January 19, 2018 - Vol. 1, Issue 18
Building the Wall:
Atlanta's Peyton Road Wall 11
Harold A. Dawson, Sr.
Dr. Clinton Warner
Myrtle Davis
“Racism is diabolic. Racism is dehumanizing. Racism is a sin. Racism is the Berlin Wall of America. Racism is America’s national sin.” 1

What is the nature of a wall?

Made notorious across the country as a physical manifestation of hate, the Peyton Wall was erected in Atlanta, Georgia in 1962. Notes David Andrew Harmon in Beneath the Image of the Civil Rights Movement and Race Relations: Atlanta, Georgia, 1946-1981 : “This physical barrier was to serve as a dividing line between African Americans and whites in the area by blocking two roads that connected Collier Heights, an African American middle-class neighborhood, with Peyton Forest. Reminiscent of the Berlin wall, residents began to refer to it as the Peyton Wall.” 2
Real estate tycoon and Atlanta native Harold A. Dawson, Sr. recalls that the wall was built to buffer white Atlantans from Collier Heights: “Our well-regarded mayor, Ivan Allen, Jr., actually agreed to put up a wall across Peyton Road to keep black families from going into Southwest Atlanta. Ultimately what happened is that, you know, the public pressure--and it became known on an international basis as, you know--the wall came down” 3 [Harold A. Dawson, Sr., THMDA 1.4.2].

Harry G. Lefever and Michael C. Page document this attempt at integration in Sacred Places: A Guide to the Civil Rights Sites in Atlanta, Georgia: “With many black families displaced from their neighborhoods by the building of Atlanta’s expressways and other downtown developments in the 1950s and early 1960s, and with a rapidly growing black middle class, black demand for decent housing was very high. As blacks expanded into the southwest quadrant of the city, they soon discovered the attractiveness of Peyton Forest and Cascade Heights. However, after only preliminary inquiries, prospective black buyers learned that the whites living there strongly opposed integration.” 4
Civil rights activist, surgeon and Atlanta native Dr. Clinton Warner integrated the all-white neighborhood of Peyton Forest. Protests from his white neighbors ultimately led to the wall’s construction: “They called it blockbusting, blockbusting then in a neighborhood, all kinds of defenses against blacks doing that. It just hadn’t been done on such a known scale. Anyway, when I bought the house he decided that he would put an end to this sort of thing by putting up a barricade in that I had to drive around, making it difficult for me to get to the house, and make it less appealing for others to buy into that neighborhood--people who were willing to sell--he would stop the blockbusting.” 5 [Dr. Clinton Warner, THMDA 1.5.1].

Harmon later remarks that although the Board of Aldermen refused to remove the barrier in January of 1963, by March of 1963, “a Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled that the erection of barriers for the purpose of establishing a racial buffer or zone was unconstitutional. The ordinance creating the barrier was ‘unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious.’ He ordered the immediate removal of the wall.” 6
Dorceta E. Taylor also notes in Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility that the removal of the wall “Prompted the exodus of whites from the neighborhood. Within a month of the removal of the barricade, most of the homes in Peyton Forest were put up for sale with black realtors. By 1963, all but 15 white homeowners had sold their homes to blacks and moved out of Peyton Forest.” 7 David L. Sjoquist argues in Atlanta Paradox that following integration, “so much land was being designated as racial buffers or determined as not available for black use that parts of the city were overcrowded due only to segregation policies. Before Atlanta split into a largely white suburbia and a predominantly black city, it had been intentionally divided along racial lines within the city, a precursor of what lay ahead in the racial divisions of the present. Atlanta actually saw further segregation during a period when the civil rights movement was strongest in the city; lunch counters were integrated, while neighborhoods became more segregated.” 8

Following the wall's end, civic leader and former Atlanta City Council member Myrtle Davis remembers the white flight that ensued: “We saw that wall come down and we also saw block by block as Southwest continued to integrate. And what was happening was, as blacks were moving in whites were moving out. Southwest Atlanta used to be entirely white and then it became black block by block by block.” 9 [Myrtle Davis, THMDA 1.4.7].

Although it was merely a “two-foot, ten-inch high steel and wood barrier,” 10 a physical barrier that any able-bodied adult would have little problem scaling, the Peyton Wall stood as a physical testament to institutionalized racism.


The HistoryMakers Archive in Action
Harvard University 12
At Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, African American history professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham utilized stories from The HistoryMakers Digital Archive in her seminar, African American Lives in the Law .

For the seminar students read My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin alongside a 2003 reparations suit that educator and civil rights attorney Charles Ogletree filed on behalf of survivors of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, as well as the victims' descendants, against the governor of Oklahoma, the city of Tulsa, the Tulsa chief of police, and the Tulsa Police Department for damages and injunctive relief. The seminar focused on biographical and autobiographical writings in a historical examination of the American legal process.

