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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Rita Jackson Samuels, April 30, 1974. Interview A-0077. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Lack of government commitment to racial diversity in Georgia

Samuels doubts that many government department heads are committed to hiring more minorities, but she believes that the Governor's Council has spurred awareness of the need to create affirmative action programs. A portrait of Martin Luther King that hangs in the capitol building is a symbol of the state's racial progress, Samuels believes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Rita Jackson Samuels, April 30, 1974. Interview A-0077. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Well, you know, I'm not so impressed with Affirmative Action planning, because while you are designing Affirmative Action plans, you might have three vacancies next week. And, you know, unless you are committed to promoting females and trying to bring minorities . . .and I mean to . . . you know, the law states that you have to deal with minorities, but I'm concerned with black people, so I need to, you know, let you know that. I'm not . . .but you know, I don't think that there are very many department heads in state government who are really committed and want to make change as far as employees are concerned. The state Highway Department - the new name of the re-organization is Transportation Department - have some 9,000 employees statewide, and they have one black at a payrate of 18. Just one. I mean, now, when you look at things like that and you go and talk with department heads . . . “cause I went and talked to a department head and I said, "I understand that in February you will have eighteen new vacancies, and ten of them are professional positions. Would you consider, you know, really doing an active recruitment effort to try and get some blacks in?" And he just completely avoided the question . But, now, that's not to say that it helps to have them . . .
JACK BASS:
When was that?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Oh, it must have been six months ago. It was before '74.
WALTER DE VRIES:
When did this Council start?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
In October, 1971.
WALTER DE VRIES:
'71?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Umh-hmm.
WALTER DE VRIES:
As you look back on that period, is there progress?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well, I happen to think that it is. I mean, the Governor's Council. You see, I refer to myself as the Governor's Council. And I think that I'm the reason . . .you know, it depends on what you mean about how much progress. In what areas are you talking about?
WALTER DE VRIES:
Well, I asked you what you think. Do you think there's been progress?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Oh, I . . .most definitely.
WALTER DE VRIES:
How do you measure it?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well, I measure it by department heads being aware that they are violating the law when they don't establish an Affirmative Action program, when they don't hire . . .when they don't establish an active recruitment program. I mean, at least they know it. When I first started working in the state government, they didn't even know that they were violating the law. Some of them really didn't know that, you know. And . . . and . . . and, you know . . . Martin Luther King's portrait is in the capitol, and the capitol is 84 years old and they never had a black portrait in the capitol before. And two others will go up before the end of this year.
WALTER DE VRIES:
How important is that portrait?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well, it's very important.
WALTER DE VRIES:
Why?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well, it's important because when I was in the sixth grade and high school and living in Forsyth, Georgia, which is fifty miles south from Atlanta, I visited the state capitol in a school group, and the same things that I saw in the capitol then, I see . . .I saw then. I mean, there's absolutely nothing in the state capitol building, including the employees - I'm the only black that ever had an office in the state capitol - that blacks could relate to. And if you don't see anything that you can relate to, you don't feel welcome, you don't feel like it's anything that's working for the benefit of whatever problems you might have. And I do think it's important. I think that when school groups visit the capitol - and the schools are integrated in Georgia now, and so you do have black and white kids coming at the same time - that black kids should be able to see something, not only that they can identify with, but something that they recognize. And I guarantee to you that nine kids out of ten made up of both black and white would recognize Martin Luther King's portrait before they would any other portrait in the capitol. With maybe the exception of Lester Maddox.
WALTER DE VRIES:
So hanging this portrait and your having an office here are symbolic of two important things.
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Oh, I think that it is. I really do.