The Old Council Chamber in Atlanta City Hall will be renamed for former mayor Sam Massell, who now heads the Buckhead Coalition.
The honor was authorized by a unanimous City Council resolution Feb. 4 that also renames the current council chamber for Marvin Arrington Sr., a former Fulton County judge and council president.
“Both men are Atlanta legends who have left an indelible imprint and set a standard for all elected officials who followed them to meet,” said Michael Julian Bond, the councilmember who sponsored the resolution, in a press release. “There has never been a time when I haven’t known them to be tremendously, intrinsically and civically active. It is appropriate that they receive this honor.”
“Obviously, I’m greatly honored that they would consider it, even, and if it comes into fruition, I’ll be proud to be that part of a legacy of a city that I love,” said Massell.
In the press release, Bond cited his family connections to both men.
“My father [civil rights activist Julian Bond] and [U.S. Rep.] John Lewis campaigned for Sam Massell. Marvin Arrington and my parents were all close friends,” said Bond. “I have long admired both of these men. Both served as mentors to me. It is humbling for this council to be a part of this historic honor.”
The renaming resolution cites Massell’s eight years of service as a member of the council – then called the Board of Aldermen – and his historic role as the city’s first Jewish mayor, serving from 1970 to 1974. He also served as vice-mayor.
“Massell’s lasting legacy included helping launch the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), building the Omni Coliseum (first enclosed arena in Atlanta), and Woodruff Park,” the resolution reads. “He also pioneered minority opportunities in city government, appointing the first woman to the Atlanta City Council and the first African Americans as municipal department heads.”
“I do have many fond memories there,” Massell said of the Old Council Chambers. He recalled political decisions made in the room, including the creation of the Urban Design Commission, which continues to operate, and of the Community Relations Commission, which aimed to promote racial tolerance and prevent discrimination. Massell later appointed Andrew Young as CRC chair, who went on to become a congressman, Atlanta mayor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Massell said he was inaugurated in the Old Council Chamber, as were former mayors Ivan Allen Jr. and William Hartsfield. “They weren’t as elaborate back then as they seem to be today…,” Massell said of mayoral inaugurations.
For the past 30 years, Massell has served as president of the Buckhead Coalition, an invitation-only group of 100 CEOs and community leaders that is known for taking influential policy positions. Its annual luncheon always makes news with a keynote address from a policymaker, this year hosting new Gov. Brian Kemp. A biography of Massell, “Play It Again, Sam,” was published in 2017.
The Old Council Chamber continues to be used for major public meetings.
Massell recently appeared on the “Reporter Extra” podcast, where he discussed his political life and his opposition to Buckhead becoming a separate city from Atlanta. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Update: This story has been updated with comments from Sam Massell.