Rome Council on Human Relations


John Bertrand, Francis Pauley, and John Eagan

In late April of 1961, Berry College in Rome, Georgia was in an uproar. Throughout the semester, speech professor William Gorden had conducted an exchange of tape-recorded conversations between a group of students from Berry, an all-white school, and a group from the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of black colleges which included Morehouse. The exchange quickly led to a desire for each group to visit the other’s campus, and although the white students visited the Atlanta University Center without incident, news about the black students’ planned visit on April 29 triggered a backlash at Berry. ((Newsom and Gorden, 1962, in Vertical File; Anderson thesis, 58)

Three days before the anticipated visit, approximately twenty-five male Berry students gathered in protest and marched down Berry’s main thoroughfare towards Gorden’s on-campus home. The dean of students stopped them during the march and forced them to disperse, but the students were still adamant in their desire to stop the visit. In the next edition of The Campus Carrier, one of the participants in the protest discussed his opposition to the visit, stating that “we will not acquiesce like bleating sheep to an administrative decision that contradicts all which we have been taught since infancy” (Dickey, 135). 

President John R. Bertrand, away on business, cancelled the black students’ visit and returned to campus as quickly as possible. Gathering the entire school community together, Bertrand gave a speech entitled “Beyond Racism,” explaining not only his rationale in approving and later cancelling the visit, but also emphasizing the school’s legacy of positive race relations.   Bertrand had given many such speeches about Berry’s civil rights legacy, and a recurring talking point in these was the Berry Schools’ first Chairman of the Board of Trustees, John J. Eagan. Eagan was pivotal in the creation of an interracial council known as the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, which sought to bring together “a group of the best white and Negro leaders of the South to consider the question in tactful consideration and recognized equality.” (Bertrand, John and Annabelle Bertrand. “Rome Council on Human Relations, 1962-1988: Historical Survey Based on Documentary Sources.” Unpublished paper. December 1, 1988. Frances Paulette Papers, Box 14, Folder 17, The Rose Library, Emory University, Atlanta, Ga. 1)

Eagan served as chairman of the commission from 1919 until his death in 1924, after which the organization nevertheless continued to grow. After the Second World War, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation merged with the Southern Regional Council, another civil rights advocacy group that emphasized regional-wide policy and planning initiatives (. Throughout the 1950s, the SRC established affiliated councils in different southern states to cater on the specific needs of the states. (Everybody’s grandma, nobody’s fool, 64Among these councils, and the Georgia Council on Human Relations (GCHR) was the strongest among these independent councils. Even after four decades, by the 1960s the goal of the GCHR was unchanged from that of Eagan’s Commission on Interracial Cooperation: to bring together individuals from both races in order to work on issues of racial equality and harmony. (Historical Survey, Bertrand, 2) Fittingly, a few weeks after Bertrand gave his speech highlighting Berry’s civil rights legacy, John Eagan’s successor, the Executive Director of the Georgia Council on Human Relations, inquired about establishing a chapter in the city of Rome. (Historical Survey, Bertrand, 3).

The Executive Director at the time was a woman named Frances Freeborn Pauley. Although raised in Decatur, her parents, both Northerners, provided Pauley a very unique experience that affected her view of race for the rest of her life. Like many wealthier families, Pauley’s employed black domestic workers to help around the home. Unlike other Southern families, however, Frances’ mother paid her black workers hire wages, requested they work fewer hours, and, unheard of at the time, allowed them to enter their home through the front door. (EGNF 1-2)

At the time Pauley reached out to Bertrand inquiring about founding a Rome Council on Human Relations, she had only held the position for one month. At the age of fifty-five, it was the first paid job she ever had. Which is not to say that Pauley was unaccomplished by any means. Often referred to as “Everybody’s grandmother and nobody’s fool,” Pauley began her activist work in the 1940s and 50s with various racial groups, and by 1952, was president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia. In this position, Pauley sought to establish and strengthen local chapters throughout the state, establishing personal connection with Mildred Knight, a member of the Rome branch, in the process. Throughout the 1950s she continued to volunteer for various groups, working almost full-time for Help Our Public Education (HOPE) in 1961 due to the extensive lobbying efforts during the Sibley Commission hearings and the ensuing debate between closing public schools or allowing integration. Because of the depth and breadth of Pauley’s activist work in the decades before her tenure as Executive Director of the Georgia Council on Human Relations, she had a deep network of connections throughout the state that later proved invaluable in establishing local chapters, including the Rome Council. (Anderson, 44-48)

