In this WSB newsfilm clip from October 6, 1971, several African Americans, including Atlanta city alderman Henry Dodson and civil rights leader and future U.S. Representative John Lewis comment negatively on a speech recently given by Atlanta mayor Sam Massell.
The clip begins with Atlanta city alderman Henry Dodson telling a reporter that "coming from the other side," he is "glad" that Massell "made the speech like he made." Although the mayor may have told him that he had to "think white to get along in this society," he asserts "I can think black and get along in this society." Dodson notes that he represents both black and white people in his district, and insists that, by thinking black, he can serve his constituents just as well as the white politicians that preceded him. He concludes "I'm not going to think white." Next, John Lewis confesses that he is "very disappointed" with Massell's speech, and thinks "it is wrong for the mayor of a city like Atlanta to suggest that black people should not be concerned about their own political destiny." Next, an African American woman disagrees with the mayor "outlining what we as blacks should do" and is skeptical that he has "thought it all through." She opines that Massell has instructed African Americans to "get to work on what he is thinking we should do." Her overall impression of the speech is that African Americans "were still proving ourselves as black people in this city," and she remarks "I thought that we had come further than that."
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, to gain support from the African American community for political measures that would encourage white residency and reduce the loss of municipal tax revenue garnered from white middle-class Atlantans. In his speech, the mayor expressed his concerns about white flight and its negative financial impact on the city. In addition to suggesting that black leaders "think white" and favor working "to make the city more attractive as an inducement for them to stay," he asked that they "challenge the militant minority" and "rise above the inferiority complex that only blacks will politically support blacks." Massell alienated the majority of his African American audience with this speech; he did so 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. 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.
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 African Americans reacting negatively to mayor Sam Massell's speech on politics and government, Atlanta, Georgia, 1971 October 6, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 1770, 24:23/27:03, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.