APPEAL FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: 1960-2010
LOOK BACK TO CHART A WAY FORWARD
March 9, 1960, “An Appeal for Human Rights” (the Appeal)
appeared in three Atlanta daily newspapers. The Manifesto was
a paid advertisement, requested and financed by the college presidents,
heralding the beginning of a sit-in campaign being launched by students
of the Atlanta University Center (AUC). The Appeal captured the
essence of the students’ purpose when it proclaimed that “Every
normal being wants to walk the earth with dignity and abhors any and
all proscriptions placed upon him because of race or color.”
people today cannot imagine having to find the “colored”
public restroom, to search for a “colored” lunch counter,
or, if traveling by bus, having to find the “colored” waiting
room with the “colored” water fountain. These legally-
imposed requirements eroded the dignity and self-respect of all people
of color. However, in 1960, the “sirens of freedom”
were being heard throughout the colonized world. And they were
heard by the Greensboro Four who served as the catalyst for igniting
a movement which changed the South, the Nation, and eventually the world.
1, 1960, when the Greensboro Four from North Carolina Agricultural &
Technical College sat down at a racially segregated Woolworth lunch
counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, they ignited “embers”
that had been smoldering for centuries within the souls of African
Americans. Within a few weeks, between that fateful day and the
publication of the Appeal, sit-in demonstrations were cropping up throughout
the South. Students from the Atlanta University Center (Atlanta University,
Clark, Morehouse, Morris Brown, Spelman colleges and the Interdenominational
Theological Center) decided to follow a well-planned, coordinated approach
with a clearly articulated purpose for the forthcoming Atlanta student
of demonstrations would extend beyond access to public accommodations,
and include the eradication of inequities in education, jobs, housing,
voting, hospitals and law enforcement. Therefore, on March 15, 1960,
exactly six days following publication of the Appeal, the Atlanta
Student Movement launched non-violent sit-ins, pickets and boycotts
that eventually resulted in the disintegration of legal apartheid in
the city of Atlanta.
question, the sit-in movement became one of the crucial elements of
many events that converged to create dramatic and irreversible social
and legal change in the South. Perhaps the most significant force
at work in our city and the nation was the presence of Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. who, through the Montgomery Bus Boycott, pioneered the use
of nonviolent civil disobedience in the cause of justice.
Dr. King articulated his vision, as he effectively communicated his
faith to thousands of young people, continues to amaze us, even today.
Most of us had never heard of non-violent civil disobedience, and might
have argued that it would not work, given the force of the opposition.
However, as we followed the examples of Gandhi and Dr. King, we proved
that we had the discipline to endure taunts and abuse from angry mobs
of whites who believed that they had license to verbally abuse us and
to commit violent acts against us with impunity. In contrast to
most of the white racists who opposed us, we were well-dressed and well-
behaved. This contrast seemed to have aroused the “dozing conscience
of America” and the world. As the non-violent movement
gained impetus, many factors came into play; among them were the media.
dissemination of the news made possible by television played a large
part in the success of the sit-in movement. Breaking news with
live coverage was an exciting aspect of this new medium. Throughout
the country, and eventually the world, America was exposed for what
it was: a nation that preached democracy, liberty, and justice for all,
yet practiced one of the most egregious forms of racism the world had
the entire South benefitted from the abuses and sacrifices sustained
by the nonviolent demonstrations of the student movement. Dr. King described
it eloquently when he observed that “Whatever affects one directly
affects all indirectly.”
of Atlanta emerged as a major beneficiary of the Atlanta Student Movement.
The number of Fortune 500 companies that established Atlanta as headquarters
or as a regional center for commerce; the top tier sports franchisees
that perform and reside here; the quantum growth of the convention and
hospitality industry; and the development of a thriving artistic and
multicultural environment are direct outcomes of the changed image of
this once virulently racist city. The Olympic spotlight could not have
showcased Atlanta in 1960; the rest of the world would have declined
look back over 50 years, we must acknowledge the significant progress
that has been made in our country. Achievements that we could
only dream of prior to 1960 have become a reality. Upon critical
examination, however, one must conclude that the umbrella of freedom,
justice, and equality for all people still does not extend to large
segments of our society. As in the Appeal of 1960, the Appeal of 2010
is being issued to address the categories that continue to require remedy.
failure of traditional public education to design and implement an educational
curriculum that addresses the needs of African American students is
vividly displayed throughout the United States; the Atlanta Public School
System is no exception.