In addition to the salary, Pauley also valued her one month’s vacation every year, as she often said the position of Executive Director was a “thirty-six hour a day job.” During her first months on the job she focused on expanding the council through extensive fundraising and chapter creation. (Four Bridges to freedom, 127-131) Her suggestion in a letter to Bertrand three weeks after the tape incident that she would “see if we can have a small Council in Rome” was just one of many inquiries sent out during this time. (Pauley, Frances. Frances Pauley to John Bertrand, May 19, 1961. RG 4: Office of the President, John R. Bertrand, Box 67, Folder 9, Berry College Archives, Mt. Berry, Ga.) Chapter creation and expansion were certainly gifts of Pauley’s, as within her first three months on the job she had increased membership by over one hundred people. (Four Bridges, 131) By the time the Rome Council officially established itself, the Georgia council was the second largest, fastest growing, and the most influential human relations council in the South (Franziska Boas Article, Lindgren, 57).

Bertrand was not the only individual Pauley consulted about the establishment of a Rome Council. Pauley’s modus operandi for establishing new chapters first required three contacts, although between Bertrand and his wife, many contacts such as Mildred Knight through the League of Women’s Voters, and possible Rose and Jule Levin, local Rome businesspeople whom Pauley likely met during the Sibley Commission fight  ( Three contacts rule and Leage contacts – Pauley oral interview, 25; Mildred Knight and the Levins, Anderson 44-47). To further build a network in potential new locations, Pauley would travel to prospective cities with Vernon Jordan, a lawyer with the NAACP who in 1961 sued to integrate and in the University of Georgia and in 1963 would represent 62 high school students arrested for holding a sit-in in Rome, Georgia. (There seems to be some discrepancy between sources about who would actually travel with Pauley. Four Bridges to Freedom states Vernon Jordan was Pauley’s traveling partner (137), as does Pauley herself in the Oral Interview (25). Anderson’s Thesis (60) and Nasstrom’s Everybody’s Grandmother and Nobody’s Fool, (70-75) however, suggests it was assistant director of the Georgia Council, Oliver Wendell Holmes who joined Pauley. It’s possible both may have travelled on different trips, but if I had to choose between one, I wuold choose Jordan). On these visits, the two would tag-team, with Pauley building connections in the white community and Jordan working the black community. (Pauley Oral Interview, 25) The sight of a white woman and a black man traveling together across the state was an unusual sight at the time, although Pauley’s contacts were nothign but hospitable to Jordan. During one visit to Rome, the sight of Jordan, a black man, traveling with Pauley and being welcomed at the table of their host’s home was enough to surpise the gardener and the cook that one fell over while leaning against his rake and the other dropped a plate of biscuits. Jordan said it was only “one of the times he missed out on biscuits on account of him being black. (EGNF, 74-75)

Not much is known about Pauley’s exploratory visit to Rome, other than that she visited the Bertrand’s and possibly stayed at their on-campus home. Her travel log from the visit simply states “May 17, 1961 – Hospitality furnished by friends. This seemed to me a successful trip. Hope it bears fruit.” (Bertrand, “Historical Survey Based on Documents” 4)


