The plans for school desegregation during the 1960s did not adhere
to any specific pattern. Cities and towns around the country
found creative ways to resist the federally sanctioned
integration of America’s schools. Atlanta proved no different.
Racial tensions escalated when the Congress called for forced integration
and African Americans carried on the struggle to dismantle Jim
Crow laws. In Atlanta,
new developments arose as community activists and school board members
sought a compromise to address the educational disparity in the
city’s public school system.
Few people outside of Atlanta are aware of the lengthy legal processes
that unfolded. By April of 1965, the District Court in Atlanta
ruled that the desegregation plans then in place had not sufficiently
intergrated black and white school aged students in the city. After
the ruling, the city adopted numerous efforts to increase
diversity among pupils such as the creation of portable
classrooms as temporary solutions to combating segregation. Adminstrators
also implemented Freedom of choice to give parents more control
of their children’s education. The
Board of Education sought to increase the amount of integrated schools
with these plans.
During the early months of 1970, Dr.
Benjamin Mays was elected
chairman of the Atlanta
Board of Education. As
the first black chairman, Dr. Mays sought to improve the quality
of education in Atlanta and secure integrated schools for its students.
described in this
WSB clip, the first proposed remedy to desegregation involved re-zoning
public school districts. Although this measure strived to create
racial balance in the schools, its inception proved much too difficult
to accomplish. This
proposition suggested that black students be bused into white schools,
yet time and travel commitments discouraged students and parents
alike from considering such options as viable means of change. While
this option promised necessary changes to public schools, the rigors
of organizing such opportunities were futile.
By March of 1970, the situation surrounding integration took an
unexpected turn. Mandatory busing never seemed favorable to
parents or local officials, but another option arose amidst discussions
with school officials. School superintendent John Letson and
Dr. Mays formed a committee to address U.S. District Judge
Frank Hooper’s ruling requiring the school board to integrate its
teachers. While many teachers were disappointed with the court’s
ruling, over two thousand teachers were placed in a pool to await
In opposition to the court’s ruling, Governor Lester
students to boycott schools, while teachers were encouraged to refuse
transfers. Despite the increased tensions surrounding teacher
integration, the school board was left with no recourse but to force
teacher integration. While this solution appears to increase
efforts of desegregation, such methods placed limitations on racial
equality. As teachers began to transfer in and out of all-black
high schools, the battle for complete integration waged on.
Negotiations between the school board and black community leaders
continued since both sides developed some opposition to mandatory
school board implemented a new majority-to-minority plan for integration
during the 1972-73 school year. A
greater percentage of black students took advantage of the majority-to-minority
program, as black parents sought better facilities for their children.
By 1973, these two groups reached an agreement whereby staff and
administration would take priority in the implementation of integration
plans through a limited amount
of busing. Local
leaders and school board officials failed to properly prepare students
and parents for the battles that would erupt over public school
desegregation. Still, the struggle to integrate Atlanta's schools
As the past efforts of desegregation linger today, we work to mend
these errors and correct the disparities that exist in educational
systems across the country. Although the events that unfolded
in Atlanta only represent one city's response to desegregation,
many of the issues that arose are indicative of the racist ideology
that pervade the country. The need for
integration essentially works to foster a sense of community, yet
the strategic methods of placing different races together does little
to question and dispel the ideas of racial and class animosity that
persists. The fight for integration gained momentum in the 1970s.
We are not too far removed from a time when segregation superseded
the desire for equality. Today we have the wisdom of hindsight
to reexamine history as we come full circle with new challenges
that mimic obstacles of the past.
Resources (click here)
Printable Version (click here)
1. Consider both the majority-to-minority program in Atlanta and
the national A
Better Chance program. What are the advantages and disadvantages
of being a minority student at a prep school? John
Edgar Wideman was an African American man who
grew up in inner-city Philadelphia and went to University
of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League college,
on a basketball scholarship. He is an award-winning author of
novels, essays and memoirs. What would have been the social costs
for Wideman of attending this elite, historically white school?
2. Look at newspaper articles that discuss the desegregation of
Atlanta's public schools. For what reasons did some parents oppose
integration and others support it?
3. Examine your history textbook. Does it represent the diversity
of the student population?
4. Discuss the ethnic and racial breakdown of the teachers at your
school. Does it reflect the student population? Why or why not?
Take it to the Streets!
Research the history of your school and document specific instances
related to integration such as the integration of the prom or homecoming
court, the election of student government leaders, the selection
of sports, cheerleader and drill teams, the hiring
of coaches. What areas of your school were the first to integrate?
Where does work still need to be done?
Writers: Brittany Blackburn, Laura Carver, Karrie Davis, Kellie
Thiesen, Brooke Williams, and Acacia Wilson in Professor Barbara
McCaskill's AFAM/ENGL 3230 (Survey of African American Literature),
Editors and Researchers: Kamille Bostick, Christina
L. Davis, Mary Boyce Hicks and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Web Site Designer: William Weems
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