A student from the course looked at the narratives of federal judge and lawyer Robert Carter in the archive, and titled their paper "Robert Carter and the Social Sciences." They remarked, "I found some of the most direct commentary about the McLaurin v. Oklahoma case, and hearing Robert Carter reflect on his career continues to inspire me to become a public service lawyer. I thank The HistoryMakers for this resource!"

Another student chose to focus on community activist Renault Robinson , a former police officer with the Chicago Police Department. They compared Robinson's dual consciousness as a policeman and as an African American, while cross-referencing Robinson's articles for The Chicago Defender with his HistoryMakers interview.

Please share with us your stories of how you incorporate The HistoryMakers Digital Archive in your curriculum and research! We'd love to hear from you!

"I Worked to Make a Difference"
The HistoryMakers Remembers Frankie Freeman 13

This past week, on January 12, the country mourned the loss of Frankie Freeman , a civil rights lawyer and lifelong activist from St. Louis, Missouri. Born in 1916 in Danville, Virginia to college educated parents, teacher Maude Smith Muse and postal worker William Muse, Sr., Freeman attended the Hampton Institute, and later enrolled at Howard University School of Law. During her second year of law school, Freeman became pregnant with her son, and was urged by her administrators to postpone her education. Determined to succeed, she returned to her studies a mere two weeks after her son's birth, and graduated second in her class in 1947. 

Upon graduating from law school, Freeman set up her law offices in the Jefferson Bank building in St. Louis, Missouri in June of 1949, and became engaged in the Civil Rights Movement. There, Freeman was a part of an NAACP legal brain trust, which included Sidney Redmond, Robert Witherspoon and Henry Espy, and participated in the NAACP’s 1949 Brewton v. the Board of Education of St. Louis, following the case to victory in the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri. In 1954, the same year as Brown v. the Board of Education, Freeman was the lead attorney for the landmark NAACP case Davis et al v. the St. Louis Housing Authority, which ended legal racial discrimination in public housing. In 1955, Freeman became the first associate general counsel of the St. Louis Housing Authority and Land Clearance Authority. Freeman provided NAACP counsel to CORE activists who demonstrated against discriminatory hiring policies at Jefferson Bank. In March of 1964, she was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson as the first female member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Freeman served as a commissioner for sixteen years, and later as Inspector General for the Community Services Administration during the Carter Administration. In 1982, Freeman helped form a bipartisan Citizens Commission on Civil Rights to monitor the federal government’s enforcement of laws barring discrimination.

Freeman served as a practicing attorney for more than fifty years. In her interview, when reflecting upon her many accomplishments, Freeman said frankly of her legacy: “That I tried to make a difference; that I worked to make a difference." 14 [The Honorable Frankie Freeman, THMDA 1.6.10]

Rest in Power.
This week, 23 new interviews were added to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive:
Danny Glover

Film actor Danny Glover (1946 - ) portrayed the detective Robert Murtaugh in the 'Lethal Weapon' franchise. His activism extended to the 1960s, when he was involved in the Black Student Union at San Francisco State College.
Melba Moore

Stage actress, musical singer, and singer Melba Moore (1945 - ) won the Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Purlie. She was also a recording artist, and received a Grammy nomination for her song, 'Lean on Me.'

R & B singer and songwriter KEM (1967 - ) was a recording artist with Motown Records, and his albums include Kemistry, Album II, Intimacy, and What Christmas Means.
Aja Graydon

Musician Aja Graydon (1978 - ) was best known, along with her singing partner and husband Fatin Dantzler, as the critically acclaimed R&B and Soul music group, Kindred the Family Soul.
Queen Brooks

Visual artist Queen Brooks (1943 - ) received numerous awards for her artwork, including the Ohioana Career Award, the highest recognition bestowed on an artist in the State of Ohio.
George C. Wolfe

Playwright and artistic director George C. Wolfe (1954 - ) was resident director and, later, producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival. He directed the Broadway productions of 'Jelly’s Last Jam,' and 'Angels in America.'
The Honorable Gregory Sleet

Federal district court judge and united states attorney The Honorable Gregory Sleet (1951 - ) was the first African American U.S. Attorney in Delaware, and the first African American to be appointed to the federal bench in Delaware.
The Honorable Paul R. Valteau, Jr.

Lawyer The Honorable Paul R. Valteau, Jr. (1946 - ) was the Civil Sheriff of Orleans Parish and served for three years as chairman of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Committee.
The Honorable James Clyburn

U.S. congressman The Honorable James Clyburn (1940 - ) , assistant house democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, was elected to Congress in 1992. He was the author of 'Uncommon Courage: The Story of Briggs V. Elliott, South Carolina's Unsung Civil Rights Battle' and 'Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black.'
Wendell Holland

Lawyer Wendell Holland (1952 - ) was the chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, and played a leading role in the privatization of public utilities in the United States.

