Before the Balance of the Nation
“But the most important thing about our city, with its natural advantages, as the great southern regional capital and center of south eastern trade and commerce, is its good name and its image before the balance of the nation. In this electronic and jet age, no place, no people, and no set of officials can escape the eye and ear of the balance of the world. Nor can they escape their responsibilities as citizens of that world...
Atlanta's mature and friendly approach to the problems of racial change has earned for us the respect of the nation. Our leadership has enabled others in the South to do likewise. As the great branch office and regional center of the south, Atlanta's nerves and blood vessels extend all over the nation. To have adopted any other course than racial progress and harmony would have been doubly tragic for us...
Atlanta's peaceful school desegregation before the eyes of the whole nation was our finest hour. Our great airport terminal, which is our front door, and open to all, regardless of race, color or creed, is evidence to the world of the fact that here is a city which means to be a proud part of the great nation which we must support. Regardless of our personal feelings or past habits, we are living in a changing world, and to progress, Atlanta must be a part of that world.”
Editor’s Note: On June 7, 1961, Hartsfield announced he would not seek reelection following more than 30 years of leading the city of Atlanta. The above excerpt comes from his last address as mayor to the city council in January 1962 before his successor, Ivan Allen, officially took office. In his address, Hartsfield discussed the many ways he witnessed Atlanta progress not only as an economic center for trade and employment but also as a model of peaceful desegregation in the South.