Two men find common ground in 1969.
You could call 1969 a remarkable year.
Americans walked on the moon. The Underdog Jets and Mets won sports championships.
And Georgia's leading segregationist sat down to talk race relations with the state's most celebrated liberal legislator — a cordial evening that ended up at Atlanta’s Playboy Club.
That was the story of Augusta's Roy Harris, Atlanta's Julian Bond and perhaps some "bunny" diplomacy.
Bond — cool and articulate — had come to national notice when the Georgia Legislature voted to deny his seat after he voiced opposition to the Vietnam War. The U.S. Supreme Court later overruled them.
Harris — short, round and gregarious — was a longtime lawmaker known for both legendary political acumen and segregationist views.
The dialogue between the two very different men was coordinated for Atlanta magazine by former Augusta Chronicle staffer Steve Ball and Bob Cohn, the Augusta newspapers’ Atlanta bureau chief.
A private meeting room was arranged at downtown Atlanta's Commerce Club in the spring of 1969. The result was a surprise to the journalists, who had expected a clash.
"Who would have thought that the two would spend four amiable hours together, eating, drinking and chatting — agreeing far more than they disagreed,“ the newspaper said, ”finding harmony on points ranging from black power to slumlords to Lester Maddox."
Harris was particularly critical of a fellow Augustan, former Gov. Carl Sanders, whom he called a hypocrite for his public support of civil rights, which Harris said differed from his private view. In fact, he put many in that category, including leading Democrats.
Bond acknowledged Harris' point, recalling Sanders' polite delay in integrating Georgia draft boards, and how new Gov. Lester Maddox, when presented with the same request, had reacted immediately.
"Y'all fight in the Army, don't you?" Bond recalled Maddox saying. "You ought to be on the draft boards."
Both Bond and Harris agreed that the terms "liberal" and "conservative," were too broad to consistently label anyone.
Bond, for instance, pointed out how Gov. George Wallace, of Alabama, was hurting labor unions in his state while boosting public education with free textbooks. Both agreed that Maddox displayed a profound empathy for the poor — black or white.
Harris insisted that both races could thrive in a separate but equal society. Atlanta, he pointed out, had more rich black folks than New York or Chicago and had more black colleges than anybody.
Bond said such separations didn't make sense and had the potential for abuse.
The evening went on like that, covering many issues of the day.
Harris sprinkled his comments with old stories, slight profanities and the value of sharing a drink.
Bond complained about newspapers taking his words out of context and chuckled that they sometimes overestimated the crowds that came to hear him speak.
At the end of the discussion, which had stretched over several hours, it was near midnight and too late to make the appropriate downtown Atlanta restaurant reservations.
That was when Bond mentioned that Atlanta's Playboy Club was still open, and someone — never identified — had a membership key.
Harris, a sometimes Sunday school teacher, said he wasn't much of a nightclub man ... but that the "bunny club" sounded interesting.
Soon the small group was being welcomed inside the club for a late meal.
That's where it was noticed that both the young activist and the old segregationist ordered the same entree: steak.