Exhibition Overview

"An Appeal for Human Rights", March 9, 1960

The Appeal was originally published in The Atlanta Journal, The Atlanta Constitution, and The Atlanta Daily World. It was reprinted around the country in diverse publications such as The New York Times, The Nation and The Harvard Crimson. The Appeal was later entered into the Congressional Record.

“We seek to tell our own story because too many others have falsely told it.”

-Freedom’s Journal, 1827[1]


On the morning of March 9, 1960, Atlantans opened their newspapers to a surprising statement.

We, the students of the six affiliated institutions forming the Atlanta University Center—Clark, Morehouse, Morris Brown, and Spelman Colleges, Atlanta University, and the Interdenominational Theological Center—have joined our hearts, minds and bodies in the cause of gaining those rights which are inherently ours as members of the human race and citizens of these United States.

-An Appeal for Human Rights

Although it was signed by six Atlanta University Center student leaders, the Appeal carried the force of hundreds of African-American students frustrated by segregation and a lack of organized protest in their own community. It was written and published in the wake of the first student sit-ins protesting segregation in the South, at lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and not only declared the students’ positions, but promised action. From this declaration the students of the Atlanta University Center organized themselves into a collective called the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR).

The reaction was swift. Many in the white community were shocked to learn the students were dissatisfied with their positions in segregated Atlanta, and to read such strident language calling for action. Some older members of the African-American community disagreed with the students’ method of public protest; it defied their method of quiet struggle through the regular channels of compromise and the democratic process.

The Appeal was just the first step in a well-organized campaign to change Atlanta for the better. Over the next four years, students from the Atlanta University Center schools and their allies staged sit-ins, orchestrated economic boycotts and filed lawsuits to challenge segregationist policies. Their methods were successful; their example was inspiring.

While the Appeal was written in 1960, roots of that statement of protest reach back more than a century. The students were fulfilling a promise made generations before, by black people free and enslaved, to share their story and secure their rights.

This exhibit is a part of an ongoing initiative to collect, display and share the story of the Atlanta Student Movement.

[1] Freedom’s Journal was the first African-American newspaper published in the United States.

Exhibition Overview