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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Grace Towns Hamilton, July 19, 1974. Interview G-0026. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Exposing inequalities of education for the Atlanta Urban League

Hamilton discusses her work with the Atlanta Urban League. Hamilton was director of the League from approximately 1943 to 1960; here, she focuses on some of the work she did with the League schools for African Americans during that time period regarding. In particular, she describes how the League worked to establish a Board of Education and conducted an investigation to expose the inequalities and needs of African American schools in Atlanta.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Grace Towns Hamilton, July 19, 1974. Interview G-0026. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
So when did you move back to Atlanta?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
We came back to Atlanta in '43.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And that's when you became director of the Urban League?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
No. I didn't do anything for year but take a course with Dr. De Bois and a course with Irene. Then the YWCA asked me if I'd come and join… do a special half-time job, again, with the national YWCA staff. And I did. And then in… after I'd been doing that about six months, the Atlanta Urban League asked me if I would come and be their director. And I did. that the Board of Education announced that they were planning for the post-war school construction, the bond issue that they proposed to float. And they were going to spend twelve million on the white schools and one million on the Negro schools. This was just announced that way. So we, the board, we decided that the first way to launch an effort was to do this very careful analysis of the needs of the Negro schools. Which we did, and published it. And then we organized a Citizen's Committee for Public Education. And tried to make the information from the study widely disseminated over the community, with the objective to force the Board of Education to make a difference in its bond issue. That committee was organized with the decision that it would just be in existence for a year, because of, you know,… And we had great help. J. Walter Thompson had a friend that was one of the directors of J. Walter Thompson, and he offered to help prepare, you know, the wide public… what we called public education material. And then got all kinds of groups in Atlanta at least exposed to the material. I guess that's how I learned about how to be… the impact that you can make on public bodies if enough people really know what it is they…
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you succeed in getting the Board of Education … ?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
Yeah. They finally… the final decision on the bond issue was an issue of ten million I think split half and half. Maybe six million for white and four for colored schools. And then the efforts of the people that were involved in that really became the first group of plaintiffs in the Atlanta school suit.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, really?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
Some of them. Of course, they and their children were probably, oh… the original plaintiffs have long since grown and… but…
JACQUELYN HALL:
While you were working on trying to get equal appropriations for black schools, was it also being talked about and planned for…
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
Well, one thing leads to another, you see, when you… The strategies of people that have carried… The NAACP has nationally carried the … and has been most responsible for all the work on schools, integration. And their strategy, and I guess everybody's, was to press for equality. And then when it was quite clear, as time moved along … In fact, even the basis for the school suit … I can't even remember back… of course, we were not directly involved in it by then, because we had no way of doing the … except to be supportive of the NAACP. And the original suit … you see, it was long … I guess it was filed … the original Atlanta suit must have been filed even before 1954, when the national school decision came down. But I'm not clear about what … when the basis changed.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who … what was the pressure on the school board that caused them to change their minds? The general … the press coverage?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
Press coverage and people coverage of the extent of inequality.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was their pressure from the white community as well as the…
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
Certainly. How else would it have ever gotten it changed? Negros have never… I mean, our effort was to expose to the total community, the tax-paying citizens of the city, the needs of the Negro schools. The Board of Education certainly didn't do it, you know. Wouldn't do it. And it was bad enough for everybody to begin to feel badly. And so there was much … At least, enough to make them change their mind.