|The Black scandal that rocked Atlanta; and the white Chamber of Commerce that covered it up|
There’s a possibly apocryphal story featuring longtime Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff—although the direction Atlanta took afterwards seems to confirm it.
In the early 1950s, in a smoke-filled room at the exclusive Piedmont Driving Club—the all-white club for the Atlanta WASP elite that Jay Gatsby couldn’t have bought his way into—Woodruff supposedly made an announcement: the Old South was dying. Integration was coming. There was no use resisting the end of segregation, Woodruff supposedly said. Capitalism must be colorblind—to ensure that Atlanta led the way for the “New South.”
Looking around the room, he asked that a vote be taken by public show of hands: those for integration, and those opposed.
The men who raised their hands in opposition had their names jotted down by one of Woodruff’s Coca-Cola flunkies.
Woodruff’s goal from that point forward: to ostracize them—to see that their businesses and commercial endeavors failed.
This story is unconfirmed. But it is indisputable that, for example, Woodruff strong-armed Atlanta’s white business community into attending (white) Mayor Ivan Allen’s banquet in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. upon King’s being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Realizing that if respectable Southern society didn’t attend, the national Main Stream Media would embarrass Atlanta, and, by extension Coca-Cola, Woodruff made it known through his subordinates that he favored the dinner. [For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, by Mark Pendergrast, p. 282.)
Woodruff and Atlanta’s white business elite aimed to stay wealthy by protecting the image of the city “too busy to hate”—fostering outside investment and attracting talent to staff the Fortune 500 companies that called the metro area home.
Secure in their upscale economic gated community, they simply did not care how inept and corrupt the black-ruled city of Atlanta became.
Six decades later, and almost forty years after the election of Atlanta’s first black mayor, the charade continues.
Exactly one year ago, it emerged that the very white Atlanta Chamber of Commerce was complicit in covering-up the very black Atlanta Public Schools (APS) cheating scandal—the systematic falsification of test results that involved teachers, principals and apparently even APS Superintendent Beverly Hall. Farcically, Hall had been named 2009 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education, largely after being hyped by over-eager white business leaders hoping to promote an image of Atlanta that would be inviting to outside investors.
The scandal had been first exposed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution and was finally confirmed in July 2011 by a special investigation ordered by Georgia’s then-Governor Sonny Perdue after he rejected the district’s own whitewashing report. (Investigation into APS cheating finds unethical behavior across every level, by Heather Vogeil, July 6, 2011. For more AJC coverage, see here)
Prior to Hall’s fall from grace, the Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta had been touting Superintendent Hall as the Superperson that black children had patiently waited for. white business leaders from Delta Airlines, Georgia Power, GE, UPS, Home Depot, and Coca-Cola all considered Hall a great investment who would help bridge that notorious “racial gap” in achievement—and, more importantly, continue Woodruff’s policy of keeping the pig that is Atlanta’s race relations slathered in lipstick.
In a devastating follow-up story, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Alan Judd showed the extraordinary lengths members of the respectable white community went to cover up the scandal:
In February 2010, some of Atlanta’s top business leaders realized they had a problem.
For a decade, they had aligned themselves with Beverly Hall, the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. They willingly accepted Hall’s story line of rebirth in an urban school system. They promoted and sometimes exaggerated Hall’s achievements — for her benefit and for their own.
State officials, though, were suggesting gains by Atlanta schools resulted from widespread cheating. Suddenly, the deal between Hall and the business community took on Faustian overtones.
The way business leaders responded underscores their complicity in creating the façade of success that hid a decade of alleged wrongdoing, an examination by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows…
The city’s chamber of commerce and another business group took control of the district’s investigation last year into irregularities on state-mandated tests. Executives at the Metro Atlanta Chamber set the parameters of the inquiry and largely selected the people who ran it. Later, they suggested ways to “finesse” the findings past the governor.
Business leaders published opinion pieces and letters to the editor defending Hall before cheating inquiries were complete; calls for the superintendent to resign, they said, could undermine the district’s progress. And just as they had lobbied almost a decade earlier to give the superintendent more autonomy from the Board of Education, this year they sought new power for the governor to remove recalcitrant board members.
A memo drafted by a chamber executive on Feb. 15 last year laid out the hazards that a cheating investigation might unloose:
“This issue has serious implications—on Dr. Hall’s reputation and career, for the principals and administrators who perhaps let lapses occur in testing procedures, and most importantly for the children who may be missing out on critical remediation,” said the memo, obtained recently by the AJC.
But, the document continued: “It also has implications on the business community, many of whom ... are heavy investors, and on the economic development community who touts the superintendent and school board’s recent awards as best in the nation”.(For more on how the white business community was complicit in hiding the embarrassingly black APS scandal: How biz community dealt with APS scandal by Maria Saporta, Atlanta Business Chronicle, July 15, 2011, and leftwing loony John Sugg’s The 'Atlanta Way' failed a generation of children: The city's business elite were complicit in Beverly Hall's con, Creative Loafing, July 20, 2012).
[Major execs invested in Hall, July 17, 2011]
The enrollment of APS is currently 79 percent black and 12 percent white. (Needless to say, the sons and daughters of Atlanta’s white elite going to private schools like Marist and Westminster). The teachers, school administrators, and principals behind the cheating scandal were virtually all black.
Read the rest here; comment on it at SBPDL.