coalition approach of his predecessors, and spent his efforts on gaining white support. He conducted a racially divisive campaign embodied by the slogan "Atlanta's Too Young To Die," a warning to voters that a black mayor would kill the city. When Jackson defeated Massell in 1973, the racial polarization that had been cultivated in the election yielded a highly segregated result, with African Americans voting overwhelmingly for Jackson, and whites for Massell.
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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 African Americans reacting to a speech by mayor Sam Massell, Atlanta, Georgia, 1971 October 6, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 1769, 58:59/01:00:04, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.