The Heart of Altanta Motel was a resort motel in Georgia that infamously sued the United States for the right to discriminate against customers against the provisions of the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Heart of Atlanta, Inc. v. United States became a landmark Supreme Court ruling upholding the validity of the Act.

Information about the motel itself, however, is very scarce. I was able to find one blog post that appears well-researched describing the motel in its heyday. The fate of the motel after this case seems completely undocumented, however. Today, the Hilton Atlanta stands where Heart of Atlanta Motel once stood, but I can't find any information about when the motel closed or why. Did bad publicity spell swift doom for the business? If not, how long did it continue to operate before it was bought out and demolished?

When and why did the Heart of Atlanta Motel close?


1 Answer 1


The Heart of Atlanta Motel was sold not that long after the famous court case after which the original owner tried to continue his discriminatory practices and then the hotel was demolished in 1976:

The site of one of the most important civil rights cases in US History, the Heart of Atlanta Motel stood at 255 Courtland Street from 1956-1976. The owner of this 216-room hotel, Moreton Rolleston Jr., continued to refuse to serve black customers following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which banned racial discrimination in places of public accommodation. Rolleston maintained that the 1964 law was unconstitutional because he believed it violated his right to operate his business as he chose. The Supreme Court upheld the Civil Rights Act and ruled against Rolleston, maintaining that his actions were not protected by the 5th Amendment and violated the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of law. The Heart of Atlanta was demolished and replaced by the Hilton Atlanta in 1976. […]

Rolleston later sold his hotel for $11 million. When interview after the case, Rolleston said that this legislation would have “some adverse effect” on Southern businesses. He maintained his opposition to racial integration and was later disbarred in 2007 as a result of his behavior during a property rights dispute with African American actor Tyler Perry.

Marshall University et. al.: "Heart of Atlanta Motel (1956-1976)." Clio: Your Guide to History. April 25, 2019. Accessed April 12, 2022.

This story is repeated in this podcast (around 14 minutes in):

Archive Atlanta Podcasts — Downtown Hotels - Part I, Sep 21st, 2018

The owner of the motel can be seen here after he lost the case. From the description:

In this WSB newsfilm clip from Atlanta, Georgia on December 14, 1964, Moreton Rolleston, attorney and owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel, speaks to a reporter about the United States Supreme Court decision upholding the public accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. […]

The reporter comments that Rolleston has been under court order to serve African American patrons while waiting for the court's decision and asks Rolleston how many he has served. Rolleston responds that he has served very few African Americans, a fact that has had little effect on his business. He adds that he believes the court's ruling requiring integrated hotels will negatively effect the South's hotel business. He anticipates Southerners will never like the decision, but will eventually get used to it. Rolleston stands in an office in front of a map of Atlanta that the camera focuses on from time to time. Rolleston reports that he plans to continue operating the Heart of Atlanta Motel and complying with the court's integration order. The reporter and Rolleston repeat the exchange about admitting few African Americans since the law's passage and its lack of consequences. When asked if he has had many white patrons cancel because of the new policy, Rolleston replies that there have been few cancellations, but many more patrons have commented that they prefer the old policy. Rolleston reminds the reporter that the Heart of Atlanta has long had a practice of only admitting out-of-town guests with few exceptions. Asked if any civil rights group has tried to test the Heart of Atlanta policies, Rolleston acknowledges that he does not know of any such tests, but that the hotel has accepted all potential guests. The reporter asks Rolleston to estimate how many African Americans have stayed at the hotel since the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed in July of that year, and Rolleston says he does not know an exact number, but it has been few. […]

The clip pauses and the reporter asks what comments white customers have made regarding the hotel accepting African American customers; Rolleston reports that the white customers have had very little to say about the new situation.

While it seems certain that he tried to enforce his segregationist policies everywhere and for a long time ('black people were forbidden' on his personal property/lands, cf: Rolleston v. Cherry 487 S.E.2d 354 (1997) — 226 Ga. App. 750 — ROLLESTON v. CHERRY (Two Cases). Nos. A97A0051, A97A0056. Court of Appeals of Georgia. March 6, 1997.)

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