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The black and white of green

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POSTED: August 28, 2007 5:03 a.m.
“This is about green — not black and white. It’s about money.”
So says the voice in the wilderness, the voice of the dinosaur.
This is A. D. “Pete” Correll talking, a guy who should have been sitting at Robert W. Woodruff’s right hand back in the 1950s and ’60s.
Coca-Cola genius Woodruff is long gone. Correll, chairman emeritus of Georgia Pacific, is still plugging away. He is co-chair of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce task force on saving Grady Hospital from imminent financial collapse.
Alas, poor Pete is out of touch. He is also wrong. The Grady Hospital fiasco is about “black and white” and then it is about money.
In Atlanta and most of Georgia (except the mountains), “black and white” is a recurring issue on nearly every public project, ranging from posting a stop sign to rescuing a vital health-care facility.
Joe Beasley has it right when he speaks of Grady’s problems. “It’s about race. If we don’t know it and don’t deal with it, we’re just whistling Dixie,” Beasley, who is Jesse Jackson’s main man in these parts, told the majority-black Fulton County Commission.
What Joe might have added is this: “Dealing with race means making sure that blacks continue to run Grady, regardless of whether the hospital is bailed out.”
Back in the Woodruff era when much of the South seethed with racial division, the “old man,” as Woodruff was called behind his back, decreed racial harmony in Atlanta.
Many whites bristled at the idea of letting African-Americans eat at Herren’s. Woodruff, who was as conservative as they come, knew better.
Racial discord was bad for business. The guys in Birmingham, Jackson and Memphis never got the message. Atlanta and most of Georgia heard it loud and clear. Racial problems only occasionally surfaced in the Peach State, and Georgia and its capital thrived.
That was a long time ago. Racial discord is more prevalent now than ever, except now it’s blacks who bristle at the idea of giving an inch of hard-earned turf back to whites — even if their opposition means venerable Grady will shortly shut down.
The Grady standoff is just the latest example of race standing in the way of progress — or even maintaining the status quo.
Remember MARTA? In the late 1960s, MARTA was Atlanta’s dream for generating greater prosperity into the 21st century.
Bullet trains would reach out to every part of metro Atlanta and perhaps farther. Atlanta would become a Southern New York, the complete center of commerce for the region. We would prosper as never before.
Didn’t happen, of course. Race got in the way, and it’s still in the way.
White folks living outside Fulton and DeKalb counties voted down the referenda on MARTA. Many suburbanites feared MARTA would bring an invasion of black commuters into their communities. If they could just keep out MARTA buses and trains, African-Americans would not come. Or so they incorrectly thought.
In fact, blacks came anyway adding a new dimension of affluence to parts of the suburbs that shunned MARTA years ago.
(Ironically, blacks and whites in several suburbs have joined forces recently to keep out Latinos  —  oops, I mean illegal aliens.)
Today, black leaders are mainly the ones cool to any talk of MARTA expansion. For the same reasons black leaders opposed metro-wide school integration more than three decades ago, they hate the idea of a statewide or regional public transit board. African-Americans would lose control of the system. Understandably, they don’t want to sit in the back of the bus again — even figuratively.
In the end, the survival of Grady Hospital may finally be worked out in a compromise that will satisfy no one. However, another generation or two of dinosaurs (even well-meaning ones like Pete) must disappear before it is generally understood in the South that green dollars should always trump the race card.
We could use a little political help in selling that idea, but you can forget that in the Sonny Perdue-Glenn Richardson era. They like the discord just fine. It keeps their kind in power.    

Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160 or email shipp1@bellsouth.net
 

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