October 5, 1964: Heart of Atlanta Motel asked Supreme Court for right to discriminate

October 5, 2015

PG posted this photo in one of his collections at Chamblee54:

Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1956 - Special Collections and Archives,Georgia State University Library

Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1956 – Special Collections and Archives,Georgia State University Library

I wondered whether this is the motel in the case testing the 1964 Civil Rights Act — and sure enough, it is.  The case was decided, finally, by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964, Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc., v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964) .

This important case represented an immediate challenge to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark piece of civil rights legislation which represented the first comprehensive act by Congress on civil rights and race relations since the Civil Rights Act of 1875. For much of the 100 years preceding 1964, race relations in the United States had been dominated by segregation, a system of racial separation which, while in name providing for “separate but equal” treatment of both white and black Americans, in truth perpetuated inferior accommodation, services, and treatment for black Americans.

During the mid-20th century, partly as a result of cases such as Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944); Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948); Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950); McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637 (1950); NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958); Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960) and probably the most famous, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the tide against segregation began to turn. However, segregation remained in full effect into the 1960s in parts of the southern United States, where the Heart of Atlanta Motel was located, despite these decisions.

The Atlanta Time Machine, a great collection of photos in the history of Atlanta and Georgia, has more photos, and this description of the site:

The Heart of Atlanta motel, located at 255 Courtland Street NE, was owned by Atlanta attorney Moreton Rolleston Jr.  Rolleston, a committed segregationist, refused to rent rooms at his hotel to black customers.  Upon passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Rolleston immediately filed suit in federal court to assert that the law was the result of an overly broad interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause.  Rolleston represented himself in the case, HEART OF ATLANTA MOTEL, INC. v. UNITED STATES ET AL., which  went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.  Rolleston lost when the Supreme Court ruled that Congress was well within its powers to regulate interstate commerce in such a manner.  The Hilton Hotel now stands on the former site of the Heart of Atlanta Motel.

Texts in law school rarely have illustrations.  I know the motel mostly as a citation on pages of text, great grey oceans of somnambulent text.  This case is important in civil rights, though it is mentioned almost never in history texts.  What are these cases really about?  These photos offer us insight.

The Heart of Atlanta Motel aspired to greatness in the late 1950s and 1960s — evidenced by this publicity flyer photo from the Atlanta Time Machine; notice the flag flying for the motel’s Seahorse Lounge (Atlanta is landlocked):

Heart of Atlanta Motel publicity photo - Atlanta Time Machine

Heart of Atlanta Motel publicity photo – Atlanta Time Machine; not just a podunk “motor lodge,” but a “resort motel.”  Click for larger image.

For the 1960s, this place offered great amenities, including two swimming pools and in-room breakfast service.

Flyer for the Heart of Atlanta Motel, circa 1960 - Atlanta Time Machine image

Flyer for the Heart of Atlanta Motel, circa 1960 – Atlanta Time Machine image

This photo is amusing — I can just imagine the difficulties of launching a motor boat of this size in one of the swimming pools, obviously for a publicity stunt.  The photo is dated February 27, 1960, in the Pullen Library Collection.

Boat in the pool at the Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1960 - Atlanta Time Machine image

Boat in the pool at the Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1960 – Atlanta Time Machine image

To compare how times have changed, you may want to look at this aerial photo of the area, including the Heart of Atlanta Hotel, and compare it with modern photos which show the Hilton Hotel that replaced the property.

Rolleston appears to have had a big ego.  As noted above, he represented himself in this case, and he argued it in the Supreme Court.  Here’s a picture from about that time, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School “Famous Trials” site:

Moreton Rolleston, Jr., owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel and the attorney who argued the case at the Supreme Court - UMKC Law School image

Moreton Rolleston, Jr., owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel and the attorney who argued the case at the Supreme Court – UMKC Law School image; photo: Wayne Wilson/Leviton-Atlanta

You may decide for yourself whether this fits the old legal aphorism that a lawyer who represents himself in a case has a fool for a client.  The Oyez site at the University of Chicago provides access to the audio of the oral arguments.  Did Rolleston argue ably?  Rolleston argued against Archibald Cox, who went on to fame in the Watergate scandals.  This appears to have been Rolleston’s only appearance before the Supreme Court; it was Cox’s ninth appearance (he argued 20 cases before the Court in his career, several well known and notable ones).

