You know, we need to begin to mix so people can stop being afraid. We are afraid of each other, and there is no need to be because there are more commonalities than there are differences.
This is a “Goin' Back : Remembering UGA" interview with Ms. Mary Frances Early, conducted by Fran Lane on May 22, 2007. Today we are at the University of Georgia Visitors Center in the Four Towers Building on College Station Road, in Athens, Georgia.
Thank you for being with us today, Ms. Early.
I'm happy to be here.Back to scenes
Let's begin at the beginning. Please tell us a little bit about your early life, your family, your upbringing.
Well, I was born in Atlanta. I am a native of Atlanta, which is a rarity now. I was born in Summerhill, which is Southeast Atlanta, and at that time it was probably middle class to upper middle class for African-Americans. I loved being there, because we had a big house with a porch and swing, and a big back yard, and we had ducks that ran me…chased me, and I didn't like that. But, we had a pomegranate tree, and nowadays when I see pomegranate juice going for something like $4 a bottle (laughs), I think about those pomegranates that we got for free. But at any rate, my dad owned a restaurant on Auburn Avenue, the famous “Sweet Auburn Avenue", and it was not far from Dr. King's church. At any rate, at that age, I didn't know much about that church, but as I grew older I did come to know a lot about it. My mom would pick us up from school, and take us over to the restaurant after school. Now, we were on double sessions in school. We had a morning session and then an afternoon. So, my older brother and I were always on the morning session so that we could go to the restaurant with my mom. It was a smallish restaurant, the mom-and-pop-type, but it was what my dad wanted to do. He wanted to be his own boss. I was paid to stay out of the way, and…(laughs)…so, there was the Auburn Branch Library, which was the only library for African-Americans at the time, right directly across the street. So every day, I would go over and do my homework and then just would read. Of course, I love to read anyway, and this was like the Brer Rabbit in the briar patch, because I loved it so. My brother was a year and six months older, and he was allowed to help in the restaurant, but I was not. When…oh, my father was, I guess, an amateur musician. He liked to sing. He had a beautiful baritone voice. He sang at weddings, and funerals, and sang at church, and he wanted me to take piano so that I could accompany him. So, I started taking piano when I was six. The studio was just above where my father's restaurant was, so it was very convenient. But, the piano teacher would rap you on the knuckles when you played a wrong note, and I didn't like that too much. So, I stopped taking piano after a year. My father had bought us a big old upright piano, which I kept through my college years actually, and I would play on the piano even though I was no longer taking the piano. He bought me this library of music…it's about, what…26 volumes, I think, from beginner to advanced level, and I continued to play throughout my elementary years.
So you were self-taught, almost?
Pretty much, except for that one year when I was six. Growing up was fun, but my father wanted to buy the building where the restaurant was located, and they wouldn't allow him to buy it. So, we moved to Kennedy Street, which is northwest Atlanta, and he bought a grocery store. Unfortunately, soon afterward, he died. I was age twelve at the time, and I, of course, looked to my mom. She has always been my role model, because she was a teacher in Monroe, Georgia. And she always talked about how wonderful it was to stretch young minds, and I thought, that's what I want to do, and of course it turned out I did that. She was the kind of person who wanted you to move out on your own. She kept pushing us to do things, to explore, and she was really quite an influence. My father influenced me as far as music was concerned. My mom influenced me as far as teaching was concerned. While we were growing up, of course, I have said that the schools were a double session. They were also segregated, and we never got new textbooks. We always got the hand-me-downs from a white school. I don't think I had a new textbook until I was in eleventh grade in high school. But, school was fun. I loved school. I guess I was what you call a nerd (laughs), because I liked to read and to write, and other kids liked to play out more, but I just enjoyed reading and being involved in school. My elementary teachers…I went a year early because I had gone to a pre-school, then it was called nursery, and they had a kindergarten class. I was reading by the time I went into the kindergarten class, so I was allowed to go into first grade at age five rather than six. It was funny, because my birthday is in June, so I was five, and then I went into first grade, rather than six and going into first grade. I moved so rapidly that they wanted to, what they call, promote you a year ahead when I was in the fourth grade, and my mom and dad said no, because I was already a year ahead and they didn't want socially…they didn't want me to be a REAL nerd (laughs). So, when I went to high school, I went first to Howard High School. There were only two high schools at that time for blacks. I went to Howard High School because my dad played golf, and one of his golf partners was the principal of Howard. And, of course, I said he died, so the next year I went to Washington High School. I was there for two years, and got in the chorus, but I didn't get in the band although I wanted to, because the band director wanted me to play the tuba, and I thought…
That wasn't your instrument?
