Successive presidential administrations changed a suggestion by John Kennedy that employers be more open-minded when hiring . . . into a rigid set of laws that divided the citizenry into sociological labels and encouraged mediocrity. This description of my own experiences was preceded by a historical timeline, so it would become obvious that both political parties are equally to blame.
Then, we have the bizarre situation that once existed in Atlanta, in which there was 100 % discrimination by Black Affirmative Action officials against Native Americans, Latin Americans, Asians and Polynesians, plus a profound dislike of Black applicants, who graduated from public universities.
Five decades of putting various sociological labels on people and then giving some special treatment really had little impact on Native Americans. We see Native Americans rising via their own hard work to have a positive effect on society-at-large, with very little help from “the system.” In contrast, there has been devastating impact on the relationships between men and women. The attitude, 50 years ago, of the two women in the Atlanta Planning Department, who thought that they had to emasculate and destroy men in order to be happy . . . has become endemic. The result today is miserable men and women living lonely, passionless lives in a state of mutual distrust and hatred.
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Less you think that I was a member of the Hitler Youth League
My only serious, long term relationship, since I returned to Georgia, was with a lovely harpist from Sumatra, who I met in a Sunday School class. That gave me bragging rights of having happy relationships with gals from every race or mixture of races. Card-carrying NAZIs won’t make a claim like that.
At age six, I was so angry that my Colored playmates in Waycross, Georgia couldn’t go to my elementary school and attend my church that I intentionally drank from the Colored water fountain next to the restaurant that my “official” father owned . . . creating a scandal in the realm of the alligator. Two years later we moved to northern Georgia. My high school was considered so “progressive” that it was the first one selected by the Fulton County Board of Education to be integrated. One of those first African-American students at Lakeshore High School was immediately elected to the Student Council.
Oh, did I mention that after standing beside the Rev. Martin Luther King, when he was murdered in Memphis, TN, the Rev. Andrew Young became the Assistant Minister for our Methodist campus church at Georgia Tech?
Yes, when I went off to Georgia Tech, fraternities in the United States were officially integrated, but factually segregated according to race and religion. There were White Christian fraternities, White Jewish fraternities and Black Christian fraternities. Latin Americans and full-blooded Native Americans were not invited into any fraternities. Because I was a mixed-blood and had an Anglo-Saxon last name, I was probably the first Native American ever inducted into Lambda Chi Alpha at Georgia Tech. No one noticed, because there was a Sicilian in my pledge class, who had a much darker complexion than most full blood American Indians.
Nevertheless, during my five years of architecture school, I did my best to shock my fellow brothers with the ladies I brought to the fraternity house for dance parties. Several of my dates during the first two years were Creek girls with black hair, tan complexions and Asiatic faces. We Native Americans love to dance. Some brothers noticed that they looked a little different than the girls at Agnes Scott College, mainly that they were better dancers.
During my Junior year, I brought Terisa Torres to the fraternity, who became the first Latin American ever to be inside the house. She was an art student at Emory University, whose parents were millionaires from owning a Coca Cola distributorship in South Florida. She was a mixture of Spanish, Taino Indian and a little bit of African. Her family was from the Dominican Republic, but she was born in Cuba. Most female college students smoked back then, but Teresa created a stir with her mini-cigars and flamboyant, Latin-style dancing.
During my Senior year I was in love with Alicia Rozanes Moreno of Mexico City. She was French Sephardic Jewish, but she never made it to Atlanta to create a scandal in the fraternity house. That was remedied by the favorite gal of my Thesis year. I met Becky, while one of Gov. Jimmy Carter’s first college interns. Becky was a tri-racial Gullah gal from the Georgia Coast (Darien, GA) and an honors student at the University of Georgia. She became the first lady of substantial African descent to attend a Lambda Chi party. We had always had African-American kitchen help, but this did catch a few eyes . . . at first. Convinced now that I was always an EQUAL OPPORTUNITY boyfriend?