Heart of Atlanta vs. United States was argued on October 5, 1964The opinion was issued on December 14, 1964, a 9-0 decision against Rolleston and segregation authored by Justice Tom C. Clark (one of Dallas’s earliest Eagle Scouts).

This was a fight Mr. Rolleston picked.  He was not cited nor indicted for violation of the Civil Rights Act, but instead asked for an injunction to prevent the law’s enforcement; according to the published decision,

Appellant, the owner of a large motel in Atlanta, Georgia, which restricts its clientele to white persons, three-fourths of whom are transient interstate travelers, sued for declaratory relief and to enjoin enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, contending that the prohibition of racial discrimination in places of public accommodation affecting commerce exceeded Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause and violated other parts of the Constitution. A three-judge District Court upheld the constitutionality of Title II, §§ 201(a), (b)(1) and (c)(1), the provisions attacked, and, on appellees’ counterclaim, permanently enjoined appellant from refusing to accommodate Negro guests for racial reasons.

Oyez summarizes the case question:

Facts of the Case 

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade racial discrimination by places of public accommodation if their operations affected commerce. The Heart of Atlanta Motel in Atlanta, Georgia, refused to accept Black Americans and was charged with violating Title II.


Did Congress, in passing Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, exceed its Commerce Clause powers by depriving motels, such as the Heart of Atlanta, of the right to choose their own customers?

The decision turned on the commerce clause, and the reach of Congressional power to regulate interstate commerce.

Decision: 9 votes for U.S., 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title II

The Court held that the Commerce Clause allowed Congress to regulate local incidents of commerce, and that the Civil Right Act of 1964 passed constitutional muster. The Court noted that the applicability of Title II was “carefully limited to enterprises having a direct and substantial relation to the interstate flow of goods and people. . .” The Court thus concluded that places of public accommodation had no “right” to select guests as they saw fit, free from governmental regulation.

Good decision. As my law professors described it, Americans enjoy the right to travel, a penumbral right of the Constitution. Inherent in that right is the right to rest in a hotel or motel at the end of the day, especially along a federally-funded highway, part of the U.S. Highway system or National Defense Interstate Highway System.

Heart of Atlanta Motel is gone.  The site is occupied by the Hilton Atlanta, today.

Interstate travel, and sleeping in hotels, continues.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

How do Texas’s voter ID laws hurt Texas voters? This film shows how

April 30, 2015

Abbie Kamin, a Houston lawyer assisting Texas voters keep their right to vote, explains how Texas's voter ID laws hurt Texans, and damage democracy in the U.S.

Abbie Kamin, a Houston lawyer assisting Texas voters keep their right to vote, explains how Texas’s voter ID laws hurt Texans, and damage democracy in the U.S.

Video you won’t see at 11.

From the Texas Voter Identification Assistance Project, at the Campaign Legal Center.

Published on Apr 24, 2015

Under Texas’ new restrictive photo/voter ID law, more than 600,000 Texans now lack sufficient identification to vote in elections, with little to no help from the State of Texas to resolve the problems. The Texas Voter Identification Assistance Project, coordinated by the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit, provided assistance to Texas voters who wished to vote but lacked the newly required identification, and thus were disenfranchised.

At the Campaign Legal Center’s site, there’s a press release on the video, released to correspond with arguments on voter identification issues at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

CLC FILM RELEASE: On Day of Fifth Circuit Oral Argument, Meet Victims of Texas Voter Photo ID Law

CLC Staff

Apr 28, 2015

Today, the Campaign Legal Center released a short film focusing on three lifelong voters disenfranchised by Texas’ voter photo ID law (SB 14), the most restrictive and burdensome voter ID law in the nation.  The ten-minute film produced by Firelight Media traces the efforts of the Campaign Legal Center’s Voter ID Project to assist registered voters to overcome the many hurdles erected by the new law in order to obtain the photo IDs required by SB 14.

Today in Veasey v. Abbott, oral arguments will be heard in a challenge to that law, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.  Attorneys at the Campaign Legal Center serve as co-counsel for plaintiffs Congressman Marc Veasey, LULAC, and a group of Texas voters.