I didn't want a tuba. That was too big. So, when I was in the eleventh grade, just before the eleventh grade, they built a new school called Turner High School, the same school that Charlayne Hunter went to, and Hamilton Holmes. [Hunter and Holmes were the first two African American students admitted to the University of Georgia.] Because I was going into the eleventh grade and not the twelfth, they sent all the eleventh graders who were in a certain area to Turner. My brother was still at Washington, and I went to Turner. And there, I started playing the clarinet. I was in the band, and the band director was such a charismatic person. He was very interested in his students, and I thought, “You know, I'd like to do that" because all the kids gravitated toward band. Even though it wasn't band time, we'd go to the band room. So, I decided I was going to become a band director, but in those days, that was not what ladies did. You weren't supposed to teach band, that was a man's job. I said, “I'm going to be a band director," and I did later on.Back to scenes
In high school, I was influenced by a lot of very good teachers. It gave us a wonderful background, and it was a new school. I wrote the school's song, and that's how I met Charlayne. When I went to college and came back to Turner to student teach, she was on the newspaper staff and she wanted to interview me about writing the school song and that's when I met her. When I got ready to go on to college, I was class valedictorian as I had been in elementary school, and I guess you have to get something for studying so hard, even though you like it. And my band director would take, I think, about three or four of us over to Clark College to play, to rehearse with the band. I didn't know, but he was really just sort of gently pushing us toward that – that was his alma mater. I got a scholarship from Spelman, which was an all girl's school, and that didn't appeal to me, and I got a scholarship to Smith College, and I thought…
Yeah. I didn't want to leave my mom, because my dad had died, and I thought, you know, I need to be closer to her. So, I chose Clark, because, well my band director had sort of primed me for it. I was in the band there, and I also sang in the choir, the chorus. And I started taking a lot of courses, of course, it was different. I was young, younger than most. I was sixteen when I went. But I was just drawn up into all of this wonderful knowledge, you know, it was….and the teachers really gave us a wonderful education. It was a great place to be.Back to scenes
I guess I've talked about early life and schooling. I don't know if you have any other questions?
Well, I had seen a quote from you, I think about your band leader at Turner. Early influences on your life, obviously your mother and father?
My mother, my father…
And this gentleman.
And Dr. Wyatt Walton now. He was…as I said, he was charismatic, and he loved music, and he loved music education. And he tried to make students do their best, but also it was like a family. And I think I liked that more than anything else. It was great being a part of something that was successful and, of course, I love music anyway, but he was a great influence.
Let's go ahead and talk…you've already talked about Clark and what a wonderful time you had there. Now, you left after you graduated, you had a degree in music education, is that right, from Clark?
Yes. I majored in music education. I minored in secondary education and library science. I had two, a double minor. Because I thought, well, if I get tired of teaching, I can always become a music librarian since I liked the library so much. While I was, I guess in my senior year at Clark, I went to the Camp Leno Loc YWCA camp in Bear Mountain, New York. It was out of Orange, New Jersey, the YWCA, but they had this camp, and I went there as a music counselor, and I guess that was my first experience with a mixed group. Actually, I was the only African-American counselor, but there were a few campers there who were of color, and I enjoyed that immensely. We had Christmas in July, and I did Peter Pan with them. It was just wonderful, and I went back, actually, when I was a senior and did the camp for a second year. But that was my first trip away from Atlanta, except for going to New York where I had a half sister, and I thought, well, you know, this is the way we should live. We should live together. And that, as I look back and reflect on it, probably sort of influenced me when I came here.
