The Two Jewish Brothers who Defied Segregation in Atlanta

June 19, 2022

5 min read


And paved the way for Atlanta to join the Major Leagues in the 1960s.

In 1962, in many states African Americans could not book a room unless it was in a segregated hotel. Two Jewish brothers defied the culture of their times and opened Atlanta’s first integrated downtown hotel. Thanks to the vision of these civil rights leaders, Drs. Irving and Marvin Goldstein, the city was able to bring visiting baseball teams and host all players, regardless of their skin color, under the same roof at the Americana Hotel.

Four years later, the Milwaukee Braves relocated to Atlanta—a move that may not have happened without the courage of the Americana’s owners.

Due to dwindling attendance and financial problems, the Milwaukee Braves had been scouting for a new home. Meanwhile, Atlanta was yearning to become a major-league city. A group of investors who owned the Braves saw a potential match and began petitioning Major League Baseball to relocate the Braves to Atlanta.

Skeptics wondered how welcoming the Peach State would be to a team with black ballplayers. Athletes would face separate water fountains, restaurants and hotels, not to mention the Ku Klux Klan. Because of the Jim Crow laws, many American states in the South had enforced racial segregation from the post-Civil War era into the 1960s.

“Oh, but we do have an integrated hotel. The Americana,” Bill Bartholomay told his committee of fellow owners of the Milwaukee Braves. Before pulling up stakes and heading south, the committee wanted to make sure Atlanta would be hospitable to the players and their families.

Decades later, Bartholomay, then chairman emeritus of the Braves, reflected: “That hotel helped us move the team here. It was a must. We were approved in October 1964.” The Atlanta Braves were born.

We’ll Just Cut Out Water Fountains Altogether

The Goldstein brothers would never have stood for segregated facilities, according to Irving’s son Ronald, an 88-year-old Atlantan. “When my Uncle Marvin went in for a building permit, he was told the hotel had to have separate water fountains for blacks and whites. He said, ‘Well, we’ll just cut out water fountains altogether.’”

Dr. Ronald Goldstein, International President of Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity; Prof. Hans Selye, Past International Presidents Drs. Irving and Marvin Goldstein

Marvin had chutzpah. He and Irving were forced to change the name of the Americana in 1966, when the owner of the Americana hotels in New York, Puerto Rico and Miami Beach sued them.

“Fine,” said Marvin. He had a worker climb a ladder and take the last “a” off the marquee, quickly transforming the Americana into the American.

Dentists Uproot Segregation Uptown and Downtown

Ronald Goldstein notes that Irving and Marvin were among the first white dentists in Georgia to integrate their offices and care for black patients on an equal basis. In the late 1940s, the Goldstein brothers bought their first hotel, the Peachtree Manor. It later became the first integrated uptown hotel in Atlanta. A number of black celebrities, including James Brown, stayed there.

Irving was president of the Peachtree Manor, and Marvin was president of their second endeavor, the American, the city’s first integrated downtown hotel.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote of the Goldsteins: “Their imprimatur was woven throughout the political and social landscape of Atlanta in the 1960s, which included providing meeting space in the hotel for civil rights activists.

“Coretta Scott King gave the eulogy at Marvin Goldstein’s funeral. That’s how connected the brothers Goldstein were with the movement.”

Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, were guests at the American, along with President Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley, Pearl Bailey, Carol Channing and other luminaries.

In recent years the American hotel has been revived and branded a Doubletree by Hilton that’s steeped in retro style. While memory may have overlaid the period with a patina of nostalgia, the early years were anything but romantic.

Holding Firm Despite Death Threats

The Ku Klux Klan picketed the uptown Peachtree Manor when it became integrated, and later the downtown Americana when it was built and integrated. Hooded Klansmen burned a cross on Irving Goldstein’s front lawn on Pinetree Drive.

“It was extremely volatile. Dad had death threats,” recalls Ronald Goldstein. “It was a very, very difficult time. As a result, they lost all the white business at the Peachtree Manor Hotel. It was a financial disaster.”

People often questioned the Goldsteins on why they integrated their hotels and dental practices in the 1950s and 1960s. Irving always held firm. “Because it’s the right thing to do,” he would declare.

A white patient once told Marvin she did not want to sit in the same waiting room as black patients, to which Marvin replied that he would help her find another dentist.

African-American and white passengers on an Atlanta Transit Company trolley on April 23, 1956, shortly after the outlawing of segregation on all public buses. Horace Cort, via Associated Press

In addition to members of Martin Luther King Jr.’s family, Marvin treated other African Americans from around the South who traveled to Atlanta for special orthodontics service they could not receive elsewhere.

Irving started the family dental practice in 1929. “We’ve got one of the oldest ongoing practices in the country,” his son proudly notes.

Over the years Irving was joined by Marvin and their cousin Theodore Levitas. Ronald rounded out the team in 1959. Irving’s son was the first official team dentist of the Atlanta Braves. His all-star roster of patients included Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record on April 8, 1974, hitting his 715th homerun. Ronald says, “Hank was humble, friendly and appreciative of others. As great an athlete as he was, he was equally great as a human being.”

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