A few months after the relatively quiet and peaceful opening of hundreds of newly integrated school districts across the South in the Fall of 1970, a unique letter reached President Nixon’s desk.
The two page letter came from Ralph Savarese, a Methodist preacher in Savannah, Georgia, and lifelong southerner who had been born and raised in Mississippi.
In the letter, written on November 14, 1970, Savarese describes how he had been in favor of “complete segregation” and had fought integration repeatedly throughout his life. When the news came that his children would be reassigned to a majority African-American school, he admits that he became enraged.
Savarese goes on to tell President Nixon of a previous letter he had written “sometime ago” to the White House concerning the school situation in Savannah. Attached to his first letter were over two hundred signatures from fellow Georgians angry over the prospect of the integration of public schools.
As time passed, Savarese stated he began to “think about the things I wrote” and “meditate and pray about the whole situation.”
After keeping his three younger children out of school and at home for several weeks, Savarese eventually decided to enroll his children in their reassigned school as directed.
He then provides an update on the current status of his children and their new school, before offering an apology to President Nixon.
“My children have been in school now for quite some time and they have made many new friends. The fear which had built up inside of my own mind was not materializing and my children are happy in school. I see now that I have been wrong in so many ways and especially when I wrote you that letter for which I am sorry.”-Ralph Savarese, November 14, 1970 letter
The Savarese letter is an excellent example of how attitudes toward deeply entrenched cultural norms, such as segregation, can evolve over time toward greater acceptance.