“I don’t give a damn what [Governor] Griffin or anyone else said. I refuse to see Georgia go through another period of ignorance. People have asked me why I got in this school fight and I’m not ashamed to tell you. I am the son of a father and mother who saw Reconstruction. Sherman’s troops destroyed all that my father’s family had. My father was in school when they were closed. He came to Atlanta ignorant and uneducated because they had no schools. I don’t want to see another generation grow up under such a handicap.”
Editor’s Note: The excerpt above comes from a speech Hartsfield gave to a meeting of the Atlanta Kiwanis Club, a volunteer organization. In this speech, Hartsfield criticized Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin for his order to close Georgia schools instead of following the federal law to integrate. Despite Governor Griffin’s order, Hartsfield was determined that Atlanta schools would remain open and integrate peacefully. Hartsfield worked closely with Atlanta Police Chief Herbert Jenkins to ensure that when Atlanta schools integrated, they did so without the outbreaks of violence other southern cities witnessed.
In September 1961, four formerly all-white Atlanta high schools were integrated including Murphy High School and Northside High School. Hartsfield ordered a police task force be assigned to protect each school and prevent anyone who was not a student or employee from entering school grounds. The peaceful integration of Atlanta public schools gave weight to his claim that Atlanta was a “city too busy to hate.”