By Anne Emanuel, a law professor at Georgia State University College of Law.
Elbert Parr Tuttle. In his time his name was synonymous with integrity. That unassailable reputation -- hard earned as an Atlanta lawyer in the first half of the twentieth century and as the commander of an artillery battalion in the Pacific Theater in World War II -- served him well when he took over as Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit in December of 1960. The next month, sitting alone, he lifted a stay only hours after it had issued. Because of his swift, decisive action, Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter registered at the University of Georgia that very day.
The importance of that historic order can hardly be exaggerated. Six long years had passed since the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education and nothing had happened. In five southern states – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina – public elementary and high schools remained totally segregated. In others there had been token integration; in North Carolina, for instance, 60 black students attended school with white students, leaving the remaining 319,000 in segregated schools. Even less had happened on the voting rights front; black voters remained almost completely disenfranchised across the south.
As Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit -- then covering Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas – Tuttle led the way in enforcing the constitutional rights of black Americans, in dismantling the American apartheid known as Jim Crow. The task was dangerous and difficult. Tuttle dealt not only with the massive resistance of demagogues in high and low office, but also with the obstructionism of federal judges committed to protecting the southern way of life, to prohibiting “race mixing,” in the parlance of those troubled times.