the Atlanta Public School System, though endowed with a budget in excess
of 600 million dollars and a student population that is one-half the
number that it was in 1973 with a budget of 100 million dollars, still
languishes behind in student achievement when compared with its suburban
counterparts. The achievement gap is wide and ever-widening. In
1954, the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was
supposed to provide an equal educational opportunity for all citizens,
regardless of color. However, in the past 50 years, tremendous
“white flight” has occurred in Atlanta and the so-called
“soft bigotry” of low expectations burst upon the education
scene and continues to thrive, to the detriment of children who come
from families that can ill afford to receive an inferior education.
research institutions have studied the failure of public education to
raise the educational achievement levels of minority and low-income
students; yet policy makers have lent a deaf ear.
Johns Hopkins University conducted a study of Georgia Dropout Rates
and concluded that the high schools in Georgia's inner cities are "Drop-Out
Factories." They studied 142 schools in 78 counties and concluded
that for the three years (2005-2008), the targeted schools had drop-out
rates ranging from 39.6 to 89.8, with the average school having a drop-out
rate in excess of 50%. This statistic is unacceptable in
our society and is in dire need of amelioration.
our schools have become "mini-prisons" since the Columbine
incident in Colorado a few years ago. The students at Columbine
were majority white; however, the educational establishment cracked
down and hired Resource Officers (police officers) to work in many schools
in America. Therefore, children who are accused of misbehavior,
and were once sent to the Principal's office, now find themselves funneled
to Resource Officers, who cart them off to jail and thereby create the
beginning of a criminal justice system record that haunts the child
throughout his/her life. Moreover, recent research shows that
the overwhelming majority of students who receive these harsh penalties,
especially in the South, are African American boys.
of this point are data from the State of Georgia Department of Juvenile
Justice for the years 2006 to 2008 depicted below. This information
clearly shows that the “pipeline to prison” for too many
African American children begins in elementary school. The
data is from Fulton County, Georgia. It shows, by designated year,
the total number of young people who were placed in the Juvenile Justice
System, by race, during the respective years represented.
COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE (SUMMARY)
BLACK WHITE HISPANIC
1,192 2,941 60,054
2,284 3,657 64,772
3,328 3,049 62,394
has been written about the “pipeline to prison.” Of
equal concern, however is the paucity of African American students attending
formerly all-white institutions of higher learning. Although some
progress has been made in this area, much more needs to be done. We
reviewed data covering the entire State of Georgia, and found the same
on the university level, Georgia’s institutions were all segregated.
It was not until the fall of 1960 that the first two African Americans
integrated the University of Georgia. Although this event did
not result from the student movement, it seemed to indicate a change
in the right direction. Since then, state institutions of higher
education have been integrated, but in much smaller numbers than one
would expect. For example, in 2008, only 7% of the University
of Georgia, 6% of Georgia Tech, and 27% of Georgia State students were
is to fulfill its destiny as a great American city, it is incumbent
upon all to take the necessary steps to rectify the subtle and insidious
attitudes that continue to assign minority and poor students to an inferior
education that forever hinders their ability to participate in “the
American Dream.” We must eradicate
the toxins of low expectations, presumed inferiority, and the lack of
commitment and profound neglect that are consuming the lives of African
American children and depriving them of even a modicum of hope.
we, the veterans of the 1960’s Committee on “The Appeal
for Human Rights,” once again pledge to join those individuals
and groups who are committed to educational excellence for each student,
regardless of race or zip code; to help inspire students to develop
a sense of individual worth that will propel them to contribute positively
as concerned, responsible citizens of our global society.
Appeal noted that “Negroes are denied employment in the majority
of city, state, and federal governmental jobs, except in the most menial
capacities.” African Americans continue to be last hired,
first fired and suffer disproportionately during economic downturns.
Nevertheless, there have been substantial gains in African American
employment in several categories over the past 50 years, while, conversely,
there have been quantum gains in white employment opportunities.
However, despite increased employment opportunities, the income gap
between African Americans and whites continues to expand.
Atlanta’s African American population was 32 percent; however,
they were restricted to live on 16 percent of the land. Today,
the city is majority African American and federal law prohibits segregated
housing based on race. However, beginning in the late 1960’s
a major migration to the suburbs that included large numbers of whites
and middle to upper income African Americans changed Atlanta’s
racial demographics. The result of this migration has been de
facto segregation, which isolates poorer African American
in segregated enclaves.
economic downturn is turning working and middle class neighborhoods
into disaster areas because of foreclosures. However, other factors
that contribute to the rapid deterioration of low-income areas occupied
by African Americans is the failure by the municipal government to enact
single-occupancy zoning in those neighborhoods and the assignment of
far too many Section 8 residents only into African American communities.
