APPEAL FOR HUMAN RIGHTS v II

This document published by the AUC Digest Online as a public service.

Forty years ago, on March 9, 1960, the students of the six member institutions in the Atlanta University Center ( Atlanta University, Clark College, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College, Spelman College, and the Interdenominational Theological Center) published an advertisement in the Atlanta newspapers entitled “An Appeal for Human Rights”. The “Appeal” protested the devastating effect of racial segregation in the areas of education, employment, housing, voting rights, hospital access, public accommodations, and law enforcement. This document alerted the citizens of Atlanta of the students’ determination to seek immediate change. Joined by people of goodwill from throughout the city and the nation, the Atlanta Student Movement launched the sit-in protest campaign, which eventually led to the end of legalized segregation in places of public accommodation.

While acknowledging the significant social and political gains of the past four decades...
we find that there remains much work still to be done in order to remove the final vestiges of years of institutionalized racism and prejudice. For while segregation under-girded by law no longer exists, economic and social justice for all is not yet a reality and the access made possible by desegregation has not ended systemic racial inequities. In the year 2000, we are witnessing a resurgence of racial bigotry and the withdrawal of remedies designed to redress past wrongs. Economic power for African Americans remains an elusive goal, especially for the entrenched underclass, still mired in grinding poverty.

We are on the threshold of a new millennium that will be characterized not only by global interdependence and structural economic change, but also by greater racial and cultural diversity. Metropolitan Atlanta is much more culturally diverse today than in 1960 as a result of the arrival of large numbers of Asian, Hispanic and other ethnic groups. It is also important to recognize that an estimated 86% of the new entrants into the U. S. labor force by 2010 will be non-white. The structural changes in the economy and the transition to a post-industrial, knowledge-based society in America makes the elevation of the African American underclass even more imperative. These current realities make racial discrimination a luxury our nation can no longer afford, as we face economic challenges from China, Japan, the European Union, and other nations.

At the dawn of the 21st century, we, the veterans of the 1960 Atlanta Student Movement, along with the current student leaders of Clark-Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College, and Spelman College join our hearts and minds in issuing a “Second Appeal for Human Rights”. We affirm our commitment to uphold the inherent dignity of all people. We protest injustice and call upon the citizens and leaders of all races in the Metropolitan Atlanta to create a shining example of progress and racial harmony in the United States.

The following are some of our concerns:

EDUCATION
In the 1960s, the struggle for equal education centered on the fight to integrate the public school system. Today, the fight must be refocused. In 1960, the population of Atlanta was 62 percent white. Since that time, as a result of “white flight”, the white population of Atlanta has declined by 64 %. Today, Atlanta’s population is 68% minority, and over 80% of the children who attend public schools in Atlanta are African American, Hispanic American or Asian American. The Atlanta public school system suffers from comparatively low-test scores, under-enrollment in college preparatory courses, inadequate career and vocational guidance, and high dropout rates at the high school level.

Georgia has demonstrated only marginal success in improving African American student enrollment in higher education during the past four decades. Although African Americans represented 32.3% of the college age population in Georgia in 1996, only 7.1% of these students were enrolled in the flagship institution, the University of Georgia in Athens. Moreover, only 3% of the students in three historically black state colleges and universities are white. In large measure, a de facto segregated public school system (PreK-12) and higher education continues to exist in Atlanta and the State of Georgia.

We welcome the commitment of the Governor of the State of Georgia, his Education Commission, and the Georgia General Assembly to improve education.

ECONOMICS AND HOUSING
Since 1970, structural changes in the economy of Metropolitan Atlanta have led to a major shift of manufacturing, warehousing and retailing jobs away from the city to the outlying suburbs. At the same time, there has been an increase in managerial, professional and higher skill service employment in the city. The negative effect of this transformation has been exacerbated by the limited public transportation between the city and its suburbs. Still, there is great disparity in the wealth of Atlanta’s African American and white populations. According to 1994 data, the median wealth of white families was more than 7 times that of African American families.

