50th Anniversary of Desegregation at UGA
“While some of the events during those early days 50 years ago might have caused my dream to turn into a nightmare, I am here today having fulfilled my dreams beyond even my wildest expectations, because good people did the right thing—in the past and in that challenging present.”
—Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63) in her Jan. 10 lecture on the UGA campus, part of the university’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of desegregation.
GA launched “Celebrating Courage,” its 50-day commemoration of the 50th anniversary of desegregation, in January with a visit to the campus by Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Mary Frances Early (MEd ’62). Though a record snowstorm blanketed the area, closing the university for three days and forcing some events to be canceled, an opening reception for Hunter-Gault and the family of Hamilton Holmes, the first black students admitted to UGA, and Early, the first black student to earn a UGA degree, went on. Hunter-Gault also delivered a keynote speech in the Chapel as planned.
Over the next two months, UGA would sponsor an array of events connected to desegregation. Among them: panel discussions and guest lecturers. “Through their eyes,” an art exhibit at the Tate Student Center, highlighted the diverse experiences of UGA students.
In his remarks at the Jan. 9 kickoff reception, UGA President Michael F. Adams praised Hunter-Gault, Holmes and Early for their courage.
“This university and the people of this state whom we serve are far, far better today, because two young people completed the singular act of registering for class 50 years ago and another young person came back home to support them,” Adams said. “Since then, we have steadily built a university community opening and welcoming to all. This is a community where difference and diversity matter. ”
A safe haven
by Archibald Killian
The courts handed down the order that Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter could go to school, but the university really didn’t make any arrangements for them to go. It was up to the two of them from that point on. When push came to shove, everybody who had agreed to provide Hamp a place to stay backed out. Somebody called my mother, who was active in the church. And Mama called me and said, “Hamp has been accepted, but there’s no place for him to stay.” Then she said that because I was the oldest man at home, the decision would be up to me. But we had to make a decision right then and right there. After I thought about the situation and how it was and how it ought to be, we agreed to keep him.
Hamp stayed, ate and studied at our house but he didn’t really talk about what was happening on campus.
When they had a riot one night, city officials told us they had gotten word that the Klan was coming to our house to burn a cross. And I told the city officials, “Since ya’ll brought a message, you take one back. You tell them that I said that if they come out here and burn a cross, nobody will have to ask who came because we’re going to shoot them and all you’ll have to do in the morning is turn them over and see who came.” We formed a circle around the house that night and guarded it with our shotguns, but the Klan didn’t come. I hadn’t really thought about segregation as such before I fought in the Korean War. But after I fought to get freedom for people in other countries and came back to America, I couldn’t even sit down in a restaurant and get a cup of coffee. That’s when I got pretty well upset about the whole thing.
—Archibald Killian is a pastor at St. Mark AME Church in Athens. The Killian family of Athens provided housing for Hamilton Holmes while he was a student at the University of Georgia. Archibald Killian was also the first African-American officer in the Athens police department.
Fear was rampant
by Mary Diallo (AB '66, MA '73)
In 1961, inspired by the integration of the University of Georgia by Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, four Athens High and Industrial School (AHIS) students, including myself, applied for admission to UGA. Although I was the only one who received an acceptance letter for undergraduate admission, I am compelled to respond to Calvin Trillin’s assertion that “... nobody in Athens complained about prejudice in the rejection of three Athens Negroes who had applied for admission to the same class , because nobody in Athens pretends that the town’s Negro high school, Athens High and Industrial, could conceivably produce more than one or two students able to meet the relatively undemanding minimum requirements for admission to the University of Georgia.” (An Education in Georgia, 1964, p. 116)
Fear was an important factor and, in my opinion, the main reason no one in the black community challenged the rejection of my classmates. One would have to have lived in the black community to know how pervasive the fear was during that period. For example, only one AHIS teacher, Walter Allen, was willing to openly assist the four of us in the application process, an action that could have cost him his job. In spite of this, he met with us regularly, even arranging for us to meet with Charlayne Hunter at Killian’s Four Seasons, a local restaurant. Mr. Allen made us believe that we had every right to attend the University of Georgia because we were well qualified. Privately, a few other teachers also encouraged us and assisted us with the application process.