Atlanta Department of Planning
As described in a recent article, The Erased History of Energy Conservation in the Late 20th Century, the economy of the United States boomed after President Richard Nixon brought most of our men home from Vietnam. Perhaps, Congress should have balanced the budget, but instead the billions of dollars saved were invested into massive interstate highway construction projects, bridges, historic preservation within cities and planned newtowns. Then during 20 days in October 1973, the economy instantly collapsed due to the Yom Kippur War oil embargo, which continued into 1974.
I was never actually laid off by Richard P. Browne Associates, but their paychecks kept on bouncing or else being deferred. Officially unemployed or not, I found myself in the same situation as hundreds of thousands of other young people in the construction industry. Desperate for some income from somewhere, I sought employment near Georgia State University, where I was enrolled in its urban planning program.
The Atlanta Department of Planning seemed to be a godsend. Its building was next door to the College of Urban Life and its director was Leon Eplan, President of the American Institute of Planners! Eplan offered me a position of Contract Urban Designer. He would allow me to take some classes in the daytime and then work longer hours other days. My other classes were at night.
My projects would be ultra-prestigious . . . preparation of the Urban Design Plan for Midtown Atlanta, detailed Urban Design Plans for the blocks adjacent to the Arts Center and Tenth Street MARTA (rapid transit) stations and the Land Use Plan for the Midtown Residential Neighborhood. I was actually living in this neighborhood.
The job application was odd. It asked several “value judgment” questions that sounded more like a sociological survey, but had only two categories for race – Black and White. There was no option for being Asian, Middle-Eastern, Native American, Australoid or mixed race. I put in an asterisk and added “Mixed Race – White and American Indian.” I learned later that people from India and Pakistan knew to say that they were Black – even though they were Caucasians.
Then I learned what the job would pay . . . a minimum wage of $2.50 an hour. That was not as bad as it seems, because that wage is in 2023 equal to $33,384 a year. Back then, we didn’t have such a wide gap between rich and poor. I was able to pay 100% of the cost of graduate school, plus with my new wife’s teaching salary, we could afford a spacious duplex in prestigious Peachtree Hills, overlooking Peachtree Creek and across Peachtree Street from the famous Peaches Record Store.
Yes, I missed making the equivalent of $97,000 a year a Richard P. Browne Associates, but I only had one more year of school left and then I could get a higher salary than I made at RPB, by working for the City of Atlanta. I was seemingly off to a spectacular career, planning the growth of Atlanta into a major international city!
Reality sets in
My boss, Senior Urban Designer Eric Harkness, was actually a Landscape Architect from Ottawa, Canada. He had a Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture from McGraw University. By definition, an Urban Designer is someone with professional credentials in both Architecture and Urban Planning. Architecture deals with buildings and plazas. Landscape Architecture deals with plants and street furniture. Eric could sketch with a pencil or felt tip pen, but did not know how to draw professional planning documents.
Upon starting work, I found my projects to be exciting, but I began noticing odd things about the Department of Planning. Only a few of its employees actually worked! At any given time, at least 2/3 or more of the desks were unoccupied. On many days, the entire staff, except for the receptionist and Leon Eplan’s secretary, would leave at lunch and not return to between 4 and 5 PM . . . leaving the Asian Indian Transportation Planner, Raj Gupta, who was a Georgia Tech graduate, and myself, as the only professional personnel in the entire (explicatively deleted) multi-floor agency.
If anyone came back early, it would be Eric Harkness. However, Eric spent most of his office time, answering phone calls for professional staff, who were not there in the office. Eric told me that most of those calls were personal, not professional.
Furthermore, I was the only person in the entire department, who knew how to draw architectural, urban design, land use and site plans. They had two African-American draftsmen, but they didn’t know how to draw anything, but crude cartoons and graffiti. If working at all, they were used to run photocopies on the Zerox machine. I later learned that both had taken some commercial art courses at a technical school, but had dropped out.
So, here we were in the planning department of a booming, major metropolitan city, which was incapable of producing a planning document . . . other than typed letter-sized documents with no illustrations. How could that be?