Franziska Boas

The trip did indeed bear fruit, and among Pauley’s early contacts, a dance instructor at Shorter College proved to be among both the supportive and also the most unique. The instructor was Franziska Boas, a professional dancer who had operated her own interracial studio and company in New York for years before moving to Georgia in the 1950s to accept the position at Shorter. (Lindgren, 24, 51.) Her father was the renowned “Father of American Anthropology” Franz Boas, known for championing the concept of “cultural relativism.” Cultural relativism, an idea which Franziska cited as foundational to her own outlook, placed cultures in their historical and social contexts rather than a racial hierarchy with Western cultures at the top. (Lindgren, 28) She “quietly” advocated such beliefs in her own classroom, teaching courses on dance customs throughout the world, with special attention to those countries and cultures that have not “been too heavily treaded by the white man.” (Lindgren, 46-47) Although she was herself Half-Jewish and gay (Boas had two longterm partners, the second of whom also worked at Shorter and lived with Boas for twenty years) Boas did not advocate for those populations of which she was a part, instead preferring to focus on civil rights for African Americans (Lindgren, 30). Actions during her time as director of her own New York dance studio, where she hired black instructors, advertised through the NAACP, and waived tuition for many black schools, demonstrates that her advocacy was “motivated by the conviction that racial equality must prevail.” Her role in the Rome Council on Human Relations proved to be an extension of her own deeply held beliefs. (Lindgren, 25)

Boas demonstrated interest in opening a local chapter of an advocacy organization as early as 1960, when she contacted the Congress on Racial Equality field office inquiring about existing student groups in Georgia which she could assist or start. Although CORE had no operations planned in Rome at the time, they promised to reach out in case of developments. (Carey, Gordon to Franziska Boas, March 17, 1960. Congress on Racial Equality Papers. Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century: Organizational Records and Personal Papers, Part 2, Series 5, Wisconsin Historical Society, Library-Archives Division, It’s unclear how Frances Pauley made initial contact with Boas, whether through her preexisting contacts in Rome or through this connection with CORE. Regardless, when Pauley inquired about opening a local chapter in 1963, Franziska Boas became her point person. When the chapter got off the ground, Boas served as the Rome Council on Human Relations’ first chairperson. (Bertrand, “Historical Survey based on documentary sources, 3)


Rose and Jule Levin

Boas was also important for bringing two other charter members into the fold: Rose and Jule Levin. Maiden name Esserman, Rose worked in her father’s Department Store in Rome that was among the first to allow black customers and employees (Dillard, Lavada. “Personal Memoir.” Black History Vertical File, Special Collections, Sarah Hightower Regional Library, Rome, Ga. 7-8). Jule, a traveling dress salesman from Cincinnati, met Rose while on a sales call. They fell in love and were married in November 1940. Jule quit his job when the dress market stalled due to the war effort, and began working at Esserman’s Department Store when he was rejected for military service due to medical reasons. A few year’s after Rose’s father, Pressley, passed away in 1944, Jule became a partner in the store. He quickly leveraged his position to become involved in many facets of the community, serving most prominently as Chairman of the Rome Chamber of Commerce. (Levin, Rose. _This is a family story._ No Date. Box 4, Folder 3, Levin Family Papers, Breman Museum Archives, Atlanta, Ga.)

Due to the visibility of his position and the racially antagonism of some Chamber members, Jule could not offer his full-throated support for the Council, even though he considered himself a “behind-the-scenes member.” (Anderson, 11) His actions while in this position demonstrate that, although he was not a public member, Jule Levin’s support for the Council and its goals was steadfast. In 1962, he surveyed Chamber businesses inquiring about their willingness to hire black employees, advocating on behalf of the black community and encouraging its members to apply for jobs in hospitable companies. In 1961, Jule spearheaded a career fair for the students at the colored Main High School, because the Chamber had sponsored a similar event for white students for years (Levin, Voices in Protest, 43) Within the Chamber itself, Levin was also quietly working toward racial equality, “pulling strings behind the scenes to elect a moderate as Chamber of Commerce President next year.” In a prophetic decision, Levin tried sway Chamber elections in favor of a  “retail vice-president who is a moderate, just in case lunch counters become an issue. Nothing like a bit of foresight.” (Levin, Jule to A.I. Botnick, November 15, 1962. Jule and Rose Esserman Levin Family Papers, Box 1, Folder 4, Bremen Museum, Atlanta, Ga.)