According to a recent report by Fannie Mae, a federally funded housing agency, white neighborhoods receive four times as many mortgage loans as do African American neighborhoods. The barriers to commercial credit play no small part in relegating African Americans to the status of consumers rather than producers of goods and services. Regardless of the capital window through which access is sought, African Americans continue to face higher standards, receive smaller loans, suffer substantially higher loan denials and then pay higher interest rates when loans are granted. Several studies undertaken by the Federal Reserve in the 1980’s proved that African Americans in the Atlanta metropolitan area experienced discriminatory lending practices and “red-lining” by local banks. These practices are as untenable today as they were forty years ago.

We must also acknowledge the distressing problem of homelessness and sub-standard housing existing in the midst of affluence and plenty. We submit that solutions can and must be found.

TRANSPORTATION
Since 1960, the Atlanta Metropolitan Area has added 2 million new residents, making it the 11th most populated urban area in the United States. Seventy percent of the nearly 650,000 people that have moved into the 10-county Atlanta region since 1990 live north of 1-20, the area that has attracted the largest increase in jobs and highway expenditures. Extraordinary spending on road construction, with only a comparatively modest investment in public transportation outside of Fulton and DeKalb Counties, has created an absolute reliance on the automobile. As a result, Atlanta is congested and has intolerable levels of air pollution. According to a report on a study by the Brookings Institution in Washington, “There is a ‘stark divide’ between the northern ‘haves’ and their less fortunate brethren to the south, a growing schism that threatens the region’s economic, social, and racial foundation, and only a more equitable, geographically balanced level of growth will keep the Atlanta region from choking on its success.”

The MARTA system serves only Fulton and Dekalb counties and 75% of its riders are African American. While the highest concentration of African Americans live in Fulton and DeKalb counties, more than 50% of the metropolitan area’s jobs are outside of these two counties. The MARTA system does not service suburban areas and only a limited number of African American urban poor own cars. This mismatch between where most African Americans live and where most new jobs are being created is especially punishing on families trying to leave the welfare rolls.

It is projected that the Atlanta metropolitan region will spend $36 billion over the next 25 years on transportation improvements. It is imperative that the problems mentioned above become a high priority on the agenda of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and other transportation agencies.

POLITICAL EMPOWERMENT
In 1960, throughout the South, voting rights discrimination against African Americans resulted in denial of that crucial right to many of our citizens. Many people suffered and some died in the struggle to gain the right to vote. Their sacrifices laid the groundwork for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yet, in Atlanta, low voter turnout for elections in the African American community continues to be a problem. For example, in November of 1997 only 37% of African Americans registered to vote in Atlanta cast their ballots in the municipal election. Another concern is the number of African Americans who are not registered, or if registered, simply stay at home on election day. We deplore this under-utilization of a privilege won through untold sacrifice. The cure to these ills, where they exist, is greater involvement in the political process by the African American electorate and greater accountability by public office holders.

In spite of the recent trends towards voter apathy, African Americans hold high level political positions in city, county, state, and national government. For example, in Atlanta, an African American has held the office of mayor since 1974. Currently, African Americans represent almost 20% of the elected officials in the Georgia General Assembly, and hold a majority of the seats on the Atlanta City Council and the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. This trend is encouraging, but does not represent in any real sense the true capacity of the African American community in Atlanta, or in Georgia, to participate in determining its own destiny in a democratic society.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND PUBLIC SAFETY
Between 1978 and 1996, the prison population in the United States more than tripled from 500,000 to 1.8 million. The tripling of the incarceration of non-violent offenders during that period, resulted largely from the heavy enforcement of drug possession laws. African Americans and Hispanics are more often subjected to police brutality, suffer from racial disparity in sentencing, and tend to be more heavily impacted by the “get-tough-on-crime” laws requiring life terms without parole, mandatory minimum sentences and “two-strikes-you-are-out” laws. In addition, as a result of economic factors, large numbers of African Americans and Hispanic Americans are more dependent upon public defenders who have heavy case loads.