Student Movement was one of the many movements that contributed to the
passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The “foot soldiers”
who marched for human rights in Atlanta and voting rights in Selma in
1965, were not all students, but many of them were. The spark that started
in North Carolina included young and old alike who were determined to
make this most basic of all changes: the right to vote without arbitrary
impediments imposed by government officials. The number
of African American elected and appointed officials in all sections
of the country, and at all levels of government, is one of the movement’s
legacies. This, of course, includes the election of Barack Obama
as President of the United States.
there was a prevailing feeling that the defeat of racist politicians,
who would be replaced by African Americans or enlightened whites, would
lead to more effective representation for the African American community.
Over the past 50 years, we have observed that far too many African American
elected and appointed officials, and many other progressive politicians,
have not worked aggressively for the underserved communities whose votes
helped elect them to office. In addition, in the State of Georgia,
over 400,000 African Americans are eligible to vote, but have failed
to do so. Thus, the full impact of the Voting Rights Act has not
yet been realized.
Appeal noted that hospitals were as racially segregated as all other
aspects of society. Today, Atlanta has become a regional hub for medical
care that can be used by all. The poor, largely minority population
continues to be underserved, even if patients can no longer be turned
away by race. The issue now is universal access to health care.
Should the current attempt in Washington, D. C. to provide universal
health care to most Americans fail, the city and the nation will be
Appeal identified “grave inequalities in the area of law enforcement.”
The number of African American police officers was reported to be a
total of 32. That number has undergone a quantum shift. The district
attorney, judges and other court officers do reflect the ethnic make-up
of the city. Despite these changes, there is a continuing struggle with
crime and police brutality. There are a disproportionate number of African
American young males who make up the majority of the prison population,
both in Georgia and throughout the nation. In 1954, according
to the United States Department of Justice,
of all prisoners in the United States were African American. By
2006, that number had increased to 48 percent, and in the old States
of the Confederacy, African Americans, mostly men, averaged over 60
percent of the total prison population.
to some reports, Georgia has the highest percentage of African Americans
in prison in the entire United States. The cost of educating a child
averages 9,000 dollars per year. The average cost of incarceration is
50,000 dollars per year. These data lend credence to the notion that
America seems to prefer incarceration to education in its treatment
of African American citizens, many of whom have fought for this country.
Those who are younger are being deprived of the opportunity to contribute
their talents and creativity toward the betterment of their communities.
review of the 1960 Appeal reveals just how far we have come and how
much further we need to travel. There has been substantial amelioration
of the concerns outlined by the students from 1960. The tone and environment
the students helped create shaped legislation addressing fair housing,
voting rights, and employment. We joined with students from throughout
the nation to gain access to all public accommodations and move this
nation towards ridding itself of preaching democracy and freedom for
all, while denying it to millions of its citizens. By so doing,
we were simply building on all the efforts made by others who fought
for civil and human rights throughout American history.
and “white” signs have come down, but enemies of full democracy
are alive and well. For example, our current President of the
United States is African American; however, he has the dubious distinction
of being the only President in history to have over 100 plus nominees
held up by one Senator from Alabama for approximately a year.
Usually, a president is given the right to choose his aides, regardless
of party, barring issues of moral turpitude or dubious background.
has come a long way since 1960, towards extending the umbrella of freedom
to those citizens who had historically been denied; however, a critical
analysis of today’s environment will demonstrate to the reasonable
person that all is still not well and that much more requires our diligent
action. The forces opposed to full freedom for peoples of color have
not yielded one iota. Therefore, the current generation of students
and people who believe that America should practice what it preaches,
must not rest on accomplishments achieved over the past 50 years.
Instead, the current generation must arm itself intellectually to non-violently
battle those forces who seek to turn back the clock to pre-1960, and
reinstate an America wherein the beacon of freedom will not burn for
people of color.
Atlanta Student Movement of the 1960s can offer anything to present
day activists, it is this: When you become involved in a mission that
is more important than your own personal safety, you are changed forever,
and you may also change the world. Although the challenges you encounter
may differ from those we faced, the process you go through will be similar
to ours: develop a common goal, articulate that goal, join with others
in pursuit of that goal, and persevere to the end in the pursuit of
“liberty and justice for all.”