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*On this date in 1907, Grace Hamilton was born. She was a Black civil rights advocate, feminist, and politician.
From Atlanta, Grace Towns Hamilton was the eldest of four children to George and Nellis McNair Towns. Towns graduated from American University in 1927, enrolling in graduate school at Ohio State University where she paid her way through school as a secretary at the YMCA. In 1930, she married Henry C. Hamilton, dean, and professor of education at Lemoyne College. Grace Hamilton was the first Black woman to serve in the Georgia legislature (1966-1984).
She was elected to the house after a court-ordered reapportionment in 1965 created eight new Fulton County seats; increasing political opportunities for blacks. She was the major architect of the current Atlanta city charter, which became law in 1973. This reduced at-large representation and paved the way for Black self-government through district voting. Hamilton and fellow Commissioner Everett Millican developed the current political map of Atlanta, with its twelve voting districts. Before then, whites had used at-large voting to maintain control.
Council members were not required to live in districts they represented; consequently, Atlanta had no black council members until 1966. Seven years later in 1973, Maynard Jackson was elected the first Black mayor of a major southern city. Hamilton was one of Atlanta’s greatest activists, serving as executive director of the Atlanta Urban League from 1943 to 1961. Supporting greater opportunities for black schoolchildren she successfully acquired the 9.9 million dollar school bond issue for the Black community in 1946.
Her work for school betterment in Tennessee led to the executive council of the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, where she provoked a racist response. In 1957 Georgia governor Marvin Griffin sent a state employee to take photos of Black attendants at the school. The governor then published the prints on a four-page hate sheet charging that Highlander was a hotbed for communist activism. With her many accomplishments in many branches of government, Hamilton’s only political miscalculation was her support of Walter Mondale, and not Jesse Jackson, for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984.
This resulted in her losing her legislative election in a run-off vote later that year. Described as “the quiet warrior,” she fought hard for better health facilities, improved education, help for the indigent, and rights for the disenfranchised. She brought the power to minority voters in the state of Georgia. Grace Hamilton died on July 17, 1992.
The biographical dictionary of Black Americans
by Rachel Krantz and Elizabeth A.Ryan
Copyright 1992, Facts on File, New York, NY
Image: Jean Bergmark