Within a week, the two female Community Planners would repeatedly come by my desk and drafting table to make sarcastic remarks . . . during the brief times that they were in the office. I couldn’t understand what I could possibly done to offend them. I later experienced the same attempts to verbally emasculate me during the last seven years of my marriage. Yes, I know! I was a fool for staying in that marriage. A lot of friends already have told me that.
Eventually, Raj, the friendly transportation planner, told me that the two Community Planners were lovers, who lived together. One was president of the National Organization of Women. (NOW) Her partner was president of the Georgia Chapter of NOW. They hated me because I looked like an athlete or outdoorsman. (masculine).
In return for NOW backing and making major donations to Mayor Maynard Jackson’s political campaigns, the two ladies were essentially given free office space, health insurance and all travel costs involved with being women’s right activists. City Hall had even funded NOW political demonstrations at City Hall. Most of their time was spent on feminist political activities. Leon Eplan knew to look the other way.
Mayor’s Friendship Fund
I was soon visited by a member of the Mayor’s staff, who worked for the Major’s Friendship Fund. I was told that if I agreed to having 2% of my meager $2.50 an hour wages go to the Friendship Fund, I would be a “shoe in” for getting a permanent position in the next fiscal year. (That was a lie.) It was described as a fund that paid for such things as flowers, when their was a tragedy in the family.
That was a lie too. The Mayor’s Friendship Fund was a way of creating a political slush fund for the Mayor and his hacks that would be invisible to federal auditors. Federal law prohibited use of federal funds for political purposes. Perhaps a third or more of the white collar employees of Atlanta’s government were funded by federal grants. The 2% was a kickback to the Mayor for giving them their job.
The “final straw” for me was when one of the non-draftsmen and Leon Eplan’s staff car disappeared simultaneously. The draftsman had borrowed the car, while Leon was out of town, to go a week day date with another man. The car was found by the Atlanta police four days later. It apparently had been stolen and wrecked The draftsman was found wandering along a suburban highway six days later.
We later learned that the draftsman and his date had a catfight. His boyfriend was let out on the street. Instead of returning to the planning office to pretend to be working, he went to a gay bar. There he simultaneously got drunk and was drugged then taken out of the city, whereupon he became unconscious then woke up to not know where he was.
The draftsmen was neither fired nor docked for the number of days that he did not show up at the office. They were not even charged for damage to the car. The Mayor’s office didn’t want the news media to find out about the incident. When it came time to renew CETA contracts, their’s was renewed. Mine was not. Lesson learned? The brave new world of Affirmative Action rewards incompetent workers and punishes those who work hard.
Milking the federal cow via affirmative action
Raj told me that the Nixon Administration had awarded Atlanta a massive planning grant in order to show other cities the benefits of constructing modern mass transit systems. The Department of Planning was to carry out urban design studies and design streetscape improvements for ten key rapid transit stations, which were being designed by private architecture firms. This was a strategy to reduce dependence on automobile commuting, plus create many jobs for members of the beleaguered construction industry. The funds were sufficient to hire at least 24 architects, landscape. city planners and transportation planners, but would spin off millions of dollars of construction contracts.
Instead, the mayor’s office siphoned off something like 1/3 of the grant (or more) to place do-nothing administrators in the mayor’s office and sneak money into purely political activities. It was a policy of a string of mayoral administrations in Atlanta to create a new black upper class and upper middle class with federal grants. This object was paramount to actually doing something with the money that would expand the city’s economy for all residents.
Raj told me that there was a secret quota system based on sexual preferences. This was to award NOW and some Gay Rights groups that given generously to the Maynard Jackson treasure chest. There were to be at least two black gay men, one white man, two white gay women and two black gay women in the department.
What I don’t understand is the other part of this scam. We had numerous, highly competent, African American architecture and city planning graduates at Georgia Tech and even more highly qualified Black urban planning graduates at Georgia State University. NONE were hired by the Affirmative Action staff in Atlanta City Hall. To them, affirmative action meant giving a job to an unqualified black person from a private, predominantly black college, in order to take a job away from a qualified black person from a prestigious public university. Native American, Asian and Caucasian candidates were not even considered for these jobs.
