An impressive biography that provides fresh insight into the patterns of change in southern politics and race relations.
In 1965, Grace Towns Hamilton was elected to the Georgia state legislature, becoming the first black woman in the Deep South to hold such office. That achievement was the culmination of a lifetime defined by dedicated public service and achievement. Throughout her long career Hamilton remained true to her beliefs, chief among them that one must always work for the common good (of both blacks and whites). Her refusal to reduce politics to racial issues led to conflict with radical younger leaders, who considered her moderation a betrayal. While acknowledging her shortcomings in specific circumstances, Spritzer and Bergmark, both freelance writers, openly defend their subject. They adroitly set Hamilton's biography within the context of broad social and political trends (from Reconstruction to the civil-rights era), and they bring to life the unique cultural and political world of Atlanta. Hamilton was born and married into the privileged society of the city's black elite. She worked for the YWCA for many years, then for the Atlanta Urban League, heading numerous pivotal projects: establishing a hospital for "nonindigent Negroes," registering voters, building housing for the city's black community, improving its black schools. In all these endeavors, Hamilton's philosophy was one of pragmatism. A woman of dignity (with an almost aristocratic bearing), learning, and patience, Hamilton achieved her goals in a nonconfrontational manner: Inform and educate whites, she argued, and they will cooperate.
With all her accomplishments, her unique style, and her flaws, Grace Towns Hamilton is a remarkable figure. Spritzer and Bergmark have performed a great service by bringing her story to light in this thorough and engaging, albeit partisan, portrait of a woman and her times.