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Cities: Atlanta

The Southern Regional Council and
the Georgia Human Relations Council

One of the self-proclaimed capitals of the New South, Atlanta served as home-base for two influential, integrated civil rights organizations: the Southern Regional Council (SRC) and its offshoot, the Georgia Human Relations Council. Racially diverse in their membership, the councils formed a united front in championing the equal rights and equal treatment of black Georgians and black Americans.

Established in 1944, the SRC urged more liberal whites to join forces with African Americans in their fight toward equal rights. The SRC, a leading opponent of segregation and an advocate for civil rights in its era, succeeded the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC), an integrated organization formed in 1919. The CIC formed in response to the increased tensions between white Americans and black soldiers returning home from fighting in Europe during World War I. White Americans often spurned these soldiers and expected them to resume their place in the American underclass. Like the CIC before it, the SRC was a coalition of lawyers, ministers, and newspaper editors from thirteen southern states. Although the group included men, women, blacks, and whites, the majority of its members were white.

Often partners with other Civil Rights Movement groups, along with openly disapproving of segregated facilities, the SRC’s hallmark was its use of communications and analysis. It published important literature related to racial justice, released studies on race relations and acted as a think-tank for issues concerning the Movement. Its flagship journal, New South, attained its height in circulation between 1965 and the early 1970s. During the same period the SRC served as a liaison between a number of southern organizations and northern foundations, providing resources and opportunities for mutual understanding. The organization also managed the Voter Education Project of the Kennedy administration which enabled philanthropic organizations to fund voter registration efforts in the South.

Perhaps one of the SRC’s most important legacies is its Georgia affiliate, the Georgia Human Relations Council (GHRC), which provided grassroots support for forming biracial coalitions. Non-profit, interracial, and non-denominational, at is peak, the GHRC operated in cities across the state including Athens, Augusta, Columbus, LaGrange, Macon, Rome, Savannah, and municipalities around Atlanta. With approximately 1,500 members, working in law, medicine, religion, and other sectors, the GHRC included social justice heavyweights such as Frances Freeborn Pauley and the Reverend Dr. Charles S. Hamilton of Augusta's Tabernacle Baptist Church.

With the rise of "Black Power" or Black Consciousness in the United States, the SRC and GHRC faced trying times. As more African Americans embraced the black nationalism that believed all-black organizations necessary to eliminate racial oppression, it became harder to accept integrated or majority white organizations as effective advocates for change. The Black Power Movement challenged the effectiveness of biracial or interracial councils in resolving racial tensions, and sparked debates about the roles of white southern liberals in the Movement. The SRC nevertheless continues its mission of championing social justice and transforming the South into a welcoming place for every American.

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Discussion Questions

1. Visit our Macon pages and read the essay Integrating Tattnall Square Baptist Church. Discuss the criticism that white civil rights advocates like McGill, Lillian Smith, and the Rev. Carter of Koinonia Farm faced from both blacks and whites in the South. 

2. Visit our Atlanta pages and read the essay The Black Panther Party in Georgia. What would the Panthers offer to urban African Americans that integrated southern organizations like the SRC or GHRC could not? 

3. In 1905, the African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois organized the Niagara Movement, which later became the NAACP. What did he hope to accomplish by assembling an integrated group of social activists? Look at covers of the Crisis, the NAACP's magazine which continues to spotlight issues affecting African Americans. In what ways do these illustrations anticipate the concerns of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s? 

Take it to the Streets!

Interview a member of your Student Council, your community School Board or parent-teacher organization, or your city or town council. Or invite one or more members of such groups to speak to your class. What can you learn about the advantages and disadvantages of building coalitions and partnerships across divisions of class, race, or gender to solve problems? What current issues in your community have such coalitions been particularly effective or energetic in confronting and determining a solution that is mutually satisfying and beneficial?

Writer: Kamille Bostick
Editors: Kamille Bostick, Christina L. Davis, Mary Boyce Hicks, Professor Barbara McCaskill
Researcher: Kamille Bostick
Web Site Designer: William Weems

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