Instead, they hired seven liberal arts and business administration graduates from the predominantly black Atlanta University Complex and labeled them “urban planners, urban designers and transportation planners.” These new employees knew absolutely nothing about their assigned professions and so spent their work days partying. That is why the office was often almost empty. Raj was doing the work of three transportation planners. At $2.50 an hour, I was doing the work of four urban designers.
Leon Eplan thought that he was hiring me as a contract employee at an entry level salary, equivalent to about $70,000 a year today. I would have been delighted, considering the economy. He desperately needed employees, who actually knew how to plan cities. He intended to bump me up to the equivalent of about $125,000 a year and permanent status in the next fiscal year.
Instead, the Affirmative Action Officer put me down as a CETA intern at minimum wage. She stated to some planning staff members that “she wanted this white boy to know what it was like to be black.” Actually, this white boy was legally a Creek Indian, but Atlanta didn’t have have a racial category for Native Americans.
Down to the finish line
Leon Eplan was still talking like I could be expecting a big raise at the end of the first year. My immediate boss, Eric Harkness, asked me to take a look at the vacant Atlantic Steel Plant lands, across the Downtown Interstate Connector from Midtown Atlanta. It meant me working overtime, without compensation, but I wanted to make a good impression of Leon Eplan.
I remembered an urban design study that I done for the Vienna – Tysons Corners Metro Station, while employed by Richard P. Browne Associates. I developed the concept into the three dimensional rendering that is at the top of this article. I called it “The Urban Village” and wrote an article about the concept in Real Estate Atlanta Magazine. It became the feature article and inspiration for what is now constructed at the Atlantic Steel property.
The actual development is called Atlantic Station. Wikipedia gives credit to developer Jim Jacoby of Atlanta for coming up with the concept in 1997. Take a close look at the townhouses and arrangement of the parking underneath the main level platform to know who actually came up with the concept in 1974.
Leon Eplan loved my work and said that I had a great future with the City of Atlanta. He sent a recommendation to the Employment Office that Eric Harkness be given a raise and made Landscape Architect of the City Atlanta. I was to be hired for Eric’s old position of Senior Urban Designer and a equivalent salary of $154,000 a year. Keep in mind that I had not yet finished my Thesis and graduated from Georgia State University.
The Affirmative Action Officer nixed that idea. Two heterosexual “white” men in the planning department was one too many. Instead she hired a young man, who had just graduated with a Masters of Business Administration from Morris Brown College (predominantly black institution) and named him the Senior Urban Designer. You go figure.
In the meantime, I was running out of time with my contract with the city. They were going to replace my minimum wage position with a gay female Assistant Community Planner – per request of the two Ladies from NOW! I completely stopped giving any deep thought to what I was drawing and instead put in geometric shapes that looked cool. In the rendering, I put in names of shops that I had frequented, while living in Landskrona, Sweden.
Highly frustrated with his inability to hire qualified staff, Leon Eplan voluntarily wrote an extraordinary endorsement letter for me. Two months later, when I knew that I was definitely graduating, I was hired by the first firm that interviewed me and given the position of Director of Physical Planning. That same letter played a major role in late 1977, when I was hired to direct the revitalization of Downtown Asheville, NC.
Over a month after my contract with the City of Atlanta had ended, someone from the Mayor’s Office telephoned and asked me to present the Midtown Atlanta Urban Design Plan to a series of public meetings around Atlanta . . . primarily at school PTAs and civic clubs. It seems that no one in the City of Atlanta Department of Planning could read urban design, land use and architectural drawings!
I assumed they were going to pay me for my time and travel costs. No-o-o-o, they could not afford that, but were paying affirmative action employees the equivalent of $200,000 to $300,000 a year today, to do nothing. I told her, “Dra åt helvete! (That’s . . . “Go to Hell” in Swedish) but I am sure that she didn’t understand that little expletive deleted.
- Secret practice of targeting certain white men, who didn’t have political connections, with extreme discriminatory actions, which in the mind of Affirmative Action officials, was justified by events that occurred many generations in the past.