The State of Georgia has one of the largest prison populations in the world. Moreover, the criminal justice system of Georgia has failed to ensure that all prisoners serve appropriate and equitable periods of incarceration. Some other troubling facts are:

Atlanta has the highest crime rate, as well as, the highest proportion of residents living below poverty of all cities of comparable size.

Although African Americans represent around 30% of the population of Georgia, they account for nearly 70% of the inmate population.

African Americans represent 68% of the prisoners in Georgia serving life sentences without parole, as compared to 32% for whites.

The majority of the prisoners on death row are African Americans and Hispanics.

Police brutality and racial profiling against African Americans in Atlanta and the nation are common and rarely punished. These incidents are seldom publicized except for high profile cases.

Widespread violence in Atlanta and the nation, in homes, religious institutions, schools, and work places, constitutes a serious public health problem. The African American Community tends to be disproportionately affected by this violence.

All citizens should be concerned about the conditions discussed above. It is well known that crimes against persons and property in our society are committed in large measure by persons without education, without economic security, and without hope. The resulting costs to society for systems of protection, policing, apprehension, adjudication, and incarceration, far exceed the reasonable cost of investment in the uplift of these citizens.

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
Even though Affirmative Action programs have proven to be the most effective remedy used to address racial inequities following the civil rights movement, support for Affirmative Action is eroding across the nation. Far more than thirty years of remediation are required in order to lessen the impact of 250 years of slavery and 100 years of racial segregation. The recall of Affirmative Action will create a grave setback in efforts to achieve parity in this nation.

As a progressive community, we must not lose sight of the magnitude of the problems created by years of second-class citizenship. It is unreasonable to assume that the recovery will take only a fraction of the time that the sickness was allowed to fester. Atlanta, “the city too busy to hate”, must become pro-active in addressing these issues. Benign neglect is not acceptable.

The above are some of the most egregious concerns confronting the Atlanta community in general and the African American community in particular. There are others, including the state of health of African Americans, the under-representation and stereotypical treatment of African Americans in the media, and the limited representation of African Americans in the information technology industry.

THE CHALLENGE
Over the past 40 years, some of the achievements of the city of Atlanta have been remarkable. People from all over the world look to Atlanta as an example of an exciting, progressive city enhanced by its cultural diversity. Nowhere are the human resources richer or more capable of addressing intransigent problems than in the city of Atlanta.

In past years, we, as African Americans, have resisted the assaults against our persons, our dignity, our rights, our liberties and our very survival through resolute solidarity among our community groups and institutions. We must do so now again. We must commit our intellect and energies across lines of geography, age, sex, economic and social station in order to secure for all citizens the guarantees of the United States Constitution.

We, the veterans of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, and the student leaders of today, beseech the citizenship and leaders of Atlanta, and the academic community, to develop plans to address problems which impede the full realization of the promise of equality for all Atlanta citizens. These plans should focus on creating equitable opportunities for citizens of the underclass. Specifically, we call upon the Mayor of Atlanta and the Governor of Georgia, in conjunction with the County Commissioners in Metropolitan Atlanta, to convene a Commission consisting of educators, students, corporate leaders, elected officials, representatives of faith-based communities, civic leaders, and youth. This Commission must examine the myriad of issues confronting the underclass and recommend policies that will enable these citizens to receive all benefits of full citizenship in the city of Atlanta, the State of Georgia and the United States of America.

Veterans:
Carolyn Long Banks, Robert Felder,
Marion Bennett, Frank Holloway,
Charles A. Black, Lonnie C. King, Jr.,
Wilma Long Blanding,
Gwendolyn Harris Middlebrooks, Anne R. Borders-Patterson, Daniel B. Mitchell, Herschelle Sullivan Challenor, Johnny E. Parham, Jr., Julius E. Coles,
Roslyn Pope, Morris J. Dillard, Frank Smith, Lydia Tucker Douglas,
Mary Ann Smith Sumrall, James Felder

Current Students:
Sean Gardner
President, SGA, Clark Atlanta University

J.C. Love
President - SGA, Morehouse College

Charles S. Barlow
Executive Internal Vice President - SGA, Morris Brown College

Geneice R. Davis
President - SGA, Spelman College