Emory Report
April 9, 2007
Volume 59, Number 26

Emory Report homepage  

April 9, 2007
Mayor Franklin: ‘Work is not over’ for serving the underserved continues legacy of Grace Towns Hamilton

by kim urquhart

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who visited Emory April 2 to deliver the Grace Towns Hamilton Lecture, shares many traits with the namesake of the annual address hosted by the Department of African American Studies.

Like Hamilton, who was the first African American woman elected to the Georgia General Assembly and the first female of her race in the Deep South to hold an important public office, Franklin is the first female mayor of Atlanta and the first African American woman to serve as mayor of a major Southern city. Both have taken political action to make a difference in their city, their state and the world.

“Similar to Grace Towns Hamilton, Shirley Franklin has been a major force on the Georgia political scene. Since her inauguration in 2002, Mayor Franklin has worked to build a best-in-class managed city by strengthening existing frameworks, implementing progressive changes and making the tough decisions necessary to improve Atlanta,” said Delores P. Aldridge, who as Grace Towns Hamilton Professor of Sociology and African American Studies holds the first endowed chair named for an African American woman, in her introduction to Franklin’s lecture.

“I often say I stand on the shoulders of people such as Grace Towns Hamilton,” said Franklin. “There is no question in my mind that we who come today owe a debt of gratitude to her tenacity, to her strength of character, to her ability to open doors that had been closed for literally hundreds of years.”

She applauded Hamilton’s advocacy and leadership on issues like better educational opportunities, access to quality health care, housing for veterans and voting rights. However, she added, “When we celebrate Rep. Hamilton let us not forget that the work is not over.

“In order to celebrate and understand her legacy, we have to celebrate and understand our own time and our role in it,” said Franklin. “The needs of children, seniors, those with disabilities — the list is long of people who are unserved or underserved in America today. The doors of America’s economy and education remain closed for many and it is our job now to be sure that they stay open for those who are voiceless.”

Using statistics and stories, Franklin shared her views on topics ranging from voting rights to the war in Iraq. She spoke about issues related to poverty, to immigration and the need for everyone to have access to quality health care. She advocated for educational rights for the disadvantaged and on the need for housing the homeless, many of whom are veterans.

Today’s challenges may not be as obvious as in Hamilton’s day, Franklin said, pointing to the diversity of the audience as an example. But the challenges are just as complex. Franklin called for a new style of leadership in order to confront and solve these issues with the same courage shown by Hamilton.

“I think a lot of this progression has to come from young people,” she said. She sees two areas where young people will make a difference: on the environment and on peace.

“If you don’t claim it, it will not get claimed. The leadership is going to have to come from young people,” said Franklin.

She cited Georgia’s potential to be “a great state on issues of public policy.” But, she cautioned, “we are lagging behind the nation on basic human rights and dignity issues, as much as any time in the last 40 to 50 years. So your challenge, and our challenge, is to pull us out of the doldrums.” It is going to take a movement, she said. “People are counting on us to be the Grace Towns Hamiltons of our generation.”