Jule’s wife, Rose’s, focused on taking care of their home and children. She never lost her lifelong desire to become a writer, and she kept copious notes and personal musings on her life and the inequality of black and whites in the south. Rose was also responsible for bringing her family into the Council. In her own words, “It came easily enough.” One day, while waiting for her daughter to finish her piano lessons at Shorter College, Franziska Boas approached Rose and asked if she would be interested in joining a local chapter of the Georgia Council on Human. Although Jule became a behind-the-scenes member due to his position, Rose was very open to the group and was among the group’s first active members. (Voices in Protest, 48)

During her initial exploratory visit in May of 1961 to establish the Rome Council, Frances Pauley also visited with John and Annabelle Bertrand, the president and first lady of Berry College. Though he personally supported civil rights and racial justice, Bertrand, like Jule Levin, was very sensitive to his positions in the community. In his early years as President, Bertrand did not want his personal beliefs to be mistaken as the beliefs of the institution as a whole, often choosing to remain silent than risk a backlash like the one in response to the Atlanta University Center visit. As early as the Sibley Commission battle, when Bertrand spoke out in support of maintaining public schools at the cost of nominal integration, he went to great lengths to clarify that he spoke as a private citizen and not in his capacity as college President. Mistrust of school officials had only grown in the years since, as colleges and other institutions of higher education began integrating. Finally, due to the proximity of the council’s founding to the protests over the Atlanta University Center visit, Bertrand believed it would be best to remain an “underground supporter” of organization, much like Jule Levin. (Anderson, 60-62) As the campus moved further away from the taped-conversation incident in 1961 and towards integration in 1964, Bertrand he felt more comfortable publicly explaining his personal beliefs in favor of civil rights. By 1963, he openly declared his membership in the RCHR, telling an audience at a PTA meeting that he had been a member of the group for several years. (Freedom within the law, 3)

The final contact Pauley used to get the Rome Council off the ground also provided the chapter with their first official meeting space. The Episcopal Bishop of Savannah, Albert Rhett Stuart, was constantly in contact and of assistance to Pauley and the Georgia Council. As Pauley started establishing new chapters across the state, Bishop Stuart instructed her to always visit the episcopal church in that city for assistance. “‘Pressure, pressure my men,’ he said. ‘Ask to meet in their churches. And tell me if they refuse.” Across the state, the local episcopal priests proved to be the most helpful individuals outside of the organizaiton. (EGNF, 75) The minister at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church of Rome, Father Russell Daniel, was no exception. He offered his church as a location for the first Council meeting, and attended it as well. (Voices in Protest, 49)


The First Meeting

With Father Daniel, Rose Levin, and Franziska Boas as active members, Jule Levin and the Bertrand’s providing underground supporters, Vernon Jordan’s contacts within the black community, and Frances Pauley assisting from the wings, the Rome Council was finally prepared to get off the ground in October of 1961 (Bertrand, history of RCHR, 6). Another Shorter Faculty member, Charlotte Vane, a music professor at Shorter, also attended. At the very first meeting, Jordan’s networking in the black community of Rome paid off, as four to five black men arrived and the interracial group, one of the first of its kind in Rome, began their meeting inside St. Peter’s. For most of them, it was the first time in a social setting with members of the opposite race. Initially, everyone in the meeting was hesitant. (Levin, 49) 

Though not at the meeting herself, Pauley was insistent that Boas, who was taking point on the meeting and representing the broader Georgia Council in doing so, not decide for the black community what social problems they wanted to tackle. Rather, Pauley believed it was best for the council to enter new places and ask locals for a plan of action. To do that, she recommended meetings start with the question “What bothers you the most?” When Boas asked this question at the first meeting of the Rome Council, the small group of black men were silent at first. Capus White, a black man who worked as a cook at Shorter College and over the next two decades would be one of the council’s longest serving and most active members, spoke up first. He said the prominent “Whites Only” Sign in front of the laundromat bothered him the most. After a pause, Charlotte Vane told the story of how her mother, originally from Chicago, thought that meant only white clothes could be laundered there. The story injected humor and “laughter that broke the ice. Everybody laughed, and that helped.” Then, after that moment of levity, Franziska said “‘Well let’s see what we can do about that.’” After that, the group of black men were eager to share, “almost vying for a chance to speak, an obvious result of the limited opportunities for the black men to be heard.” (Pauley 28, Levin 49). 

