“Working for Freedom: Documenting Civil Rights Organizations” is a collaborative project between Emory University's Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, The Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, and The Robert W. Woodruff Library of Atlanta University Center to uncover and make available previously hidden collections documenting the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta and New Orleans. The project is administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources with funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Each organization regularly contributes blog posts about their progress.
August 30 marks 50 years since nine black students transferred to white Atlanta high schools. The NAACP filed its first lawsuit, Calhoun v. Latimer, against the Atlanta public school system in 1958, four years after Brown v. Board of Education. In 1959, U.S. District Court Judge Frank Hooper declared Atlanta’s segregated public schools unconstitutional and ordered the system to file a desegregation plan by December 1959 to be implemented in 1960. If schools did not integrate, they would lose federal funding and be forced to close.
During his 1958 gubernatorial campaign, Ernest Vandiver Jr. promised to maintain school segregation. The Georgia legislature formed the Sibley Commission to assess the views of Georgia residents. Though 60 percent endorsed maintaining segregation, Sibley’s report to the legislature recommended accepting Judge Hooper’s decision but included ways to avoid full integration. Before approval of the plan, the federal government forced Governor Vandiver to allow two black students to attend the University of Georgia, which paved the way for public school integration.
The NAACP Atlanta Branch worked with the community to desegregate the public schools. In 1961, they wrote announcements for radio stations and newspapers, held meetings, and worked directly with parents and students to fill out transfer applications. They documented students’ names, schools, and reasons for requesting a transfer. Nine black students entered white schools on August 30, 1961.