Mary Bush

Financial executive and federal government official Mary Bush (1948 - ) served on the board of the International Monetary Fund, where she designed the Structural Adjustment Facility. She was also the vice president of international finance at Fannie Mae and the managing director of the Federal Housing Finance Board.
Dolly Adams

Educator and nonprofit chief executive Dolly Adams (1931 - ) served as the national president of The Links and the Black Women’s Agenda.
Florence Farley

Visual artist, psychology professor, and mayor Florence Farley (1928 - ) was the first woman to be elected to a city council seat in Petersburg, Virginia and the first African American woman to become mayor of a Virginian city.

Christine James-Brown

Nonprofit chief executive Christine James-Brown (1952 - ) served as the president and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America and the United Way International.

Donna Byrd

Publisher Donna Byrd (1970 - ) assisted in launching, co-founded Kickoff Marketing, and was named publisher of

Paula McClain

Political science professor and public policy professor Paula McClain (1950 - ) was a professor at Duke University, where she founded the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences. Her publications included the popular textbook 'American Government in Black and White.'
Dr. Warren Goins

Physician Dr. Warren Goins (1938 - ) was a physician for over fifty years. He and his wife, Charlynn Goins, were well-known New York philanthropists who owned an important collection of nineteenth-century African American art.
Grace Y. Ingleton

Community activist and healthcare executive Grace Y. Ingleton (1936 - ) served as the director of nursing at numerous long term care facilities in the New York City area, including the Midway Nursing Home and the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation. She was also a professor of nursing.
Fay Ferguson

Advertising chief executive Fay Ferguson (1951 - ) served as an account executive with the Leo Burnett Company and went on to become co-chief executive officer of Burrell Communications Group.
Larry Bailey

Accountant Larry Bailey (1950 - ) was a licensed CPA and former partner at KMPG and PricewaterhouseCoopers. As a private consultant, he represented tennis players Venus Williams and Serena Wiliams.
Eric Carmichael

Investment executive Eric Carmichael (1964 - 2012 ) was co-founder of the Columbus, Ohio-based firms, New Millennium Inc. and Gideon Development Partners, LLC.
James Whitley

Architect and business chief executive James Whitley (1934 - ) founded Whitley/Whitley Architects and Planners LLC.

Chris Simmons

Corporate executive Chris Simmons (1957 - ) was a pioneer of diversity recruitment and development in corporate environments.
1.       Peter Frick, Understanding Bonhoeffer. Mohr Siebeck. May 23, 2017
2.       David Andrew Harmon, Beneath the Image of the Civil Rights Movement and Race Relations: Atlanta, Georgia, 1946-1981. Taylor & Francis, 1996.
3.       Harold A. Dawson, Sr. (The HistoryMakers A2004.198), interviewed by Larry Crowe, October 12, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 2, Harold A. Dawson, Sr. talks about the wall on Peyton Road in Atlanta, Georgia
4.       Harry G. Lefever, Michael C. Page Sacred Places: A Guide to the Civil Rights Sites in Atlanta, Georgia. Mercer University Press, 2008.
5.        Dr. Clinton Warner (The HistoryMakers A2003.181), interviewed by Larry Crowe, August 12, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 1, Clinton Warner talks about integrating Southwest Atlanta, Georgia despite resistance from the mayor and racist neighbors
6.       David Andrew Harmon, Beneath the Image of the Civil Rights Movement and Race Relations: Atlanta, Georgia, 1946-1981. Taylor & Francis, 1996.
7.       Dorceta E. Taylor, Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility. NYU Press, 2014.
8.       David L. Sjoquist, Atlanta Paradox. Russell Sage Foundation. May 25, 2000.
9.       Myrtle Davis (The HistoryMakers A2008.037), interviewed by Denise Gines, February 28, 2008, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 7, Myrtle Davis remembers the Peyton Wall in Atlanta, Georgia
10.    David Andrew Harmon, Beneath the Image of the Civil Rights Movement and Race Relations: Atlanta, Georgia, 1946-1981. Taylor & Francis, 1996.
11.    Peyton Wall. Photo courtesy of the Atlanta History Center. Was found in Atlanta Magazine, “Atlanta’s Berlin Wall.” Link:
12.    Harvard University Crest. Can be found at:
14.    The Honorable Frankie Freeman (The HistoryMakers A2006.183), interviewed by Larry Crowe, December 19, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 6, story 10, The Honorable Frankie Freeman reflects upon her legacy

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