- Covert use of Affirmation Action policies to transfer federal funds from economic development activities to political activities.
- Covert use of Affirmative Action policies to reward political supporters with executive salaries, which required little or no work.
- Use of Affirmative Action policies to hire employees, who were grossly unqualified for their positions.
- 100% discrimination by Black officials in Atlanta City Hall against Native Americans, Latin Americans, Asians and Polynesians
- General discrimination by Atlanta City Hall officials against Black graduates of prestigious public universities
- Secret quota system that gave preference to gay applicants, presumably based on information provided by their friends, already employed by the City of Atlanta. Sexual preference was not asked on the employment application form.
Midtown Atlanta today
God has a sense of humor
Eighteen years later, I found myself suddenly living in Atlanta again. I cut through Midtown Atlanta to visit friends in the Virginia Highlands Neighborhood. I was curious as to what had actually been built around the MARTA stations instead of my ridiculous plans.
The stupid fools! Fortune 500 corporations and their architects had assumed that there was brilliance into what was essentially graffiti on my Midtown Atlanta Urban Design Plan. They copied my building footprints and plazas exactly! Actually, it turned out pretty durn good, even though the whole thing was one big practical joke. Would you believe that some of the new shops and restaurants in Midtown even copied my names from businesses in Landskrona? Life is indeed, a box of chocolates.
Meanwhile in Washington, DC!
That same month, six hundred and forty-eight miles to the north, Affirmative Action bureaucrats in the United States Department of the Interior were showing equal brilliance. It is a complex story, that is only partially comprehensible, unless you read The Shenandoah Chronicles.
Here is the essence . . . In 1991 and 1992 I served my country in a very dangerous capacity without any compensation in the successful effort to thwart an overthrow of our democratic way of life. Some very evil and wealthy men had been training an army for years in guerilla warfare and night-time combat in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. They planned to inject a deadly biotoxin the water systems of Metropolitan Washington, DC, while simultaneously dispatching a armed mob of insurgents to suddenly take over the National Capitol and capture all members of Congress. I was to be partially compensated for my sacrifices afterward by being awarded historic preservation contracts from federal government agencies.
Vivi, my French soulmate, and I had only been reconnected by LinkedIn for a few weeks, when news of the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol flashed on French television. Despite the fact that she had been living with another man for 20 years, her body froze in terror as the repressed memories came back . . . all those brave federal agents, news reporters and local cops, who had been murdered . . . thinking that I also had been murdered for 27 years . . . the two of us getting a VIP tour of the National Capitol, courtesy of First Lady Barbara Bush. For weeks afterward, she would break into tears, thinking about the past.
On August 27, 1992, five car loads of Virginia State Police parked at the rear of my farm. They planned to frame me as a “big-time cocaine dealer” then riddle me with bullets.” Out of nowhere a Black US Marshall, wearing a Polynesian shirt, showed up. He stood between the rogue cops and me, shouting . . . “You will have to kill me, before you can get to Mr. Thornton. How do you think that will turn out?”
When the neo-Nazis left, the US Marshall told me that I would have been dead weeks earlier, if not my pretty French girlfriend and daughter had not been visiting with me. She had to go back to France after six weeks on a tourist visa. He told me to move out of Virginia as soon as possible.
An American law professor offered to let me move my architecture office, livestock and cheese making equipment to his family’s unoccupied farm near Frederick, Maryland. It was near Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, where I could probably get work with the National Park Service Center . . . which was the base of operations for the architects, historians and archaeologists of the National Park Service. However, I didn’t have the money to accomplish that monumental task until my Virginia farm sold.
Everything changed when Bill Clinton was elected President. Soon it became known that my friend Roger Kennedy would be the next Director of the National Park Service. Two friends, working at the Smithsonian Instititue, provided me a long list of job openings in the Department of the Interior, General Service Administration and Capital Area Planning Commission. Throughout February 1993, I went to interviews and took exams for the most prestigious positions.
In mid-March 1993, I was notified that I had the highest score in the exam for Architect of the National Capitol. I was shocked. About two weeks later, there was a let-down.
