Integration Comes to Canton, Georgia (1964)

English: Town square, downtown Canton, GA, USA
Town square, downtown Canton, GA, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This historian’s heart was gratified today to see a firsthand account in our local newspaper, the Cherokee Tribune, of some of the troubles Canton experienced during the Civil Rights era. Though we still have a long way to go (see: internet comments, ugh), it’s heartening to see my little town having an open discussion and getting past the racial divide that must have seemed insurmountable back in the early 1960’s. (I’m also proud to say that I know and love the Tanner family of Canton, Georgia featured in this article!)

To quote from the article by Joshua Sharpe:

Unrest in Canton

On Aug. 11, 1964, four young men attempted to integrate the Canton Theater on Main Street, and white residents of the city weren’t happy about the coming progress.

The Atlanta Constitution wrote at the time of the incident that the young men were met with much resistance that night.

“The Negroes were peppered with eggs and tomatoes from a crowd of about 700 white persons as they came out of the theater on Main Street,” the Constitution’s Aug. 12, 1964, article stated.

Ozella Tanner said at the time, non-white residents were only allowed to sit in the balcony at the theater.

When word spread that the young men were trying to change the policy, she said she knew something bad might happen and jumped in her car to go pick them up.

As she drove through downtown Canton, she saw that she was right to be worried.

“They were lining the street,” Ozella Tanner said of the hundreds of angry white residents unhappy with the protest. “They threw rocks at my car as I was driving through town.”

Find out what happens next in the Cherokee Tribune Article.

Of course, I can’t help but wonder what stories from this era have still gone untold. What about school desegregation? Restaurant desegregation? When were Black people allowed to take jobs at one of the two Canton Cotton Mills? (This is findable in the census!) It’s something I sure would like to know more about. If you have a story, or are researching the Civil Rights era in North Georgia, please Contact Me.

Happy Detecting!


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