2 “Heart of Atlanta” (Whites Only) MOTEL POSTCARDS & LETTERHEAD

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The Heart of Atlanta motel, located at 255 Courtland Street NE, was owned by Atlanta attorney Moreton Rolleston Jr.  Rolleston, a committed segregationist, refused to rent rooms at his hotel to black customers.  His lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court. 

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This is an oversized postcard and regular sized postcard of “The Heart of Atlanta Motel” with a rare unused letterhead . 

Letterhead is in good shape, unused with very minor age wear.

Upon passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Rolleston immediately filed suit in federal court to assert that the law was the result of an overly broad interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause.  Rolleston represented himself in the case, HEART OF ATLANTA MOTEL, INC. v. UNITED STATES ET AL., which  went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.  Rolleston lost when the Supreme Court ruled that Congress was well within its powers to regulate interstate commerce in such a manner.  The Hilton Hotel now stands on the former site of the Heart of Atlanta Motel.

As recently as December 2006, the disputatious Rolleston was once again in the news in a story concerning his 11-year battle to avoid paying a $5.2 million judgment from a 1995 malpractice case brought by the estate of a former client.  Strange but true: the fallout from the judgment against him led to a legal  lawsuit  Rolleston filed against actor-writer-producer Tyler Perry.

Postcard Back Caption: THE HEART OF ATLANTA MOTEL, 255 Courtland Street, N.E., Atlanta, 2 blocks from downtown Peachtree St.  Restaurant, Air-Conditioning, Television, Radio and Muzak, Swimming Pool, Telephone & 24-hour Switchboard, 100% Free Parking, Barber Shop, Laundry Service.

Approximate size of oversized postcard: 7 1/8 x 5 1/2 inches.

Date: unknown, but guessing 50’s from parked cars and telephone switchboard

Condition: Very slight wear along top edge, white tips on 3 corners.

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More detail…

The Heart of Atlanta Motel was a large, 216-room motel in Atlanta, Georgia. In direct violation of the terms of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — an act which banned racial discrimination in public places, largely based on Congress’ control of interstate commerce — the motel refused to rent rooms to black patrons. The owner, Moreton Rolleston, filed suit in federal court, arguing that the requirements of the act exceeded the authority granted to Congress over interstate commerce. In addition, Rolleston maintained that the act violated his Fifth Amendment rights to choose customers and operate his business as he wished and resulted in unjust deprivation of his property without due process of law and just compensation. Finally, he contended that Congress had placed him in a position of involuntary servitude by forcing him to rent available rooms to blacks, thereby violating his Thirteenth Amendment rights.

In response, the United States countered that the restrictions requiring adequate accommodation for black Americans were unquestionably related to interstate travel, and that Congress, under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, certainly had the power to address such a matter in law. It further argued that the Fifth Amendment does not forbid reasonable regulation of interstate commerce, and that such incidental damage did not constitute the “taking” of property without just compensation or due process of law. Lastly, it asserted that the Thirteenth Amendment applies primarily to slavery and the removal of widespread disabilities associated with it; as such, the amendment undoubtedly would not place issues of racial discrimination in public accommodations beyond the reach of federal and state law.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled in favor of the United States and issued a permanent injunction requiring the Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. to refrain from using racial discrimination when providing services or goods to guests or the general public on its premises. This case was combined with the case of the future Governor of Georgia Lester Maddox concerning his Pickrick restaurant and his case to refuse to serve blacks.