Is Atlanta Still A City Too Busy To Hate?

It has been my privilege to have been a citizen of the great state of Georgia for nearly 35 years now.

The old adage that time files is more than a truism.

One of the things that attracted my family to the “New South” was the tremendous opportunities for growth and advancement in the Metro-Atlanta, GA area.

When my family moved down to Atlanta, GA we observed that the “spiritual climate” of this area was radically different from what we had experienced in our beloved Northeastern United States (New England and the Mid-Atlantic respectively).

People who live in the Northeast are more reserved when it comes to expressing their faith or lack thereof.

Conversely, men and women who live in the Southeast inhabit a region of the country known as the “Bible belt.”

The Bible belt is distinguished by the tremendous number of Christian Churches (Evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox).  There is also a noticeable present albeit much smaller of prominent Jewish synagogues.

Religious people of all persuasions – Christian, Jewish, Islamic, or even Atheist are much quicker to share their belief system with you in the “Bible belt” than in the Northeastern United States.

Atlanta, Georgia was known as a “Southern Sleepy City” up through the early 1960s until men of Vision such as the late Coca-Cola CEO Robert Woodruff along with the great Atlanta, Mayor William B. Hartsfield worked with the Metro-Atlanta, GA Chamber of Commerce to develop a mission statement that stated that

“Atlanta A City Too Busy To Hate!”

This slogan provided a “sense of mission” – a mission statement? – that helped the city to navigate the turbulent years of the modern Civil Rights Era (1946 through 1971) and it also helped the Metro-Atlanta region transform the deep South from an economic stagnant backwards region into both and educational and industrial / information sector powerhouse.

When the Supreme Court mandated educational integration in the famous Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954, Southern states like Alabama (see Governor George Wallace) and Mississippi (Governor Ross Barnett) played to the fears of intransigent Whites who cried, “Segregation today, Segregation tomorrow, and Segregation Forever!”

The leaders of The City of Atlanta took a different approach; the city’s business leaders stressed that while they publicly endorsed legal segregation that they would not allow their political views to keep the city from moving forward economically.

Former Atlanta, GA mayor Ivan Allen (1961-69) was the only politician from the “Deep South” to endorse the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Bill which did away with legalized segregation.

(Allen previously was a strong proponent of “Jim Crow” etiquette, but his awakening took place in the early 1960s as the preaching of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. awakened him to the immorality of treating people of color as second 2nd class citizens.)

The City of Atlanta had a somewhat clandestine “power elite” that was made up of  the Clergy, Wealthy & Well-connected Whites along with their Clergy and best Educated and Business counterparts in the Negro community.

Together and behind the scenes the White and Negro “power elite” provided invaluable leadership to propel Atlanta, Georgia into its role as the Business, Political, and Spiritual capital of the “New South.”

Shortly after Pastor Martin Luther King, Jr. won the “Nobel Prize” for Peace in 1964, the Atlanta “power elite” made sure that they set up an integrated (bi-racial) gathering to honor Dr. King at the Dinkler Plaza Hotel in 1965.

This event was one of the first truly integrated events in the city’s history bringing together an unbelievably large group of 1,500 people!

The men chiefly responsible for this historic event were (this is not an exhaustive listing) “Atlanta leaders Ralph McGill, editor and publisher of the Atlanta Constitution, Rabbi Jacob Rothschild of The Temple, Morehouse President Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, and Archbishop Paul Hallinan, came together as a committee to organize this event” [Source:  Atlanta Daybrook Internet News–mlk-jr-peace/].

Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen was an enthusiastic supporter and the Coca-Cola Patriarch Robert Woodruff lent his name and considerable support.  The then Coca-Cola President Paul Austin was proud to be a part of the Dinkler Plaza Hotel night honoring the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

The City of Atlanta has truly been “A City Too Busy to Hate.”

Over the next couple of weeks, I would like to show some more positive aspects of this city motto along with some of the attendant problems that have accompanied the city’s endeavors to be faithful to this mission of being “A City Too Busy to Hate.”