My acceptance to UGA, when I received it, was like an open secret that no one dared to acknowledge in any public forum, even though I was the first African American from Athens to be admitted there. Our school newspaper did not report it, nor was it mentioned during my high school graduation ceremony. Fear was rampant during this time, warranted or not. In another section of his book, Trillin reports a discussion he had with Sam Wood, the Clarke County school superintendent. According to Trillin, Wood told him that the teachers at Athens High and Industrial were qualified “only on paper.” (p. 117) Trillin also asserts that “... Negro children remained caught in the cycle of half-educated teachers teaching students who, in turn, became half-educated teachers—an educational cycle that could only be broken by integration.” I take issue with these statements which I believe unfairly malign both our AHIS teachers and the school’s graduates.
Just for the record, of my three classmates who initially were refused admission to the UGA, all graduated from historically black colleges. Two of them, Joan Liston and Ola Lumpkin (MSW ’69), later received graduate degrees from the University of Georgia. One might therefore question the basis for their initial rejection.”
—Mary B. Diallo is an associate professor of French at Florida A&M University. She was the first African-American student from Athens to attend UGA.
The first day
by Harold A. Black (BBA '66)
Growing up in the segregated South, I had never had a conversation with a white person until I arrived on the Georgia campus with my father for an interview. The university had insisted in its desegregation suit that it had never denied admission on the basis of race, it had just not received an application from a qualified black.
We all knew that was a lie as evidenced by the academic and professional achievements of previous blacks who had been rejected for admission. The application form had race on it and called for a picture (as if they didn’t know the race of an applicant from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta) and an interview of in-state applicants.
My interview was in Athens because the Atlanta interview date on my letter had already passed before the postmark. So my Dad and I went to Athens, where we were subjected to the most amazing interview. [The administrator] did not shake our hands or ask us to be seated. He asked why I wanted to come to the university since I was not wanted. He then used the “N” word. We got up and left. Dad said, “Well I guess you will have to go somewhere else.” Instead, one week later I received a letter that said, “Inside is your admission to the University of Georgia.” We never figured out why I was accepted.
When we arrived at Reed Hall, we walked into a crowded lobby and it was like Moses parting the Red Sea. The house mother said, “You must be the blacks.” Indeed we were. We were shown a room with a single bed. Mom said, “Is he the only colored boy?” “Yes ma’am,” the housemother said.
When we got back to the car Mom said, “Get in. We’ll come back for your stuff but you are not going back in there.” I told her that I might as well stay.
The bookstore initially refused to sell me textbooks, I had to show an ID to be served in the cafeteria and the first time I went swimming on campus, they kicked everyone out of the pool and drained it.
That night we had a dorm meeting, and when I walked into the auditorium I was determined not to sit in the back. I finally picked out a row and sat down. Everyone on the row got up and moved (this became common—no one sat on the same row in my classes for the first two years).
The four guys sitting in front of me turned around. One said, “You are a freshman?” “Yes,” I said. “Well, we are too, can we sit with you?” These became my closest friends from the very first day. They introduced me to their other friends and Westminster House, where I could study in peace. They encountered more harassment than I—even though my windows were broken every night and my room set on fire twice. Yet they never wavered in their friendship. It was as if God said, “Harold, sit there.”
—Harold A. Black is the Smith Professor of Finance at the University of Tennessee.
Out of control
by Carolyn Kelley Hatcher (AB '61)
I served on Women’s Student Government Association that year, and Ms. Hunter-Gault was given the WSGA suite in Center Myers (where I had been living). I well remember the riot... very, very scary. She appeared a very frightened young lady, as well she should have been. People were mean, angry, loud, very emotional and out of control. She handled herself well.
The women students had to be put on restriction that week, no nights out past 5... they were extremely angry at the WSGA and Dean of Women for this. But it was dangerous to be out in Athens.
Looking back, we as students were very afraid our university was to be closed, and some of us were near graduation. Of course, desegregation was the right thing... we selfishly were thinking of our own lives and future, however. I had my parents call the governor’s office to tell him not to close UGA... for my own reasons, I suppose, at that time... [Hunter-Gault and Holmes] were two very, very brave and courageous people.”
—Carolyn Kelley Hatcher retired in March 2009 after 30 years as Dougherty County elections supervisor.
To learn more about Celebrating Courage and diversity at UGA, go to http://www.desegregation.uga.edu.