William B. Hartsfield (1890-1971)

William Berry Hartsfield was born on March 1, 1890 in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1917, he passed the bar and became a lawyer. Throughout his career, Hartsfield held many political offices and while serving on the city council in 1927 he eagerly promoted air transportation and is responsible for the entrance of air transportation industry to Georgia. Today, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the busiest airport in the world. [1]

Georgia historian Numan V. Bartley writes that Hartsfield began his political career like many Southern leaders as a staunch segregationist, but later he set aside his position of racial supremacy in favor of economic growth. Despite his previous record as a segregationist, Hartsfield was able to portray a moderate stance and became more appealing to black voters in Atlanta who had little incentive to vote for the other openly segregationists candidates whom ran against Hartsfield every 4 years. Black voters went to the polls and voted for Hartsfield, giving him the advantage he needed to win 6 elections and become the longest serving mayor of Atlanta from 1937-1941, and then again for 5 more terms from 1942-1962. Over time, he even became a champion of “racial moderation.”[2] The moderate policies of Hartsfield helped Atlanta gain the reputation of being a city “too busy to hate.”[3]

William B. Hartsfield legacy in Georgia politics spans four decades, but the impact of the improvements he helped bring about continues to have a lasting effect on the image of our state.


[1] Williams, Louis. William B. Hartsfield (1890-1971). 12 2002, August. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-599&sug=y (accessed on 12 February 2011).

[2] Bartley, Numan V. The Creation of Modern Georgia, second edition, Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1983, p 214.

[3] Atlanta Constitution, 13 October 1959.

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