Did you teach between the time that you finished at Clark and then went to graduate school?
Yes, I started teaching immediately. I got a job as a fifth grade teacher, but I had band after school. This went on for, I guess, two years and then I was promoted to just music teacher and I loved it. I taught all the general music classes. I taught chorus. I taught band, and that was good, because when I became a music supervisor, I could really identify with teacher problems because I had done both the band, the general music, and the choir. So that was good.
You knew what they were dealing with.
Yes. I went to Interlochen, which is a national music camp in Michigan. They had a university division. That was my second year out of college, and I was trying to see whether I would want to go to the University of Michigan, and I had a chance…there was more music that summer than I had had in my whole life because it was music all day every day, and it was wonderful. I really enjoyed it and that was sort of a pioneering effort too, because there were two of us African-Americans there. But it was a wonderful summer because we sang in the choir, I played in the orchestra, I played clarinet, of course, played in the band and there was drama, there was dance and music, as I said, all the time.Back to scenes
And I decided that I wanted to go to the University of Michigan. I applied and was excepted and went there for two summers, and at that time it was 1961. This was when I saw the newsreel about Charlayne and Hamilton, and I decided, “I am going to go to the University of Georgia. This is where I should go."
Tell us a little bit about that admissions process. Not a pleasant experience.
No, it wasn't. And you know, I found, I guess, about five years ago that there was an investigative report. I didn't know until five years ago that they had done one. I knew that they had done one for Charlayne and Hamilton, but I didn't know they had done one for me. And as I read it today, it is very upsetting because of the things that they were looking at. Whether I had venereal disease, whether I'd had an illegitimate child, if I had a police record, if I'd been shoplifting, you know, just things that would never have even occurred to me. And I thought, “You know, I'm a teacher. Why would they think that I would do that?" But one of the reasons…there were three women who applied to what is now Georgia State. I think it was the Georgia College of Business at the time. And two of them had had illegitimate children, and they disallowed them admission based on moral charges. And I thought, well, you know, I'm sure there's some white kids at Georgia who have had similar problems. Why is this used as….but anyway. I applied three days after the riot here.
That would have been in January of…
It was January of '61. I think it was January 14 when I applied. I got a letter back and forms in two days, which was really fast. But of course, they didn't know, I just told them I was a teacher and wanted to major in…wanted to get a masters in music education. They sent the forms, I completed them and sent them back, but I guess when they got my transcripts they found that I was African-American. And that's when it started. It just…it went on, and on, and on. It was a cat and mouse game. I didn't know what the status of my admission was. I didn't know if they were going to accept me or whether I'd go back to Michigan. See, when you went out of state, they paid us out of state aid to go to another university so that you wouldn't have to go to Georgia. And I accepted that, of course, but when I decided that I couldn't march on the picket lines because I was a teacher, they would have fired me, but I could go to school. So I said, “You know, I can do that. That can be my role in civil rights and trying to get equality." And so that's when I decided to do it. My mom was not really interested in my going initially, because, as I said, she grew up in Monroe. And there was a lynching in Monroe. I think it was 1946, but I'm not sure about that. And she thought, “That's very close, and you know, they're still doing some bad things and you need to think about it. Do you really want to do this?"
Concerned for your safety?
