Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Chamber chief: Racial reconciliation bred ATL business boom

While other Southern cities such as Birmingham and New Orleans suffered highly-publicized racial conflicts during the civil rights era of the 1960’s, Atlanta integrated its restaurants and schools with relative peace.

“No one knew which of these three cities was going to win the economic battle of the South,” said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. “But an important source of Atlanta’s ultimate victory came out of the leadership of this biracial business community.”

Williams addressed the Buckhead Rotary Club as it presented its annual Robert Ross Johnson Humanitarian Award to Jesse Hill, who was instrumental in the peaceful integration Williams credits with Atlanta’s economic boom.

As an executive and later CEO of Atlanta Life Insurance and leader in the NAACP, Hill acted as intermediary between other civil rights leaders and wary white businessmen. He also advised President Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and many of the South’s first black elected officials.

In this podcast, Williams explains how white business leaders came to understand “the civil rights movement was about customers, employees and making money.” Introduction by Jim Breedlove.