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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 >>

Measuring race progress in Georgia's government

Samuels describes her effort to place portraits of prominent African Americans in the Georgia capitol in hopes of creating an atmosphere more welcoming to black visitors.

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

WALTER DE VRIES:
Would you measure that in terms of . . .as part of the progress since 1971?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well . . .well, now, what do you mean by 1971?
WALTER DE VRIES:
Well, since the Council was established.
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
It took that long to get those things accomplished. The portrait didn't go up until the first of this year, but, I mean, that was a project that had to be worked on and, you know, and . . .
JACK BASS:
When did that idea originally come? That's what I . . .that was my question. Was it your idea originally to get Martin Luther King's portrait hanging in the capitol?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well, I just said to the Governor that I thought that Martin Luther King's portrait should go up in the capitol and I'd like for him to think about it and give me an answer. I didn't push him for any answer, and I didn't get an answer the first time I asked him about it.
JACK BASS:
When did you first mention it to him?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
March of last year.
JACK BASS:
And then when did you hear . . .when did you bring it up again?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well . . .
JACK BASS:
Or did you bring it up . . .
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well, see, I meet with the Governor in the weekly staff meetings every Monday morning. And I guess maybe two or three months passed. And he . . .I put in in the form of a memorandum, and he had not responded. And so I asked him and he said he thought he answered and I . . . I . . . you know, the memo had got lost. But he just said he'd be more than glad to do it, but that he thought it would be more important to put up more than one black portrait, that maybe we should be . . . put up more. And that it probably be best to establish a committee and have a committee make recommendations to him and then he would choose. And that was the way we did it. Which took a lot of time. It took about four months.
WALTER DE VRIES:
What was your rationale for hanging the portrait? What was your argument for it?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
The state capitol was paid for with tax money and it was not just white tax money. And that, I mean, there's nothing in the capitol that black people relate to. Blacks don't come here to have any kind of meetings at all. A group of blacks came here following the Attica situation in New York, or wherever Attica happened, and it was a group of Atlanta University students. They came up here during the session, and they wanted to have a meeting upstairs. And when the Governor's office was contacted, they said a group of blacks are on their way over here to take over a room. And before they got here, all the state troopers were here. Now, the Governor, you know, sent the troopers away, because he just felt that they have as much right to use a meeting room in the state capitol than any other group. And all the time you see blacks coming, they are not coming to riot, you know. They're coming to have a meeting. And . . .and, I mean, if you act like you get scared every time you see them coming, then, you know, something is wrong. But I'm just saying that I think that it was a . . . I still think that it's important that where they have the information booths in the state capitol, they should have both black and white staff working from behind those booths. Where they have elevator operators operating the elevators inside the capitol, they should have both black and white doing that.
JACK BASS:
Do you have black pages?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
The only blacks that you see in the state capitol are the blacks that keep up the grounds or the gardening, and the maids that you see working in the restrooms, and the porters that you see running [errands].you can't have that kind of . . .
JACK BASS:
And you have legislators.
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well, but you don't see legislators until during the session.
JACK BASS:
During the session, are there black pages in both the house and the senate?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Since I been working here. The first year I came there was not one.