Yes. And I said, “Yes, I do. I am not really concerned about being safe. I think that this is…the time is right and this is what I want to do." And then she was fully in support. But, it took five months for me to actually get in. I came down…you were supposed to have…well, first of all, you had to go to the court house with a form and get the clerk of the court to sign, or the judge, saying that you were an upstanding citizen. And you were supposed to get two alumni signatures. Well, I didn't know any UGA alumni, so I didn't do that. But I did go and get the judge, well, it was the clerk of the court, to sign. And he signed with no big problem, and I sent that in. Then I found that they had requested my high school transcript. Well, fortunately my grades were very good. I graduated valedictorian in both places and my high school transcript was really better than my college. They were trying to find some way to keep me out, but there was a required interview with the registrar, Mr. Danner, Walter Danner. But nobody asked me to come for the interview. It was getting…I guess it was April, and we were having spring break in school. So I called down and said “I'm coming down, and I want to have an interview." Well, I was able to talk with Mr. Danner, and his assistant, I think his name was Paul Keys [Kea]. At any rate, he asked questions that I thought were inappropriate. He asked me if I had ever been in a house of prostitution, and I said, “No, I'm a teacher. I don't do that. I don't need to prostitute myself. I was really insulted. And then he told me that if I came to the University of Georgia, I would lose the credits that I had at the University of Michigan, and I said, “Well, if you don't transfer them, I won't lose anything, because what I've learned, I've learned. I'll just add to that.”It wasn't a long conference, but it was rather upsetting. I sort of expected that, I didn't really know what to expect, but I didn't expect to be welcomed with open arms. Because I knew by that time, they were trying to find a way to keep me out. Well, Charlayne and Hamilton were already here. And they had accepted the two, and I guess they were trying not to accept a third. But there were a lot of newspaper articles, and a lot of calls back and forth. I telegrammed the president, the dean of graduate school, and Mr. Danner. I never heard from anyone except the dean. He…what was his name…I can't remember. At any rate, he did say to me that all matters about admission had to come from Walter Danner's office. And finally in May, I think it was May the 12th, 10th or 12th…I got a letter with the red mark across it, I guess it's the one everybody gets, saying that I had been admitted. And from that time on, I knew I was going to go. But it was a long process, and I thought when I went to the University of Michigan, which was one of the top ten schools, I didn't have this problem. And here I am in my own state, and they are trying to say that I am not suitable to come. But, it was the same thing that had happened with Charlayne and Hamilton, of course. It took, I think two years. But they were still, you know, they had that barrier there. And I was determined. I was a citizen here, I paid taxes, and by the way, in the investigative report they said that I didn't pay state taxes. But I mean, I taught, and they took out state taxes, you know, before you even get your check.Back to scenes
At any rate, I was glad I had made the decision, and I was determined to come. I knew, however, that Charlayne and Hamilton would not be there that summer, and that I would be alone. And that bothered me, because I am sort of gregarious. I like to talk, and to dialogue with people. And I thought, well, you know, hopefully I'll make some friends. Well, the students, for the most part, were not unkind. There were some incidents but for the most part they just ignored me. I was just a non-person. I could have been a ghost, I guess. And that bothered me more than anything else. The loneliness of being…you eat alone, you sleep alone, of course, you go to classes, and in class, I took only music classes my first semester, or quarter here. And in music, it seems that music people are a little more, I don't know, attuned to being human. They were friendly in class, but outside of class, no, which was okay. But when I went to the dining hall, I had to go alone. There was one incident, I don't know if you read about it, on my 25th birthday, because I was 24 when I came, and I had my birthday here on campus. And a friend who had….a white young lady who was in art, went with me to register when I came down for the first time. I don't know who, to this day, who arranged that, but we registered together at Stegeman, now Coliseum, then it was a gymnasium. And, as we approached the line of registration, there was a hush over this big crowd of folk outside the gym when we were in line. And they just looked us up and down from head to toe, and I thought, all I can hear is our muted voices talking to each other. That was a very uncomfortable moment, because I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't expect a riot, but I was uneasy because of that. And she had a lot of courage, I mean she certainly didn't have to do that. But she met me at a local black dentist's office here in Athens, and we registered together. I have never forgotten that. That was an act of kindness. But going on to my birthday, she told me that we would go to the Westminster House for hot dogs. And, you know, I didn't suspect anything. I had met Corky King, who was a minister there, and his wife and his family, he had two young daughters, had gone over because it was right sort of across the street from Center Myers.
And you lived in Center Myers?