Following a two-week trial last fall, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos enjoined SB 14, finding that it was as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote as well as an unconstitutional poll tax, had “an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.”  The state defendants immediately appealed Judge Ramos’ decision. In mid-October, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed that decision solely to avoid confusion in the November 2014 elections, and the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently refused to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s stay.

The film released today traces the plight of three Texans who were victims of the Texas voter photo ID law and the massive effort required of many voters to exercise their right to vote under the new law.

“These longtime voters were had their voting rights violated because of SB 14 which the District Court found to be unconstitutional and in violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of The Campaign Legal Center.  “The plight of these victims, who suffered a violation of their voting rights through no fault of their own, mirrors the evidence that prompted Judge Ramos to strike down Texas’ intentionally discriminatory, modern-day poll tax.”

The first challenge (Veasey v. Perry) to the Texas photo ID law was filed by the Campaign Legal Center and others in the summer of 2013 claiming that SB 14 violates the 1st, 14th, 15th and 24th Amendments to the Constitution, as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  Several additional challenges were then brought against the Texas law (including one by the United States).  All of the cases were consolidated in the Southern District of Texas in Corpus Christi.

In addition to overseeing the Voter ID Project, the Campaign Legal Center is part of the legal team representing the Veasey-LULAC plaintiffs that includes Chad Dunn and K. Scott Brazil (Brazil & Dunn), Neil G. Baron, David Richards (Richards, Rodriguez & Skeith), Armand Derfner (Derfner & Altman), and Luis Roberto Vera, Jr. (LULAC).

To read the Legal Center’s Fifth Circuit brief, click here.

To read the District Court decision striking down the Voter ID law, click here.

Tip of Millard’s old scrub brush to Michael Li.

César Chávez Day, 2015

March 31, 2015

features a portrait of Cesar against a background of empty grape fields. It was painted by illustrator Robert Rodriguez from a 1976 photo,

Postage stamp honoring Cesar Chavez in 2003. “The stamp features a portrait of Cesar against a background of empty grape fields. It was painted by illustrator Robert Rodriguez from a 1976 photo,” according to the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

President Obama declared March 31, 2015, César Chávez Day, as he did in 2014.  Here’s the press release version of the proclamation.

For Immediate Release                                                         March 30, 2015

Presidential Proclamation — Cesar Chavez Day, 2015


– – – – – – –


For more than two centuries, the arc of our Nation’s progress has been shaped by ordinary people who have dedicated their lives to the extraordinary work of building a more perfect Union.  It is a story of achievement and constant striving that has found expression in places where America’s destiny has been decided — in Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall, and in the golden fields of California where an American hero discovered his mighty voice.  Today, we honor César Chávez and his lifetime of work to make our country more free, more fair, and more just, and we reaffirm the timeless belief he embodied:  those who love their country can change it.

A son of migrant workers and a child of the Great Depression, César Chávez believed every job has dignity and every person should have the chance to reach beyond his or her circumstances and realize a brighter future.  When no one seemed to care about the farm workers who labored without basic protections and for meager pay to help feed the world, César Chávez awakened our Nation to their deplorable conditions and abject poverty — injustices he knew firsthand.  He organized, protested, fasted, and alongside Dolores Huerta, founded the United Farm Workers.  Slowly, he grew a small movement to a 10,000-person march and eventually a 17-million-strong boycott of table grapes, rallying a generation around “La Causa” and forcing growers to agree to some of the first farm worker contracts in history.  Guided by a fierce commitment to nonviolence in support of a righteous cause, he never lost faith in the power of opportunity for all.

As a Nation, we know the struggle to live up to the principles of our founding does not end with any one victory or defeat.  After César Chávez fought for higher wages, he pushed for fresh drinking water, workers’ compensation, pension plans, and protection from pesticides.  He strove every day for the America he knew was possible.  Today, we must take up his work and carry forward this great unfinished task.

When immigrants labor in the shadows, they often earn unfair wages and their families and our economy suffer — that is one reason why we have to fix our broken immigration system and why I keep calling on the Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform.  We need to continue to defend the collective bargaining rights countless individuals have fought so hard for and ensure our economy rewards hard work with a fair living wage, paid leave, and equal pay for equal work.

