Fifty years ago this month Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.
King, an Atlanta native who had been actively working against segregation in the South for at least a decade when he was recognized with the honor, initiated a fundamental change in his home city’s business, religious and racial cultures when blacks and whites came together for the first time to share a meal in public to recognize the new Nobel laureate, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Not surprisingly given the climate of the era, the change didn’t come easily.
King was Atlanta’s best-known figure in 1964 and the first Georgian to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but the question of how a segregated city would celebrate the accomplishments of a black man wasn’t an easy one to work out, according to the publication.
“ … the races didn’t mix, and King was still black. The immediate question became, how do you honor the man who was now the city’s most recognizable figure?”
Initially, there was talk in the black community about perhaps having a dinner at Paschal’s, where Civil Rights leaders had often met to discuss strategy. However, it was recognized that King should be received by the entire city, not just a segment.
Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, along with Catholic Archbishop Paul Hallinan, Morehouse College President Benjamin E. Mays, Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph McGill and Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., formed a core group of organizers who set their sights on having a huge banquet at the Dinkler Plaza Hotel downtown, so that King might be honored by a gamut of Atlanta residents, according to the Journal-Constitution.
However, even after the dinner had been announced and a date set, no one bought tickets. Atlanta’s business community wasn’t buying into the idea.