Mhm, I lived in the same room that Charlayne did. And I thought, the first day I got there, I thought, “Why would they put her right on the street in a very vulnerable spot, on the first floor? That makes no sense." But of course, it was not a dorm room. It was a counselor's suite, and they were keeping her away from the other occupants, and me too. When I got here, after May March, was the young lady's name, and I had registered, I went to housing and found they didn't have a card for me. And I thought, “did they think I wasn't coming?" But anyway, I wanted to be on campus, though I was a grad student, because I thought, “You know, this is where you get to see the most people and people get to see you because I thought, this is what is needed. We need to begin to mix so people can stop being afraid. We are afraid of each other and there is no need to be, because there are more commonalties than there are differences.” At any rate, we went across the street to the Westminster House, and, lo and behold, there was a birthday party for me. And that was…I couldn't believe it. It just blew my mind that these people didn't even know me, and here they were celebrating my birthday. And there were other people there, and I really enjoyed it. They had a birthday cake, and they had ice cream, and they had the hot dogs. And it was just great. And I thought, “You know, this is not so bad after all.” It really lifted my spirits, and at that time I really needed that because it was pretty lonely.Back to scenes
But, as I said, there were some incidents. I don't like to think about the negative things, but it was not easy the first quarter here, but I got through. I made good grades. I think I had two A's and two B's. I don't know if they still have a long session and a short session of summer, which counted as two quarters. And I decided, well, “I think what I'll do is to take a leave of absence from my teaching job, and go down the Spring quarter. And that's what I did. Fortunately, we weren't paid very much money at that time as teachers, and I thought this is going to be a financial challenge. But the local teacher association…black teacher association, because they were separated at the time, raised about a thousand dollars, my church gave me money, and that really made me know that people were behind me. A lot of people were afraid during those days because they were afraid of repercussions. They were afraid of losing jobs, of having to go to jail, but there was that determination. Everybody wanted to help to do something. And my generation nowadays, I think some of our students are a little bit too militant. I have always thought you can get more bees with honey than you can with vinegar. This isn't their way, though. They want everything to happen now, because they have been brought up with a lot materialistically and they feel that they deserve it. And they do. But, you have to have patience. And, I guess, as old as I am, I can be a lot more patient than the young people of today. But, I said this in my commencement speech almost two weeks ago now, that although we may not have made all the progress we should have, we're certainly years away from where we were at the beginning. And you have to appreciate the progress that has been made, and then build on that, and continue to work to get it where it should be. But you can't think that everything is all doom and gloom, because it isn't. I don't know how many of them would agree with me, but when I looked at the audience and saw a good mixture of students, you know, all ethnicities, it just made me feel wonderful. And of the audience the same thing, because when I graduated, I was one person in class, and the family and friends who had come with me were the only ones. And that was the first time they had had an integrated commencement. I guess, you have to grow older in order to accept that kind of a philosophy about life, but my feeling is that President Adams and so many others, the GAPS students that instituted the lecture in my name, a lot of good things have happened. I see students mixing, you know, blacks and whites together. I have a little cousin…she is not little now, she's 21, who is in the band. She plays clarinet as I did. And she enjoys being in the band, although I think last year there were only seven. This year, there may be more, I haven't asked her. But, this is the way it should be, and this is how it has to grow, because nothing happens overnight, though we may want it to. And certainly, civil rights was a good impetus to get things started. We still have racism in the world, and it all isn't one way. I think that blacks sometimes are not tolerant of whites and vice versa, so we have to learn to live together.
That may be one of those things that we pull out to put in our special edited version of a CD that says this was a wonderful point that Ms. Early made.
It's true, it's true.
You're exactly right.Back to scenes
So you graduated with a master's degree on August 12, 1962.
August 16, 1962, becoming the first African-American to graduate from the University of Georgia.
