Interview with Walter Huntley

Can you describe the change in Black attitudes towards city government?


OK. I think the, ah, when Maynard took office, the level of expectation, ah, in the Black community, not only in Atlanta, but all over the country, was extremely high. Ah, I remember getting calls in, from ah, people, from ah, back home, saying, what's it like. And one of the things that I remember going in the city government, ah, and finding out that we were just besieged by calls. Everyone wanted to embrace the first Black mayor of a major Southern city. And ah, we were getting anywhere from three to four hundred calls a day, and I remember people just saying, "Here, um, Walt, here are 30 calls we want you to return, tell them that we're sorry that the mayor cannot speak with you at this time, but you were calling to see if there was something that, ah, you could do to help them out." So that's what we literally had to do when, ah, when we first took office for the first six months. Um, after that, ah, we had to begin to figure out a way to include more people. Ah, Maynard ran on a, a platform of, ah, ah, the politics of inclusion, and he wanted to open up the government to Blacks, to women, to younger people. And one of the things that we devised which I thought was really great, was the people's day. Whereby anybody who, ah, who wanted to could come in and meet with the mayor for five minutes, with no appointment. And ah, he had all of his, ah, commissioners and bureau directors there. And I'll never forget, there was this one woman who came in, ah, we would have anywhere from hundreds of people, ah, that would be there waiting to see the mayor all day. But this one elderly, Black woman came in, and she walked in, in slowly and sat down. And ah, the mayor looked at her, and ah, he said, "How are you?" She said, "I'm doing fine." He said, "Can I help you?" She said, "Yes." And he said, "Well, what is it that I can do for you?" And she said, "Well, I just wanted to see what it would be like to see a Black man sitting in this chair." And so, the mayor smiled very broadly, and said, "Well, how'm I doing?" And she said, "You're doing just fine." And I think that kind of embodied the, ah, the way, um, people felt. There were a lot of governmental employees that were Black, who had never been on the second floor of city hall. And, ah, it was a very, very, ah, proud feeling that, ah, not only the, ah, governmental workers but, ah, Black people in general, not only in the South and in Atlanta, but all over the country felt, ah, in terms of, ah, pride for what, ah, Maynard had achieved.