Georgia, is located in the state’s upper Piedmont region,
sixty-five miles northwest of Atlanta and thirteen miles east of
the Alabama state
line. It was a busy, mid-sized city in 1960. Jim
Crow segregation of blacks and whites defined race
relations. Established earlier in the twentieth century, cotton
and rayon mills provided employment for most working-class whites.
Most African Americans made livings as domestics or laborers in
restaurants, schools and other institutions, foundries, factories,
or private homes.
Founded in 1834 at the confluence of three rivers, Rome had
grown to become an economic, social, cultural, educational, and
Boosters of the
“City of Seven Hills” sought to promote an Appalachian identity
for Rome--an identity that has too often been misunderstood as
meaning poor and white yet proud. This misperception contrasts to
some degree with Floyd
County’s history of commercial success and
wealth production based on the cotton trade.
For forty-four years, the history of the Civil
Rights Movement in Rome has remained largely untold.
On July 5, 2007, former student activists convened at The Rome
Area History Museum to document this history. Through
the efforts of contemporary Rome residents who recognize the importance
of historical preservation and commemoration, the student demonstrators
of 1963 reunited in this celebration to recognize and share their
untold civil rights stories. These adults offered themselves
as living proof in place of missing or incomplete records about
Movement activities in the city from the 1960s through the 1970s.
The Rome stories on these pages are an introduction to an underemphasized
civil rights history currently being researched by local historians.
Crow, African Americans could not attend
either all-white Berry or all-white Shorter colleges.
The small numbers of black men and women from the Rome area who
did attend college before the 1960s usually graduated from historically
black colleges or universities, such as Morehouse and Spelman colleges
in Atlanta, or Tuskegee
Talladega College in Alabama. Berry
College students and administrators took a lead
in integration efforts by initiating goodwill conversations about
race relations with students from the Atlanta
The 1963 integration of Rome's Carnegie Library
occurred without demonstrations of civil disobedience. When an
African American public-school student won an art contest
announced by the Carnegie staff, library administrators faced an
unforeseen problem because they had broadcasted that the winning
piece would be on display at the library. Since the library still
did not admit African Americans, the staff decided to showcase the
art in the small foyer leading to the double doors of the main library.
of downtown lunch counters, on the other hand, happened only because
of the efforts of local high-school students. Aided by Jewish Americans
who worked with faculty from Shorter
College, these activists
paved the way for African Americans in Rome to break color barriers
in employment opportunities, housing, city government, and education.
As early as the 1950s, Rome residents had challenged
Jim Crow laws by forming biracial coalitions to address civil rights.
In the wake of the Brown
v. Board Supreme Court decision, an
interracial group of ministers formed to address
the ongoing debate about school desegregation. Using
their pulpits and prayers, white clergy proved that
they were not afraid to dialogue with African Americans about relationships
between the races. Romans turned again to biracial
committees in the 1970s in order to improve race relations among
Labor unions that had grown strong
in Rome during the 1930s held their own in the 1960s. Despite conflicts
through the decades with owners and local management of mills and
factories, many members of the white working class were active in
local unions. Potentially
destructive pressures began to build within these unions during
the crisis over school
desegregation in the late 1950s and early
1960s, when southern organized labor resisted the social changes
that national organizations embraced.
In honor of those who had worked for opportunities
previously denied to African Americans, City Manager John Bennett
approved a proclamation to publicly commemorate the 1963 demonstrators
. On December 8, 2007, City Commissioner Anne Regis dedicated
the name "Freedom
a landscaped space adjacent to Rome's historic Carnegie Library.
The new Rome
Area History Museum showcases these stories in its
“Civil Rights Era” exhibition.
Laura Caldwell Anderson is the first scholar to have published research on Rome during the civil rights era. Her thesis, entitled "'We've Had a Peaceful Relationship Between the Races Here': Formation and Early Work of the Rome (Georgia) Council on Human Relations, 1959-1963" (University of Alabama, 1996), examines twentieth-century civil rights activities in Rome. Her first chapter describes the history of Rome that we have summarized here. See pages 17 - 22. Click Suggested Resources below for the complete citation information.
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Writers: Laura Caldwell Anderson and Lavada Dillard
Editors and Researchers: Ruta Abolins, Janet Byington, Laura
Caldwell Anderson, Christina L. Davis, Lavada Dillard, Mary Boyce Hicks,
Professor LeeAnn Lands, Russell McClanahan, Professor Barbara McCaskill,
and Pat Millican.
Web Site Designer: William Weems
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