Atlanta Stakes Cradle Claim

A recent column in The Atlanta Constitution could instruct Montgomery political leaders on the value of our city’s history. Writing in her column, Cynthia Tucker, that paper’s editorial page editor, called upon Atlanta’s Mayor Maynard Jackson and the consultant he hired, Olympic marketeer, Joel Babbit, to use the slogan “Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement” to sell Atlanta as the city gears up for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Atlanta, as well as other cities in the south, certainly played a role in the civil rights movement, but the claim as “cradle” is not credible.

It is true that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the man most often recognized as the Father of the civil rights movement, was born in Atlanta. It’s wrong, however, for Atlanta to lay claim to the slogan based on “place of birth” criterion. If this method of claiming history is valid, Kentucky can claim Illinois’s “Land of Lincoln” slogan or for that matter Jefferson Davis’ Elkton, Kentucky birthplace could lay claim to Montgomery’s other famous “cradle” slogan.

Atlanta’s Place Called Unique

In support of Atlanta’s claim, Ms Tucker says Atlanta’s unique place in the history of the civil rights movement is real. This statement begs the question. . . what historic events took place in Atlanta during the civil rights movement that warrant the “cradle” metaphor? None. This movement was born December 1, 1955 when Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus so that a white passenger could sit in it. Montgomerians suffered through the bus boycott. The individuals who attended and nurtured the movement in the early days following its “birth” were all Montgomerians.

Following Mrs. Parks arrest, E.D. Nixon along with Clifford and Virginia Durr, all Montgomerians, arranged for her to get out of jail. Fred Gray and Clifford Durr, both Montgomery lawyers, defended Mrs. Parks in a Montgomery court. Professor Jo Ann Robinson printed the handbill calling for the bus boycott. She taught English at Alabama State University. It was five days after Mrs. Parks arrest, during a mass meeting, on the evening of December 5th, that Rufus Lewis nominated Dr. King, the then 26 year old Atlanta-born minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to lead the boycott. Any claim by Atlanta to the slogan on historical grounds is simply not valid.

It is true that the civil rights movement matured in Atlanta. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization at the forefront of the movement, is headquartered in Atlanta. So instead of a claim of “cradle” which signifies a birth, let Atlanta be the “nursery” of the civil rights movement.

The fact that 2.8 million tourists annually visit Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Historic District is noteworthy, but that’s not a reason to relocate the “Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement” from its present location at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. The Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and Dr. King’s birth place are both praiseworthy memorials to this great American. No less can be said of both the Montgomery church that bears the King name and The Civil Rights Memorial located in the next block which honors King and 39 other fallen heroes of the civil rights movement. Thousands of tourists visit these historic places in Montgomery as well as nearly two dozen other sites. . . more sites than any other city. . .identified with the civil rights movement.

In her column, Ms. Tucker writes “Our history and our vision of building on that history. . . are certainly something to be proud of.” She says “Atlanta won the right to host the 1996 Games by capitalizing on that history.” In fact, according to her statements, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young shanghaied this aspect of Montgomery’s historical heritage and marketed it to the International Olympic Committee delegates as Atlanta’s own. The former mayor used Montgomery’s history and painted a picture for the Olympic Committee delegates of Atlanta as a place where opportunity is not restricted by color or class. This factor, more than any other, influenced the decision of non-white delegates on the Committee to schedule the 1996 Games at Atlanta.

The positive economic impact that the Olympic Games will have upon Atlanta’s economy speaks to another issue.. . the city’s image. Atlanta, like most urban areas, has problems of poverty, unemployment, AIDS and the various problems facing other cities. One difference between Atlanta and Montgomery is image, Atlanta markets itself as a city committed to Dr. King’s vision. . . opportunity not restricted by race or class. . . and that image has positive economic value in today’s world as compared to other local historical imagery.

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Originally Published: 4 November 1992, Montgomery Advertiser

© Copyright – Major W. Cox and Montgomery Advertiser.

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