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In contrast to the violence, "massive resistance," "interposition," and similar moves of desperation which have characterized Little Rock, New Orieans, and Oxford, the progress of desegregation in Atlanta, Ga., has offered some hope that the South can move towards racial justice with peace and moderation.
Bruce M. Galphin, a reporter on race relations for the Atlanta Constitution, gave a journalist's view Wednesday of the forces and events which distinguished Atlanta from the more explosive chapters in desegregation history, before the Lowell House Forum on the South.
Currently studying as a Nieman Fellow at the University, Galphin emphasized that the press has unique opportunities to pave and smooth the path to improved race relations. In this respect, the Constitution has been one of the most responsible papers in the South.
One of the keys to the success of the Atlanta desegregation move, Galphin observed, was that the public had been prepared for change by the city's press and by its leading groups and figures. In contrast, the "voices of reason and moderation" were rarely heard in New Orleans because the city's papers failed to "provide a forum for liberal voices." New Orleans' business and civic leaders, as well as the local papers, all "played ostrich and hoped that the problem would go away," said Galphin.
The southern journalist noted significant advances which have been made "not because Georgia is a particularly liberal state, but simply because it has felt the tide of inevitable change." More and more, southern attitudes are chang- ing because "the people are being told that change is coming," said Galphin. They see the change in the events that are occurring and they feel in it their own hearts.
Along with the desegregation of Atlanta's schools, lunch counters, and other public facilities, Galphin noted that Georgia itself has seen in the last year the abolishment of the county-unit system of primary voting. The system for years enabled staunch segregationists to be elected by favoring the rural counties over the more liberal urban vote. This summer, combined statewide vote tabulations resulted in the selection of the moderate Carl Sanders as the Democratic gubernatorial candidate over the radical segregationist Marvin Griffin.
In addition, the state this year reapportioned its Senate districts. As a result, a Negro was elected as one of seven Senators from Atlanta's Fulton County, the first Negro since 1908 to be elected to the state legislature. "It is interesting," noted Galphin, "that the Senate floor will be desegregated before the galleries."
Galphin declared that the segregationist's cry that "legal decrees and court orders do not change the minds and hearts of men" is slowly being proven untrue, with such forces as the sit-ins stimulating a growing "social conscience" on the part of whites.
Although young Negroes have sometimes regarded the sit-ins as a panacea. Galphin said that the "sit-ins have had their effect in that the Negro will never again let segregation go unchallenged." The sit-ins have proved the bankruptcy of that white myth that "good Negroes really don't want integration," he stated.
Describing the experience of seeing the terrified expressions of the Negro children who attempted to enter a New Orleans school in the face of a hateful mob, Galphin said that he is convinced that such conscience-provoking incidents are having their effect in the "changing attitudes and behavior of the South.
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