César Chávez knew that when you lift up one person, it enriches a community; it bolsters our economy, strengthens our Nation, and gives meaning to the creed that out of many, we are one.  As we celebrate his life, we are reminded of our obligations to one another and the extraordinary opportunity we are each given to work toward justice, equal opportunity, and a better future for every one of our sisters and brothers.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 31, 2015, as César Chávez Day.  I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor César Chávez’s enduring legacy.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.


No call for a flying of flags, but you may certainly fly your Old Glory, if you wish.


On Lincoln’s birthday, 106 years ago, the NAACP was born

February 12, 2015

I get e-mail from the friendly folks at the NAACP, sometimes reminding us of important events in history that might otherwise be overlooked:



Exactly 106 years ago, a courageous group of multiracial activists came together for a very special purpose: to eliminate social, educational, political, and economic inequality in America. They came together on this day to form the NAACP.

When they joined hands, they made African American history—American history.

And in over a century, our mission to secure justice and equality has never wavered.

Watch this video to see how the civil rights movement has endured through the generations.

Watch the video: Happy Founders Day!
Every February, we take time to celebrate the incredible contributions the black community has made to the history of our nation. We honor the struggles we’ve had to endure.

Then and now, progress comes when we join together to fight. Whether we’re marching hand in hand, debating face to face, or calling millions to action online, the power of this movement lies within you, and every fellow American who fights for justice and equality, however they can.

Thank you for standing with us—and with each other—as we continue to push this country forward and ensure a more just and equal society for all.

Take a moment to watch this video—we’re not just celebrating the founding of this organization, we’re celebrating the work of generations of activists like you:



Cornell William Brooks
President and CEO

Can you give? It would help.

God blessed February 12, 1809, with Darwin and Lincoln

February 12, 2015

Is it an unprecedented coincidence?  206 years ago today, just minutes (probably hours) apart according to unconfirmed accounts, Abraham Lincoln was born in a rude log cabin on Nolin Creek, in Kentucky, and Charles Darwin was born into a wealthy family at the family home  in Shrewsbury, England.

Gutzon Borglums 1908 bust of Abraham Lincoln in the Crypt of the U.S. Capitol - AOC photo

Gutzon Borglum’s 1908 bust of Abraham Lincoln in the Crypt of the U.S. Capitol – Architect of the Capitol photo

Lincoln would become one of our most endeared presidents, though endearment would come after his assassination.  Lincoln’s bust rides the crest of Mt. Rushmore (next to two slaveholders), with George Washington, the Father of His Country, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and Theodore Roosevelt, the man who made the modern presidency, and the only man ever to have won both a Congressional Medal of Honor and a Nobel Prize, the only president to have won the Medal of Honor.  In his effort to keep the Union together, Lincoln freed the slaves of the states in rebellion during the civil war, becoming an icon to freedom and human rights for all history.  Upon his death the entire nation mourned; his funeral procession from Washington, D.C., to his tomb in Springfield, Illinois, stopped twelve times along the way for full funeral services.  Lying in state in the Illinois House of Representatives, beneath a two-times lifesize portrait of George Washington, a banner proclaimed, “Washington the Father, Lincoln the Savior.”

Charles Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London - NHM photo

Charles Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London – NHM photo

Darwin would become one of the greatest scientists of all time.  He would be credited with discovering the theory of evolution by natural and sexual selection.  His meticulous footnoting and careful observations formed the data for ground-breaking papers in geology (the creation of coral atolls), zoology (barnacles, and the expression of emotions in animals and man), botany (climbing vines and insectivorous plants), ecology (worms and leaf mould), and travel (the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle).  At his death he was honored with a state funeral, attended by the great scientists and statesmen of London in his day.  Hymns were specially written for the occasion.  Darwin is interred in Westminster Abbey near Sir Isaac Newton, England’s other great scientist, who knocked God out of the heavens.

Lincoln would be known as the man who saved the Union of the United States and set the standard for civil and human rights, vindicating the religious beliefs of many and challenging the beliefs of many more.  Darwin’s theory would become one of the greatest ideas of western civilization, changing forever all the sciences, and especially agriculture, animal husbandry, and the rest of biology, while also provoking crises in religious sects.

Lincoln, the politician known for freeing the slaves, also was the first U.S. president to formally consult with scientists, calling on the National Science Foundation (whose creation he oversaw) to advise his administration.  Darwin, the scientist, advocated that his family put the weight of its fortune behind the effort to abolish slavery in the British Empire.  Each held an interest in the other’s disciplines.

