Abstract: Integrating the Southern Workplace: Lockheed and Cobb County, Georgia

Thomas A. Scott


The standard story of metropolitan Atlanta in the Civil Rights era features supposedly progressive Atlanta, the city "too busy to hate," and its surrounding lily-white counties, where "white flight" produced a virulent form of extreme right-wing politics. While this version of truth has some merit, it masks the reality that there was more convergence than divergence between downtown Atlanta and suburban Cobb County, the home of the Lockheed-Georgia plant. The argument of this paper is that local business and political leaders in Atlanta and Cobb were pragmatists on the question of desegregation, with a willingness to change if necessary to protect their business interests. In the case of Lockheed the desire to receive federal defense contracts, particularly in 1961 the billion-dollar C-141 StarLifter contract, was the central factor in bringing about workplace integration. In understanding how the South desegregated in the 1960s with a minimum of violence, the case of Lockheed is instructive, because it points to the recognition of enlightened self-interest as a key factor in explaining how at least some southerners found it expedient to be on the right side of history.