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Charles L. Weltner

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Charles L. Weltner

Charles Longstreet Weltner
United States Representative from Georgia's 5th congressional district
In office
Preceded by James C. Davis
Succeeded by Fletcher Thompson
Judge of the Fulton County Superior Court
In office
Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia
In office
Personal details
Born (1927-12-17)December 17, 1927
Atlanta, Georgia
Died August 31, 1992(1992-08-31) (aged 64)
Atlanta, Georgia
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Oglethorpe University

Columbia Law School

Military service
Service/branch United States Army

Charles Longstreet Weltner (December 17, 1927 – August 31, 1992) was a politician from the U.S. state of Georgia.

Weltner was born in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1948, he received a bachelor's degree from Oglethorpe University in suburban DeKalb County, Georgia. In 1950, he received a law degree from Columbia Law School in New York City. After serving two years in the United States Army, Weltner practiced law in Atlanta and served as an advocate for civil rights.

In 1962, Weltner was elected to represent Georgia's 5th congressional district in the House of Representatives as a Democrat. Once in office, he was the only member of the Georgia congressional delegation to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He also supported quick implementation of the United States Supreme Court decision to outlaw racial segregation in public schools, the 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education. In 1966, Weltner refused to run for reelection when the state Democratic Party demanded that he sign a loyalty oath that would have required him to support Lester Maddox, an ardent segregationist who was running for governor against a Republican U.S. representative, Howard Callaway. In a speech, Weltner stated "I love the Congress, but I will give up my office before I give up my principles." No other had taken the loyalty oath so literally. Weltner described Maddox as "the very symbol of violence and repression." Nevertheless, Maddox was chosen governor by the state legislature as a result of a general election impasse with Callaway and former Governor Ellis Arnall, who received critical votes as a write-in candidate. Maddox ridiculed Weltner for abandoning the House race: "Anyone who would give up his seat in Congress is sick." Conversely, U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., hailed Weltner's courage for rejecting Maddox. The Macon Telegraph decreed Weltner "a public servant greatly to be admired." The Savannah Morning News termed Weltner "a man of principle" but repudiated his "foolhardy liberalism."

Callaway expressed "amusement" over the "foolish" loyalty oath and questioned whether Weltner withdrew from the race because he feared the Republican Fletcher Thompson, a state senator from Atlanta, would unseat him. Later Callaway referred to his House colleague Weltner as "courageous," but Weltner dismissed southern Republicans at that time were "Dixiecrats in button-down shirts." Weltner said that Callaway viewed Georgia as "a giant company store." Presumably, Weltner wrote in Arnall's name in the gubernatorial general election.

Weltner tried to regain his seat in 1968 on the Humphrey-Muskie ticket but lost to his Republican successor Fletcher Thompson. In 1973, Weltner ran for mayor of Atlanta but finished third behind Jewish incumbent Sam Massell and the eventual winner, Vice Mayor Maynard Jackson, an African American.

After leaving politics, Weltner continued his legal career, first as a judge in the Fulton County Superior Court from 1976 to 1981 and then serving as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia from 1981 to 1992. In June 1992, he was elected as the Chief Justice of that body by his fellow justices, and he served in that role until his death in Atlanta on August 31, 1992.

In 1991, Weltner became the second individual to be honored with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, the first having been former U.S. Representative Carl Elliott of Alabama, another civil rights advocate.


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External References

  • Speech by Charles Weltner on March 22, 1968, about the Southerner at the crossroads. From the University of Alabama's Emphasis Symposium on Contemporary Issues.
Preceded by
James C. Davis
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Georgia's 5th congressional district

January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1967
Succeeded by
Fletcher Thompson
Legal offices
Preceded by
Harold G. Clarke
Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of Georgia
June 1992 – August 31, 1992
Succeeded by
Harold G. Clarke
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