Frank Newton (engineer)

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Frank Newton
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CitizenshipUnited States of America
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Community Leader

Frank Newton, an electrical engineer who rose to be president of Southern Bell Telephone Company Building and a resident and community leader of Birmingham, Alabama, during the civil rights movement.


Newton graduated Georgia Tech with an electrical engineering degree in 1925.[1]


He was hired by Southern Bell in 1925. In 1954, he was named assistant vice president of operations.[1] He subsequently rose to be vice president of Southern Bell in Alabama and in 1968 was promoted to executive vice president of South Central Bell.[2] He was president of the Birmingham, Ala., Chamber of Commerce in 1962 and was chosen Birmingham Man of the Year in 1963.[3]

Civil Rights meeting with President John F. Kennedy

In the wake of the tense Birmingham campaign for civil rights, Newton, who was white, in July 1963 was named chairman of the newly formed Community Affairs Committee of the city of Birmingham. The committee's initial charge emphasized improving race relations. Of its 212 members, twenty-three were Black.[4] The city population was 40 percent Black.

Following the deadly bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Newton was part of a five-man delegation that traveled to Washington on September 23, 1963, to confer with President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was engaged in tense jousting with the race-baiting Gov. George Wallace, whose actions to thwart federal court orders to desegregate public institutions, had fomented violence.

When Kennedy asked Newton during the meeting if there were any practical actions that could be taken toward desegregation, Newton responded that Birmingham's racial problems could be solved if Kennedy could somehow remove "outside agitators," which included the Martin Luther King Jr, who had led the Birmingham campaign. Kennedy responded that that was not possible. Newton then told the president that making any concessions to Blacks would "only encourage those people," adding that, in his estimation, many people believed that Kennedy had, in fact, been encouraging civil rights activism and, thus, was himself responsible for the unrest. This was an argument that Wallace had been using. Kennedy's response was that he had not encouraged street action, but supported many of the integrationist goals of the activists. Newton then attacked Kennedy's proposal to desegregate public accommodations, intimating such actions went too far. This prompted an angry outburst from Kennedy, who said desegregation of public accommodations were among the least of the racial injustices that needed to be rectified: "My God, public accommodations is nothing.!"

For Kennedy, Newton became a symbol of an incompressible mentality among well-educated, well-heeled white Southerners. According to historian Dan T. Carter, Kennedy was "simply baffled" that such people: could not grasp the moral bankruptcy of a community that blandly dismissed any responsibility for a climate which (Kennedy was convinced) had led to the death of four little Black girls. Instead, they insisted that the real problem was that the President of the United States had supported 'outside agitators' who demanded little more than the right to buy a hot dog at a seedy lunch counter or to apply for a job as a sales clerk."After that meeting, Kennedy would refer to Newton by gesturing "to the end of the couch where the Alabama telephone executive had sat and identified him with mocking sarcasm as "'that son-of-a-bitch who sat there.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "News of the Alumni by Classes". The Georgia Tech Alumnus. 32:5: 20. May–June 1954.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: date format (link)
  2. "News of the Alumni". The Georgia Tech Alumnus. 46:5: 44. May–June 1968.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: date format (link)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Carter, Dan T. (1995). The politics of rage : George Wallace, the origins of the new conservatism, and the transformation of American politics. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 183–185. ISBN 0-684-80916-8. OCLC 32739924.
  4. "Community Affairs Committee". Bhamwiki. Retrieved March 7, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

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