In September 1968, after nearly a year of planning by an ad hoc
committee, professors at The
University of Georgia initiated an economic boycott of the Athens
Community Chest. They were responding to the Chest’s support
of the segregated Young
Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Young
Women’s Christian Organization (YWCO). The Community Chest,
established in 1953, was a fund-raising organization that sponsored
annual campaigns to raise money for eleven service agencies operating
in the Athens area. Some of these agencies included the Boys
Club, the Boy and Girl
Scouts, the Red
Cross, the YMCA, and Athens’s version of the YWCA, the YWCO.
Throughout much of the 20th century, Athens’s
YMCA and YWCO refused service to African Americans, even though
in 1946, the YMCA National Council had passed a resolution commanding
local branches to eliminate racial discrimination. In the 1968–69
fundraising drive, the segregated YMCA and YWCO were slotted to
receive the largest share of funds raised, roughly one-third
of all donations.
The Chest’s ambitious campaign officially began at a breakfast
ceremony held at the YWCO on the morning of September 23, 1968.
As seen in this WSB clip, the morning kick-off meeting is greeted
by about ten picketers protesting the YMCA and YWCO’s segregationist
policies. Because professors at The University of Georgia believed
that segregationist policies should not be condoned by the University,
many University employees refrained from donating to the drive until
the YMCA and YWCO integrated or until the Chest expelled them from
To compensate for the loss of University monies during the drive,
Chest leaders asked businesses to donate more abundantly. At the
same time, the Athens
Human Relations Council urged all Athens citizens to withhold
donations to the Chest as long as it supported segregated organizations.
The campus was also divided. The student Senate voted on a proposal
asking UGA President Fred C. Davison to disallow payroll deductions
for the Chest drive. In October 1968, in a telling and close
decision, 44 voted against the proposal and 30 for, with 2 voters
abstaining. By January 1969, the Chest announced that it had failed
to meet its campaign goal by $46,800, largely due to the decrease
in University contributions.
The financial strain imposed by the protests led to the integration
of the YMCA and YWCO in Athens. On July 17, 1969, the YMCA and
the YWCO quietly sent letters to Chest leaders notifying them that
each body was now officially open to all races. By September 3,
1969, encouraged by this change in policy and the subsequent resumption
of contributions from the University community this change would
engender, the Chest kicked off its 1969–70 fund-raising drive.
One lesson from the Civil
Rights Movement that this economic boycott underscores is
that creating social change often required more than one approach
or more than one attempt. To desegregate the YMCA and YWCO,
for example, Athens activists used the power of their wallets,
but also more traditional strategies such as picketing in front
of the buildings, talking to the media, and circulating and signing
petitions to raise community awareness about the problem. The
Movement catalyzed different groups in communities who might not
otherwise have interacted--here, the University professors and
citizens not affiliated with the school--to come together and
improve the quality of their lives.
Not all of the organizations involved in the Community Chest were
segregated. However, since the Chest did support the all-white
YMCA and YWCO, it risked undermining its altruistic purposes and
risked sending a message to civil
rights activists that an organization or an individual could
straddle the fence about racism. That both the YMCA and YWCO
were Christian organizations, based on religious principles of brotherhood
and sisterhood, made it even more urgent that they practice what
they preached and desegregated.
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1. What does this story tell you about how money can be used to
institute social change? Can you think of other examples from Civil
Rights Movement history where this has been the case?
2. Do members of your school--students, librarians, teachers, staff--serve
the community around you? In what ways? Can you think
of areas for improvement?
3. Read the stories on our Americus
First Methodist Church and Picketing
at the Piggly Wiggly. How were these integration campaigns
similar to and different from the desegregation of the Athens
YMCA and YWCO?
4. Visit Emory
University's online site entitled "Historical
Sketches of the
Greater Atlanta Young Women's Christian Association." Click
on the link to the historical
highlights (1917-1969) of the city's all black YWCA, the Phillis
Wheatley branch. How do the activities and accomplishments
of this branch demonstrate a commitment to ideas of racial and
social equality in spite of segregation? How was naming
this branch after the enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley a response
to racism, and a statement in particular about the preparation
of African American women to lead campaigns to fight it?
Take it to the
A person's mistakes or wrongdoing can overshadow
the good he or she has done. Read one of the following short stories
or book chapters:
"The Minister's Black Veil" by Nathaniel
"Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin (1957)
"A Perilous Passage in a Slave Girl's Life" from Harriet Jacobs's Incidents
in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)
And, think about one or more of the following
public or historical figures:
Choose one of the figures above and write
one or two pages discussing whether you think that society has
judged this person too harshly.
Writer: Aggie Ebrahimi
Editors and Researchers: Lauren Chambers, Christina L. Davis, Aggie
Ebrahimi, and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Web Site Designer: William Weems
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