Written in 2010. Carolyn and I are Sorors and she is a part of my “sister-girl network.” The week we spent together in Chicago, as room-mates, when we were teenagers established a relationship and a bond between us girls.
Carolyn Long Banks – Truly A History Maker
By Bunnie Jackson-Ransom
Suzanne Haugh contributed to this article. – written February 15, 2010
The list of history makers in Atlanta, Georgia certainly includes Carolyn Long Banks. She has walked-the-walk and talked-the-talk. Her history-makers story is one for the history books.
Carolyn Long was born into one of the most respected “history-making” families in the city – especially on the west side. At the feet of her father and mother, she learned that education was the norm and she was expected to achieve. Her father, Ralph A. Long, was the principal of two elementary schools – John Hope and Wesley Avenue. His master’s at NYU was earned around the thesis that the Atlanta Public Schools should drop the junior high school concept for “middle schools.” He went on to convince APS Superintendent Ira Jarrell to permit him to design the city’s first middle school; this turned out to be Sammye E. Coan Middle School. Her mother, Mrs. Rubye Carolyn Long, was chairperson of the English Department at Carver and Archer High Schools. “At one time, thirty -seven members of my family were teachers,” said Ms. Banks. “I thought I was destined to be a teacher.”
With a brave and genuine commitment to service and activism, Carolyn cut her teeth on civil rights in the Atlanta Movement as she soaked up energy from the political climate generated by Black leaders in Atlanta. An incident on a city bus caught her attention and she recalls, “After Reverend William Borders led the city to integrate the Atlanta Transit System, my mother took us on the bus for the first time to do our “seasonal” clothes shopping trip downtown to Rich’s. We sat in the front seats; but as we got closer to town, the racial makeup of the riders began to change. Just before we got to our destination, a white family with a little boy boarded. He was holding balloons and when he saw us, he screamed and loss his balloons. I shall never forget the hate and disdain in their eyes as his Mom and Dad just stared at us.”
In the eighth grade at Turner High School, Carolyn wrote a social studies paper on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. With the help of Dr. King’s mother, who provided first-hand research, the paper was an overwhelming success. But, most of all, being in this atmosphere perked her interest in the man and his cause. During this same period of her life, she was being coached on the art of debating and the success in taking and scoring highly on the SAT. “My uncle, Dr. Francis I. Long, was the counselor at Turner. Anticipating integration of colleges and universities, he coached the top students in each class every Saturday in his home,” said Banks.
While a student at Clark College, motivated by the student sit-ins at A & T College in Greensboro, Carolyn was itching to “do something.” In the spring of 1960, Carolyn participated in the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights and worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the committee to create a “manifesto” outlining problems facing the Black community. The committee, including students from the Atlanta University Center, sponsored an Advertisement (AD) in the major Atlanta newspapers revealing their proposed program. When the AD came to the attention of the New York Times, it served as a challenge to the Atlanta community. These students staged sit-ins at department stores and transportation terminals; Carolyn was arrested several times and picketed all over the city including the Magnolia Tea Room at Rich’s Department Store.
“During the Atlanta Movement, Dr. King was arrested on a traffic charge in Decatur. He ended up on the ‘men’s floor’ while the female students were housed on another floor in the same jail. When he wouldn’t leave the jail, I also refused to leave. Eventually, he was brought to our floor where he took me by the hand; and when we got to the jail exit, he pushed me out and the jailed doors clanked down. I still have not lived down the fact that I was the only one crying and banging on that door to get back into jail,” Ms. Banks stated.
Ironically, in 1962 Carolyn Long Banks was invited by Rich’s to “integrate” the Magnolia Room. In 1973, Carolyn was one of the professionals selected by the Urban League to integrate management at Rich’s Department Store. She was one of the first Black women in a management position at Rich’s. But this was not her calling – she has a legacy to fulfill and a thirst for political action and community activism.
Carolyn Long Banks was appointed in March of 1980 by the Atlanta City Council to fill an at-large vacancy left by the resignation of Carl Ware who took an executive position with Coca Cola. She later ran and won the seat outright in November of the same year – a feat never before or since achieved by a City of Atlanta elected official. She holds the historic distinction of being the first African American woman to serve as a member of this governmental body. For seventeen years, she was in a position to effect change for Black people – and this is what she did.
“Because I took office during the Murdered and Missing Children Crisis, I felt a fierce obligation to protect our children, families and the city. Public safety became my major focus,” said Ms. Banks. As councilwoman-at-large, representing post 14, she sponsored the city’s first Curfew law; and every Saturday, she joined the Adult Youth Conference searches led by Councilman Arthur Langford. She attended all 26 funerals of the city’s murdered youth. Other milestone achievement on the Atlanta City Council include: established and chaired the City of Atlanta first Disabled Persons Taskforce whose work mandated accessibility specifications and deadlines for all city public buildings and right-of-ways; introduced and passed the ban on the AK-47 assault rifles; wrote the legislation and executed the contracts for Hawks Arena, the Olympics, and the airport; sponsored zoning legislation to limiting development density in neighborhoods. She served the council as Chair of the Executive Committee and shepherded and amended Mayor Maynard Jackson’s Affirmative Action legislation. She also served as Chair and/or Vice-Chair of all Council standing committees during 1980 through 1997.
Elected to serve as the president of the National League of Cities, the largest organization of city governments in the nation, Banks brought the same resolute strength and determination to this position. Following the advice of Mayor Maynard Jackson to learn all she could about governance, Ms. Banks ran for, and was elected to leadership positions in NBC/LEO, WIMG, GMA, and GABEO.
Her proudest moment on the national level was to join President Clinton at the White House for the signing of his first piece of legislation – The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLMA).
Life after the Atlanta City Council included a position with Lockheed where she combined her collective experiences as a mother, grandmother, teacher, a corporate executive, and a legislator into her “job of a lifetime.” It was Carolyn’s responsibility to bring employees and the Cobb County community, made up of all races, faiths and generations, together for the betterment of youth. Among her achievements at Lockheed was the LM SMART program which brought aeronautical technologies to the best and the brightest 4th and 5th grade students.
Carolyn Long Banks has done her time, paid her dues. Appointed by Governor Jimmy Carter, to the Commission on Women; she is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and an active member of St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church, and a lifetime member of the NAACP. For the nation, and her city, she has led delegations to many foreign countries including China, Hong Kong, Macau, South Africa, and the Caribbean.
I am mighty proud to have known Carolyn Long Banks for almost 60 years. We connected in our teens – at a sorority convention in Chicago where we painted the town red. She has a good heart, a fighting spirit, a courageous soul, and a dedication to service that I would stack up against anybody. In anybody’s history book, she is a history maker.