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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:           SAM MASSELL

INTERVIEWER:       RAY ANN KREMER

LOCATION:             ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                      AUGUST 10, 1992

                                 AUGUST 24, 1992

                                 FEBRUARY 8, 1993

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Samuel “Sam” A. Massell, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 26, 1927. His parents were Samuel A. Massell, Sr. and Florence Rubin Massell. Sam was married to Doris Middlebrooks Massell. Sam and Doris were the parents of three children: Melanie Jacobs, Cindy Massell and Steve Massell. Sam remarried after the death of Doris, to Sandra Gordy.

During Sam’s childhood, his father was a partner in Massell Realty Company with brothers Benjamin Joseph Massell and Levi J. Massell. During the Great Depression, Sam’s father left real estate to establish a law practice. Sam attended Druid Hills grade school and high school. He earned a bachelor of commercial science degree at Georgia State University and an LLB degree from Atlanta Law School.

Sam’s political career included serving on the City Council in Mountain Park, Georgia and on Atlanta’s Board of Aldermen (now City Council). From 1970 to 1974, he was Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, having been elected as its first Jewish mayor. Prior to that, Sam had a career as a commercial realtor. After his tenure as Mayor, he operated a travel agency and was the founding president of the Buckhead Coalition.

Scope of Interview:

Sam discusses his parents’ and his grandparents’ early history. His father Sam A. Massell, Sr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia after his paternal grandfather Raphael “Ralph” Massell” relocated from New York to Atlanta and started a wholesale grocery business. His mother Florence Rubin Massell was born in St. Louis, Missouri. His maternal grandmother Rebecca Brown Rubin immigrated from Russia and his maternal grandfather Sol Rubin was a native New Yorker who operated Rubins Department Store in Atlanta.

Sam talked about his father’s careers: as secretary for the Atlanta Crackers, as a real estate developer until the Great Depression, and as an attorney. Sam tells about the Massell Realty Company, a real estate development business operated by his father and his uncles Ben and Levi Massell. Sam mentions his sister Shirley Solomons and his brother Howard Massell.

Sam remembers living in the historic Druid Hills area of Atlanta during his childhood.  He recalls his years at Druid Hills grade school and high school and his childhood friends Sonny Held, Arthur Heyman, Bobby Brail, Donald Chait, Charlie Goldstein, Sig Guthman, and Walter Rogers. He talks about the Top Hat Club, a Jewish high school fraternity, playing on its basketball team, and editing its newspaper. He talks about his college years at University of Georgia and attending Emory University, Georgia State University, Atlanta Law School, Woodrow Wilson Law School, and Georgia Institute of Technology. He talks about his service in the United States Air Force following World War II.

Sam talks about the events organized for youths in the Reform Jewish community to socialize together, such as Ballyhoo. Sam remembers attending High Holy Days services at The Temple and attending Passover seders conducted by his paternal grandfather. He talks about his wedding at The Temple and his wife Doris’ conversion to Judaism.

Sam discusses race relations in Atlanta and its change from a majority white to majority black population. He explains how it affected politics in Atlanta and his electoral campaigns. He recalls civil rights leaders he knew in Atlanta, including Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, A. T. Walden,  and Leroy Johnson.  He discusses key events and issues he handled as Mayor of Atlanta, including the hippie movement, the garbage strike, and the MARTA referendum. He mentions the antisemitism he encountered in public office and while campaigning.

Sam discusses his career as a commercial realtor, operating a travel agency, and his activities as the founding president of the Buckhead Coalition.

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