Two other candidates, a man and a woman, had received large numbers of Affirmative Action bonus points, which placed their adjusted scores, slightly higher then mine. The woman got 10 points for being a federal employee, 10 points for being African American and 10 points for being a woman. The man got 10 points for being a federal employee and 15 points for being a veteran. I was awarded no points. At the time, I assumed that you only got Native American points, if you lived on a reservation. However, on the application form, it clearly said “federal or state recognized tribe or listed on census as Native American.”
I was still in the top three candidates, whose applications would be reviewed by the National Park Service, White House staff and Department of the Interior. The Architect of the National Capitol is actually nominated to Congress by the President and must be approved by Congress.
Then on Easter Weekend in April I got trapped at my parents’ house in suburban Atlanta. I suddenly had no money, no working credit card and my cellular phone was cancelled by my wife in Virginia. My telephone number & address book, plus my job applications were in my office at the Virginia farm.
Obviously, no one suspected that I knew National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy. I had first met him at a Smithsonian staff Christmas party in December 1990. At the time, Roger was Director of the National Museum of American History. Since then, I had been appointed to the Citizen Advisory Council of the American Battlefield Protection Program and had sat beside him and his wife at an event at Arlington Cemetery the previous weekend. We also had several mutual friends, two of whom worked in the basement of the National Museum of American History!
The adjusted scores of the three top finalists went by Roger’s desk to be rubber stamped, but he recognized my name. Instead of assuming that the staff had done their job and signing off, he read the applications. He was shocked to see that I was the only candidate, who had any experience in historic preservation. He asked for the detailed files from the Affirmative Action Staff. He also asked to see applications from other applicants, who had scored high on the exam.
Roger saw a disturbing pattern. Two federal employees had redacted information about several applicants that would have given them higher scores than the two other finalists. I had not given any credit for 20 years of professional practice and being at the administrative level in several jobs. They had redacted my Native American status. They had not given me 10 points for serving on a federal commission or council. With the revisions to the top scores on the exam, I was far and ahead No. 1. Two other people replaced the other two candidates.
Roger called my home in Virginia immediately, but only got the answering machine. There was no response. There was no response to a letter they sent to me at the farm address, other than a note written on the envelope, “Not at this address.” Two friends went out to the farm on weekends, trying to find me and found another man living there. One visitor was told that I just disappeared one day. The other was told that I was living with an older woman, somewhere near Atlanta. (The older woman was my mother!)
Roger was never able to find me and so another candidate’s name was forwarded to President Clinton. I did not learn about missing the nomination until July 1995, when I met with Roger on another matter.
Now, I have no way of knowing if it is a common practice for reviewers to manipulate applications to high-ranking administrative positions in the federal government. I suspect it is and I feel certain that Affirmative Action review is the favorite way to assist a manipulator’s preferred applicant.
In Republican-controlled areas of Georgia (I cant’s speak for other states) the concept of sociological labeling has been expanded to include political labeling. Being tragically ignorant of history’s lessons and taking Russia as their role model, North Georgia Republicans set about to create a one party/one race controlled society. Today, citizens are shut out of all aspects of local community life, if they are not a member of the Party. You cannot be a church leader, be on the Soil and Water Conservation District Board, be on the School Board or planning commission member without Party membership. You cannot provide professional services to a government agency or sell supplies to the school system.
An obsession with controlling all aspects of society as we see here in North Georgia is really Affirmative Action on steroids. It creates communities composed of unimaginative sheep, who are dependent on special sociological labels and political connections, rather than hard work, for success. If one removes the inherent competition of a free market economy, one gets cultural fossilization, economic stagnation and wacko representatives in Congress. LOL
Think about it. Someone could have made a D on an exam, but with Affirmative Action points or inside connections to Boss Hogg in Plum Nelly, Jawja, he or she would be given an A. That is a far, far cry from the original concept of Affirmative Action, which was for all persons to be given equal treatment, when applying for a job . . . regardless of their race, gender, age or religious beliefs.
The United States was once a meritocracy.
Have we become a mediocrity?