Remembering the Integration of University of Georgia, 50 years later
January 7, 2011 2:12 PM   Subscribe

On January 6, 1961, the University of Georgia was desegregated when Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes were admitted to the University of Georgia, with the ruling issued by U.S. District Court Judge William Bootle. The process had taken lengthy legal battles, following their applications to attend the school starting in the fall of 1959. With the 50th anniversary of that ruling, NPR has two interviews with Charlayne Hunter-Gault (née Charlayne Hunter).

For more news from the past, Time Magazine's archives have a number of pieces on Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes.

In more current times, Charlayne Hunter-Gault is an NPR foreign correspondent. Hamilton E. Holmes, who had a distinguished career in medicine, died in 1995.

The University of Georgia has a website dedicated to the campus' history of desegregation, and there are a number of stories and activities at UGA, including a brief history of the desegregation of the University of Georgia, panel discussions, and Charlayne Hunter-Gault will discuss her college experience, as part of 50 days of events on campus to commemorate the anniversary of integration.
posted by filthy light thief (17 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Personal commentary: the interviews are interesting, because Hunter-Gault talks about her memories as being a young girl amidst everything that was going on and what this symbolized:
So that second night, as I was preparing to go to bed - I hadn't yet unpacked my clothes. They were in a suitcase on the floor. And I was used to the noise from the previous night, you know: Two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate.

And all of a sudden, in the middle of one of these chants, a brick was hurled through the window. And, you know, in those days, I might have been a historical symbol, but I was also a 19-year-old girl and I loved clothes. And the thing I thought about as that brick came through my window was, oh, my goodness. There's glass all over my clothes.
And some of the old Time Magazine articles have interesting insight following the first days of protest and rallies at the school:
With a rueful smile, one white girl summed up: "Some of us have grown up a lot in the last ten days—and so have some adults."

The quietest people on campus were Students Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, well aware that the mob-sparked expulsion of Negro Coed Autherine Lucy* from the University of Alabama in 1956 was clinched by her charge that it was a frame-up. Last week their calm paid off. On the first day, they were each convoyed by one university official and two detectives, on the second by one detective trailing 30 feet behind, and on the third day they walked alone. By week's end, they were almost ignored.
[Footnote from the original article] * Now a 31-year-old Baptist minister's wife, who will soon enter Houston's Texas Southern (Negro) University to renew her teaching certificate. Wishing Students Holmes and Hunter well, she said last week: "I don't think my efforts at Alabama were wasted. What I did started a lot of people thinking."
posted by filthy light thief at 2:39 PM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I can assuredly say: I would not have had the courage these young adults had in fighting to and ultimately attending UGA. They could have very easily been killed. Martyrs, but dead the same.

Reading this reminded me of evidence of what I've often thought of as a general rule: When you categorically exclude a class of individuals from an activity based on an attribute that has absolutely no relation to their ability to perform that activity, the first to enter the fray after the wall has been torn down usually prove the bigots "extra" wrong by performing extraordinarily. This has been especially visible with African Americans. A few examples: the political genius of Barack Obama, the skill of the Tuskegee airmen, the ability of the first professional black ball players and... Messrs. Hunter and Holmes.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:53 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I listented to this interview on NPR driving through downtown Atlanta today and that anecdote about the dresses brought me to tears. To be such a young person and have to deal with all of that, the dresses just made it so real for me, like when I was in a car wreck and I was sitting there fretting about getting the blood out of the lace trim. There must be a special place in our brain that keeps us from thinking about the horrifying reality of a situation.
posted by stormygrey at 2:54 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you think you would have been on the right side of this fight, there's another civil rights issue that needs you now...
posted by MrMoonPie at 3:30 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

these are the people that made it possible for me to be here beside my mom and dad. i have nothing but oodles and oodles of gratitude.
posted by liza at 4:02 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

young girl

Since when is a 19 year old a "young girl"?
posted by rodgerd at 4:04 PM on January 7, 2011

Sorry, that should have been young lady. Reading through the news articles from Time Magazine are a bit odd on the brain, as Hunter is referred to as a "girl" throughout.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:52 PM on January 7, 2011

Messrs. Hunter and Holmes.

They're women, so that would be Mss. (or Mses. or Mmes.) Hunter-Gault and Holmes.
posted by jedicus at 4:53 PM on January 7, 2011

Blargh. Obviously Holmes was a man. I give up.
posted by jedicus at 4:54 PM on January 7, 2011

I wouldn't be surprised if any female under 21 were then referred to as a girl. The 26th Amendment wasn't passed until 1971 (having been finally proposed a mere four months earlier).
posted by dhartung at 6:21 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm always blown away that our country was so backwards. I know I shouldn't be. We still are backwards (we don't want no health insurance, gays can't marry but Hugh Hefner can marry Barbie, and what the fuck if Obama were a Muslim) but I digress. Charlayne Hunter Gault and Hamilton Holmes forced America to live up to its ideals. They are heros.
posted by shoesietart at 11:54 PM on January 7, 2011

UGA is still known as a "white" school. I was in Athens for 9 years, and every few years another student group would form, documenting and agitating against the extremely low and unrepresentative number of black men enrolled.
posted by eustatic at 1:54 AM on January 8, 2011

shoesietart: Charlayne Hunter Gault and Hamilton Holmes forced America to live up to its ideals. They are heros.

I don't know a lot about the lead-up to their applications, but in reading the histories of Hunter and Holmes, I found that Jesse Hill and other African American civil rights activists were looking for talented students to challenge the segregation of schools. From that link:
As a member of the NAACP's education committee, Hill began recruiting black students to challenge segregation in Georgia's colleges and universities. He met with students Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter to discuss plans to desegregate Georgia State College (later Georgia State University). At Holmes's request, however, the plans were modified and efforts were focused instead at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens.
This doesn't make what Hunter and Holmes did any less outstanding, but it means there were more people active in this effort than I realized. He's not a prominent name (from what I've seen), but he has an interesting history I was happy to find.

three blind mice: To Hell with Georgia.

Georgia Tech was the first university in the Deep South to desegregate without a court order.

Wow, I did not know that history, thanks!
On January 17, 1961, a meeting of 2,741 students in the Old Gym voted by an overwhelming majority to endorse integration of qualified applicants, regardless of race. Three years after the meeting, and one year after the University of Georgia's violent integration, Georgia Tech became the first university in the Deep South to desegregate without a court order, with Ford Greene, Ralph A. Long, Jr. and Lawrence Michael Williams becoming Georgia Tech's first three African American students.
Sometimes people can be fantastic, or simply decent in the face of widespread hatred and fear.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:58 AM on January 8, 2011

So interesting; I didn't realize this about Hunter-Gault even though she is a such familiar figure through her later work. Thanks for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:31 AM on January 8, 2011

Sometimes people can be fantastic, or simply decent in the face of widespread hatred and fear.

Nothing at all like that. We graduates of the North Avenue Trade School are but simple tradesmen. Freshman chemistry is completely ignorant of race.
posted by three blind mice at 12:36 PM on January 8, 2011

I got led down the wikipedia rabbit hole by looking up Vernon Jordan, who was the same Vernon Jordan that was part of the Clinton transition team and apparently was, at one point, shot by a serial killer and survived.
posted by electroboy at 8:38 AM on January 10, 2011

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