September 5

Heart of Atlanta Motel

September 5, 1956 - Atlanta

It was touted as one of the finest hotels between New York and Miami, but its owner refused to rent rooms to black patrons. The Heart of Atlanta Motel, which opened on this day in 1956, would figure into the heart of a landmark civil rights case.

Located at 255 Courtland Street, the motel was owned by Atlanta attorney Moreton Rolleston, Jr., a staunch segregationist. When Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in privately owned hotels, motels, and restaurants, Rolleston sued, claiming that the act violated his rights as a private businessman.

Rolleston represented himself as the case worked its way through federal court. In the end, the Supreme Court ruled against the Heart of Atlanta. Justice Tom Clark wrote the Court’s unanimous opinion that Congress did have the power under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to pass the sweeping antidiscrimination law.

The decision led to the dismantling of segregation across the South, putting an end to the business of bigotry practiced at the Heart of Atlanta Motel when it opened on September 5, 1956, Today in Georgia History.