Originally created 02/16/99

Integration rarely extends beyond office or classroom



By the 1970s, civil rights activists had managed to successfully integrate schools, businesses and government agencies. Nearly 30 years later, that integration rarely extends out of the office or classroom.

White flight continues in the suburbs around Augusta and Georgia's other big cities as longtime white residents clear out when middle-class blacks begin moving in. And whites and blacks still tend to shop, socialize and worship in segregated settings.

"Where they have choices in neighborhoods, churches, social activities there's still a disappointing level -- a minimal level -- of inclusiveness," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The McGill Group in Atlanta is one organization working on changing self-segregation one event at a time.

Named after Ralph McGill, the late publisher of The Atlanta Constitution whose civil rights crusades won a Pulitzer Prize in 1959, its members represent various ethnic groups. They meet only for social outings. No politics, business networking or racial discussions, just white-water rafting, bowling, cocktail parties and the like.

"This is a social group meant to forge relations where they might not ordinarily occur," said attorney Doug Selby, 34, who is black and one of the group's founders.

Mr. Selby, attorney Michael Golden, 34, and businessman Ira Jackson Jr. formed the group in 1995. All three were classmates at Westminster, a predominantly white private academy in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. They went off to college and returned to Atlanta to pursue careers.

What they discovered upon their return was that Georgians were cordial and interacted with each other during the day, but after 5 p.m. they went home to their segregated communities.

"The point of our gatherings is to get to know people who are of different races and ethnic backgrounds in sort of a benign environment," said Mr. Golden, who is white. "We just happen to have different color skin."

The McGill Group and its members -- 150 are on the mailing list -- hope to be a catalyst for people to develop relationships with others of different races.

"My life has become so diverse that my friends' colors has sort of faded into the background," Mr. Golden said. "I don't think, `These are my black friends. These are my white friends.' We are all young professionals trying to advance our careers."

Not everyone is as optimistic that total integration is realistically unattainable.

"I'm not so sure that it's required any more," said state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta. "I'm not going to spend the rest of my life trying to get people to like me."

Total integration may not even be in the best interest of blacks, said civil rights leader Hosea Williams. Post civil-rights era integration actually hurt many black-owned businesses, schools and other organizations that made blacks self-sufficient.

"The greatest mistake we made was the brand of integration we accepted," the Rev. Williams said. "Blacks integrated white America, but white America did not integrate black America. So we hurt ourselves."

What's needed, many say, to ensure Georgia progresses in race relations is a level economic playing field, and that starts with improving education.

"What it will do is make us interdependent. When you become interdependent, you don't care what color the person is," said Jerry Hardee, 60, vice president of academic affairs at Albany State University. "If I can work for you or you can work for me and we can make some money, then who cares what we look like?"

Georgia's racial makeup

A look at the racial makeup of Georgia in the present and in the next millennium:

Georgia's population

1996: 7.35 million

2025: 9.91 milion

Non-Hispanic whites

1996: 4.97 million

2025: 5.98 million

Blacks

1996: 2.08 million

2025: 3.32 million

Hispanics:

1996: 187,392

2025: 346,000

Others:

1996: 147,797

2025: 268,000

Source: U.S. Census Bureau