prologue
D
uring the first five decades of the twentieth century, a
small circle of elite Black clergymen, attorneys, and busi-
ness figures had come to know limited influence in their
dealings, almost always informal, with Atlanta’s powerful
Whites. As a result, individuals such as Rev. William Holmes Borders of
Wheat Street Baptist Church and attorney A. T. Walden of the local chapter of
the naacp enjoyed support from their constituencies even as they advocated a
gradualist approach. ‘‘You don’t want to be drawn into any trap that might
hurt all of us,’’ Borders cautioned Black bus riders following a 1959 court de-
cision desegregating public transportation. ‘‘You’ve got to have sense enough
to take a victory in stride without irritating anybody.’’ Yet inhabitants of At-
lanta’s Black neighborhoods were growing impatient with such modest victo-
ries in the quest to desegregate the city. A stinging blow the following year—a
rezoning defeat that kept Blacks virtually hemmed-in—served to remind these
established leaders that the city’s White power brokers simply had no respect
for their influence.∞
It was precisely during this rude awakening of early 1960 that many of the
city’s Black elder statesmen were forced to confront the rise of a group of
young activist professionals who sought to make their own impact on the
racial politics of the Georgia capital. Led by Atlanta University professors Carl
Holman and Whitney M. Young, fourteen of these younger middle-class activ-
ists formed the Atlanta Committee for Cooperative Action (acca). The acca
raised its share of eyebrows with the January 1960 publication of A Second Look:
The Negro Citizen in Atlanta. The groundbreaking sixteen-page pamphlet, which
had been underwritten by the Black-owned Atlanta Life Insurance Company,
provided a well-researched and judiciously argued analysis of all facets of
segregation in the city. The members of the acca acknowledged that Atlanta
was ‘‘generally forward-looking’’ and ‘‘potentially a great city.’’ Yet, in tem-
pered language directed as much at the old guard as to White leaders, they
contended that people in high places should ‘‘take a long, hard, honest look at
some problems which will not simply go away if we wink at them.’’≤
The activists pointed to significant impediments to the quality of life for
the city’s African American population in education, health, housing, employ-
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