49/51 School Integration

African American students integrated Atlanta high schools on August 30, 1961.

After Brown v. Board of Education, an NAACP suit against the City of Atlanta in 1958 provided the catalyst. The integration process was carefully orchestrated to provide a positive representation of the city. The smooth integration process was the result of months of planning by the Organizations Assisting Schools in September (OASIS), a biracial coalition of four dozen community groups.

On September 8, 1961, Time Magazine reported:

Last week the moral siege of Atlanta (pop. 487,455) ended in spectacular fashion with the smoothest token school integration ever seen in the Deep South. Into four high schools marched nine Negro students without so much as a white catcall. Teachers were soon reporting “no hostility, no demonstrations, the most normal day we’ve ever had.” In the lunchrooms, white children began introducing themselves to Negro children. At Northside High, a biology class was duly impressed when Donita Gaines, a Negro, was the only student able to define the difference between anatomy and physiology…

Cover Image: Martha Ann Holmes, one of the first African American students at Murphy High School, meets with school officials inside Murphy High School on the day the school was integrated, 1961.

Images: Courtesy of Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center, Bill Wilson Photographs


Organized by Mayor William B. Hartsfield with business leaders, politicians, educators, and civic organizations, Atlanta’s peaceful integration received national publicity, earning the city a reputation for progressivism and moderation.

Next: 50 Railroads.

Through the 1850s, Atlanta grew from a railroad junction to a burgeoning regional center.