That's true. I laughed, at the commencement, I talked about…when I looked at the printed program on that morning, there was a cavalcade of us coming down. I was so proud, because I had stayed the course and was going to graduate, and I was in line, and I was looking at the…we had the programs given to us before the commencement began. And I saw in the line of march that the Sheriff of Clarke County was the first person in line. I said, “Why do they need a sheriff here, are they expecting trouble?" (laughs) And of course, I didn't know that it was a tradition. I had no way of knowing. I had never been to a UGA graduation before. And now, I can laugh about it because it really gave me pause, and I was nervous throughout the ceremony. But I found later on, there was a Dr. Popovich, here who was in the English Department, and he was certainly a good friend while I was here. He wrote to me before I even came. He had known Charlayne and gotten to know her, and he was just an exceptional person. And I took one class from him, and enjoyed that. But he told me that the president, President Aderhold, had asked the male faculty members to be on guard during the commencement ceremonies because, I guess, they didn't know what to expect either. That was a very glorious day. It was a beautiful day, and the only down side to it was that we were asked to leave our caps and gowns at the door as we exited the Fine Arts building, so I didn't get a chance to take an official graduation photo, and except for the friends who came, some of them took some Polaroid pictures, but I didn't have a cap and gown on. I came back later with a newspaper photographer and took a picture under the arches, because you know, that is the symbol of UGA. I had borrowed a cap and gown, but I didn't put it on. I had it on my arm. And that was published in the paper. There was not much publicity at the time, and I don't know the reason for that. It may be the university asked them not to. It didn't bother me then. It bothers me now, because there are still people who don't understand or believe that Charlayne and Hamilton didn't finish first, that I got the first degree. And I am not competing with them, but I love history, and I don't think it should be rewritten. I think that it should reflect accurately what happened. They were the first to come in, but I was the first to get out. And it was because they did eventually accept some of my University of Michigan credits, and so I got out in '62.
And as I have read, Professor Maurice Daniels found you after years, is that right?
It was thirty years, yeah.
You went on with your life.
Oh, I did.
And not a part connected here, you were not as connected here as we would …
I really felt badly. I felt alienated from the university because I heard nothing. It was as though I had never attended, and that did not give me a good feeling. I was not looking for adulation. By the way, there was an article in…the Associated Press did an article on the commencement, and the headline was something like “First Negro Grad Receives Long Awaited Ovation." I had not been expecting any ovation. I mean, you know, I had gotten ovations on campus from the lecture, but that was not my intent, and I really wished they hadn't used that headline, but you know, journalists can write what they like. But Dr. Daniels contacted me, because Don Hollowell, who was the chief attorney for Charlayne and Hamilton told them that I was the first graduate. Now, I didn't use Donald the way they did, because they were represented by a team of attorneys. I was self-selected. I decided on my own to come. But when I needed some help, I remember once when I was singing in the choir because there was not a summer band here, and I sang in the choir, and there was a concert and I wanted to invite my mom and some friends. Well, the dean of students told me that…I don't know how they found out that I was going to invite…I probably said something to someone in class and they told, but anyway I was told that I could not invite anyone because the university was only open to those three people who had been admitted, that they could not provide protection, and that it might not be safe. And when I heard that, of course, I didn't want my mother to come because…and I certainly didn't want…or friends…I didn't want anyone to be…and I didn't know. But I did call Don Hollowell and ask him, you know, what can you do about this? This isn't right. We're students, and we should have the same rights as any other student. Well, by the time he was able to talk with someone, the concert was over. But I talked with him many times about various things that happened, and so he was aware and he was very helpful. He never charged me for any advice. But he told Maurice Daniels that I was the first, and Maurice was doing his research for the documentary that he did, and he also did a book. And, of course, it was about Horace Ward, not about me. But when he found that I was the first graduate, he invited me to an interview similar to this. And I remember it was in the Hurt building, and I was, I guess…I had retired from Atlanta public schools and I was working at Clark Atlanta. And I went down, and he interviewed me, and, of course, I think in part two of the documentary, he had a little excerpt about me and the role I played. But it wasn't until then that I was “discovered." After that, things began to happen and they’ve just mushroomed since then.