The attendees at the first meeting committed to a second meeting, and the Council met periodically from then on. The group’s earliest months are unclear, and accounts of its activities are limited to the archived, personal papers of its white members, mostly Levin, Pauley, and Bertrand. The Council did not receive extensive coverage from the city’s local newspaper, The Rome News Tribune, in part because of the paper’s general segregationist leaning, but also because the Council was deliberately low-profile. Even as its numbers grew from meeting to meeting, the group remained behind the scenes and did not take provocative, attention-grabbing actions. Even during its most active years with its largest memberships, the Rome Council on Human Relations preferred indirect action to direct protest. Even nonviolent protests, like sit-ins, were too radical for the council, which preferred to present grievances and ask for rectification. (Anderson, 72) 

This Council worried this “quiet, meaningful” approach was initially ineffective when, in the summer of 1962, the Council made its first petition to the Rome City Commission. The Council presented a list of grievances, written during its regular meetings, and “were not met very cordially” by city officials. They dismissed the Council’s complaints about the city’s continued use of signs designating facilities as either “white” or “colored,” stating that the commission was working to take them down. The commission also dismissed the Council’s other complaints, pointing to the recent desegregation of the city bus system and local parks as signs that progress was underway in Rome and they had no place to question it. [While it is true that the city now allowed blacks to ride on buses with whites, they still required them to sit in the back (Voices in protest, 4)] Finally, City Manager Bruce Hammler dispatched the Council by employing the classic trope, insisting that the city did not want“outside agitators” involved, despite the fact that the Rome Council consisted entirely of local Romans. (Franziska Boaz to Rose Levin, July 17, 1962. Jule and Rose Esserman Levin Family Papers, Box 1, Folder 4, Bremen Museum, Atlanta, Ga.) Even though the council did not believe the meeting to be effective, by the end of July, the discriminatory signs were nonetheless removed from the Rome Courthouse. The Council believed its petition was a significant factor in the city’s decision. (“Program Highlights,” July 1962. Francis F. Pauley papers, Box 14, Folder 13, The Rose Library, Emory University, Atlanta, Ga. ) ]

Despite the Council’s low profile, its members still worried about their safety. It was socially unacceptable for black and white Romans to meet together. Levin also stated that the meetings were possibly even illegal, although it is unclear whether this concern stemmed from an official city ordinance or fears the police would use trumped-up charges for “creating civil unrest” as an excuse to stop the Council. As a result, the board of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church asked the council to meet elsewhere, for fear they could also be held accountable. The Council believed the decision was “understandable.” (Levin, 50). Father Russell Daniel remained a member of the organization. (Legendary Locals of Rome, 98)

Even though the council preferred a very nondescript strategy, the group’s had a profound impact on the Civil Rights movement in Rome. According to Stephen Tuck in his comprehensive review of the Georgia Civil Rights movement, Beyond Atlanta: The Struggle for Racial Equality in Georgia, 1940-1980, the breadth and depth of the Council’s actions “distinguished” Rome’s desegregation story from that of other cities. Generally considered to be a successful integration story, the Council’s civil, social, and economic efforts contributed towards a more positive outcome than in other cities such as Atlanta or Albany. The key difference between the Rome Council and other chapters was the council’s willingness to be actively involved in the city’s civil Rights movement. Councils in most other cities “sought to moderate the response to black protest,” remaining independent from the movement while still trying to mitigate white backlash against them. The Rome Council actively worked to assist the protestors while maintaining their signature low-profile. (Tuck, 139)


[[INSERT DOC: Bertrand, John and Annabelle Bertrand. _Rome Coucil on Himan Relations, 1962-1988- Historical Survey Based on Documentary Sources._ Unpublished paper. December 1, 1988. Francis Paulette Papers, Box 14, Folder 17 – THIS IS AN EMORY SOURCE]