On this dayJun 28, 1962
Atlanta Hotel Denies Room to Black Nobel Peace Prize Winner
On this day in 1962, a hotel in Atlanta refused to provide a room to Dr. Ralph Bunche because he was Black. Dr. Bunche was an under-secretary-general of the United Nations at the time and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for mediating an armistice in the Middle East.
While the City of Atlanta no longer officially mandated segregated public accommodations, its policy was to let each business decide individually whether to integrate. Nearly all of the city’s hotels refused, including the Dinkler Plaza Hotel, where Dr. Bunche attempted to stay during the NAACP’s annual convention before his request was denied.
Atlanta hotels also refused accommodation to many of the other convention attendees in the leadup to the event. Dr. Bunche and others were forced instead to find lodging in private homes or the dormitories of local historically Black colleges.
In a speech at the convention, Dr. Bunche denounced the “arbitrarily imposed stigma of color” and stated that “No individual Negro can be free from the degradation of racial discrimination until every Negro is free from it.” He also urged the press to cover all instances of racial exclusion—not just ones in which Black people of prominence were involved.
In response to the Atlanta hotels’ refusal to host Black patrons, convention members launched a picketing campaign in front of segregated hotels and restaurants in the city. Additionally, the NAACP sued the Atlanta Cabana Hotel, arguing that the hotel’s segregation policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment. A federal judge ruled that the hotel’s refusal of Black customers was constitutional because it had been adopted voluntarily by a private business and not a state actor.
Voluntary racial segregation by private businesses was formally outlawed with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a law many white Georgians fiercely and violently opposed. The Act was upheld later that year after the Heart of Atlanta Motel sued the federal government to try to continue its policy of barring Black guests.