We've put you to work, haven't we? Alumni Board, and…
Yeah, yeah. And I enjoy it. I enjoy being…because I think I can still contribute, and I want to help make this into what it should be as far as I can do. Encourage students to come, work on the alumni board and try to get more alumni involved, not just black, but any. It's just…it's great. And on the Graduate Education Advancement Board, that's wonderful because of course I came as a graduate student. So, it's very enjoyable that I'm back and forth here quite a bit now.
Well, we're glad. We appreciate you coming down to be with us today. I wanted just to mention several of these things.Back to scenes
There are so many things going on. The Mary Francis Early lecture, there is an endowed professorship in the College of Education. Talk a little bit about … you mentioned GAPS. Talk a little bit about how those things came about.
Well, I was invited…the GAPS students were, I believe Dr. Daniels was their advisor. And in doing his documentary, some of the students who worked with him were in the GAPS organization, and somehow they came up with the idea of inviting me to their annual lecture to talk about my years here. And I called it…and I told him, yes, I'd come. And I called it “The Early Years… Integrating the University of Georgia." The Early Years, meaning my name Early. That was a wonderful occasion. I came down and I spoke, and at that time, they renamed the lecture in my honor, and that's how the lecture began. I was, of course, very humbled and honored by that, because I thought, you know, these students certainly didn't have to do it, but they seemed to be interested in what had gone on. They wanted to know, and, of course, I'd told him what had happened and tried not to make it negative, but just to let them know. Because I think, if you don't know where you came from, you don't really know where you're going.
And the history is very important. As I said, I love history, and I think that it should be accurate and it should reflect what actually happens, not just what somebody remembers, because our memories don't serve us all the time, and that's the problem. But the GAPS, that was really the beginning. And then, immediately after that lecture was the fortieth anniversary of desegregation, and I was invited down as a guest, and I think I spoke at the…Charlayne did the key note address, and I spoke at the luncheon, but it was just remarks. And of course, they named the building after…the Hunter Holmes building, which was wonderful, I thought. That was quite a tribute, because Hamilton, unfortunately, had died. But I knew Charlayne more than I knew Hamilton, but I knew him, because when I went to Turner to do my student teaching, as I said, they were both students. They were very good students. And because we were, all of us were Turnerites, I wanted to support them, not only because they were black, but because they were my fellow alumni from Turner.Back to scenes
Let's go back a little bit. You got a specialist degree from the university in 1967, so you came back, and…
I came back, because I noticed there weren't that many black students here still. And I guess I took a little vacation from '62 and in '64 I came back during the summer. I came for four consecutive summers. Things were better, and then I was not at Center Myers dorm, I was in Creswell dorm, and there were no mixtures as far as black-white students in the dorm rooms, but you know, we were on the same floor, whereas before that had not happened. I guess things were easier because I sort of knew the ropes, I knew where things were. The Music Department was always warm and inviting. I found the professors there to be very accepting, very encouraging, and the students for the most part. But there were problems with students who, I guess, associated with the black students. They were ostracized by their fellow students, and that was at the beginning, I noticed less of that. There was more mixture of students and people talking with you outside of class when I came back for my sixth year. But it was still a very segregated campus as far as…it wasn't very integrated. I believe the summer I graduated there were eight other students who were here, and amazingly there were three in music, and I sort of felt proud of that, because I guess they felt, you know, it was okay in music. The others were attending, I think it was a counselor's workshop. They were not students for a degree. But nine students on campus still didn't make much of a dent, and I said it at the commencement a few weeks ago, there were seven thousand and one hundred students here when I came. And now there are thirty-four thousand plus. That's a big jump. And when you look at percentages, it still is very small. But, you know, it means we still have a ways to go, that we need to continue to work to recruit students. One of the biggest problems is that the really top students in all of Georgia tend to go to the schools where they get the most financial help, and if they are really, really smart, they have high GPA's and SAT scores…You know, Harvard gets them, Yale gets them. All the big schools get them because they can pay it. Georgia…I guess the scholarship here…the progress with scholarships is not where it should be. That's why I want to work to try and help improve that, because I think that, you know, students don't want to come if they can't feel that they will get financial help. They also want to feel that they will be comfortable. If we can just get them on campus, I think they would see that, that they can be comfortable. It's a wonderful university, and it competes, I think, very favorably with many other universities nationwide.