Both men were catapulted to fame in 1858. Lincoln’s notoriety came from a series of debates on the nation’s dealing with slavery, in his losing campaign against Stephen A. Douglas to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate.  On the fame of that campaign, he won the nomination to the presidency of the fledgling Republican Party in 1860.  Darwin was spurred to publicly reveal his ideas about the power of natural and sexual selection as the force behind evolution, in a paper co-authored by Alfred Russel Wallace, presented to the Linnean Society in London on July 1, 1858.   On the strength of that paper, barely noticed at the time, Darwin published his most famous work, On the Origin of Species, in November 1859.

The two men might have got along well, but they never met.

What unusual coincidences.

Go celebrate human rights, good science, and the stories about these men.

A school kid could do much worse than to study the history of these two great men.  We study them far too little, it seems to me.


Charles Darwin:

Abraham Lincoln:


Anybody know what hour of the day either of these men was born?

Yes, you may fly your flag today for Lincoln’s birthday, according to the Flag Code; the official holiday, Washington’s Birthday, is next Monday, February 16th — and yes, it’s usually called “President’s Day” by merchants and calendar makers. You want to fly your flag for Charles Darwin? Darwin never set foot in North America, remained a loyal subject of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, to the end of his days. But go ahead. Who would know?

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Lunch at Woolworth’s, with a side of civil rights: North Carolina, February 1, 1960

January 31, 2015

Today is the 55th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in. Be sure to read Howell Raines‘ criticism of news media coverage of civil rights issues in a 2010 article in the New York Times: “What I am suggesting is that the one thing the South should have learned in the past 50 years is that if we are going to hell in a handbasket, we should at least be together in a basket of common purpose.”

This is mostly an encore post; please holler quickly if you find a link that does not work.

Four young men turned a page of history on February 1, 1960, at a lunch counter in a Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond, sat down at the counter to order lunch. Because they were African Americans, they were refused service. Patiently, they stayed in their seats, awaiting justice.

On July 25, nearly six months later, Woolworth’s agreed to desegregate the lunch counter. One more victory for non-violent protest.

Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond leave the Woolworth store after the first sit-in on February 1, 1960. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)

Caption from Smithsonian Museum of American History: Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond leave the Woolworth store after the first sit-in on February 1, 1960. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)

News of the “sit-in” demonstration spread. Others joined in the non-violent protests from time to time, 28 students the second day, 300 the third day, and some days up to 1,000. The protests spread geographically, too, to 15 cities in 9 states.

On the second day of the Greensboro sit-in, Joseph A. McNeil and Franklin E. McCain are joined by William Smith and Clarence Henderson at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)

Smithsonian caption: “On the second day of the Greensboro sit-in, Joseph A. McNeil and Franklin E. McCain are joined by William Smith and Clarence Henderson at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)”

Part of the old lunch counter was salvaged, and today is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. The museum display was the site of celebratory parties during the week of the inauguration as president of Barack Obama.

Part of the lunchcounter from the Woolworths store in Greensboro, North Carolina, is now displayed at the Smithsonians Museum of American History, in Washington, D.C.

Part of the lunch counter from the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina, now displayed at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, in Washington, D.C.- photo from Ted Eytan, who wrote: [“Ever eaten at a lunch counter in a store?”] The words . . . were said by one of the staff at the newly re-opened National Museum of American History this morning to a young visitor. What she did, very effectively, for the visitor and myself (lunch counters in stores are even before my time) was relate yesterday’s inequalities to those of today, by explaining the importance of the lunch counter in the era before fast food. This is the Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter, and it was donated to the Smithsonian by Woolworth’s in 1993.

Notes and resources:

Student video, American History Rules, We Were There – First person story related by Georgie N. and Greg H., with pictures:

Associated Press interview with Franklin E. McCain:


It was a long fight.

Fly your flag today for the 2015 holiday honoring Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 19, 2015

As on every federal holiday, citizens and residents of the U.S. should fly their U.S. flags today, on the holiday marking the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. King, and the U.S. flag

Rev. King, and the U.S. flag. (No information on place or time of photo; please feel free to lend light and facts.)

Fly the U.S. flag today for the holiday for the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday in January.

Many Americans will celebrate with a day of service.



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