Those folks in the Alumni Society have really been working on you. I can tell.
(Laughter)Back to scenes
Talk a little bit about your life after graduate school and what you did. You were in the public schools for 37 years…
A wonderful commitment.
Well, you know, I enjoyed it. I really did. I think it was 1973, I was promoted to music supervisor and then I had…gosh, I don't know, a lot of schools and teachers that I could work through, but it wasn't the same as working directly with the students. I enjoyed it because I felt that I had a broader influence as far as music education was concerned. I believe that music does indeed bring to a child's life something that math, reading, and science does not. I think that to be well rounded, one needs the arts, not just music, but all of the arts. So my life has been dedicated to that. I became the first, and to date, the only black president of Georgia Music Educators, which is the umbrella group under Music Educator's National Conference. I work nationally, working with the Music Educator's National Journal. I was on the editorial board, which gave me a lot of access to trying to determine what goes into our national magazine and what people read, pushing for diversity there too. As I said, I was president of Georgia Music Educators and got a chance to travel all over the state to the various districts so that I could talk to the MENC presidents, and that was very good. I worked with MENC, our national organization on standards for All-State standards for music education. I worked with Macmillan textbook company as their black consultant to get more diversity into music textbooks. I worked with the National Endowment for the Arts in helping to determine which grants would get recognition and get funded, and was able to help with diversity there. It has just been a broad connection with a lot of things. I mean, I went on with my life…my professional life. I hated that the University of Georgia was ignoring me, but at the same time, I was in a profession that I thoroughly enjoyed and just immersed myself. After I was the supervisor for I think seven years, I became the coordinator of music for the entire system, and that was…it took me further away from the classroom, but it gave me the opportunity to work with other groups to help make music education more viable, and I thought that was good. Frankly, I really enjoyed the teaching one-on-one with students, because there you can actually see the progress. When you have to work through adults, it's a lot harder.
It's not the same, is it?
No, it isn't. Then after…I retired from the Atlanta Public Schools in 1994, and it was because the red tape, the hierarchy in terms of sending us out into schools to monitor testing…things that had nothing to do with music education, just sort of turned me off. I thought I took an early retirement. I thought I can still do something. I was asked to come to Morehouse College first and teach a class in music appreciation, and I thought, “Yeah, I can do that. I don't have to worry about all the paperwork,” and I did. Then Spelman asked me to come and help out there too. I taught two classes there. That was wonderful for two years. Then Clark Atlanta called and said they needed a department chair. I said, “No, I don't want a full time job anymore." They kept asking, and finally I said, “I'll do it until you can get someone." Well, they didn't look.
They didn't work too hard to find anybody.
That was interesting because although it was at a different level, higher education is very rewarding because the students come eager to really push themselves to the end so they can get their degree. They really act as an impetus to the teachers, because with that enthusiasm, one can't help but be a good teacher. At least, I couldn't, and I enjoyed it. But after eight years I decided, you know I've worked over 40 years. It's time to stop so I can travel and do some of the things that I want to do. So that is what I did. In 2005, in July, I left Clark Atlanta.Back to scenes
And you're as busy as you ever were when you…
I am just as busy or busier, but it's because I've gone to…last summer I went to Eastern Europe and Croatia and Serbia and Budapest, and then in December and January we went to Istanbul, and not more than two months ago we went to Chile and Argentina. So now I can get some of the benefits that I worked for all these years, and get to see all the cultures. I think you learn more through traveling then you do through reading. To get immersed in other cultures and look at their problems and the good things…I had no idea that Chile was so beautiful a country. You know, you read about…you hear about all the political problems, but as far as the country is concerned, it's beautiful, and so is Argentina.
Where's your next trip?
I think we're going to Russia. But that's probably…I'm going to stay home for a little while. That's probably going to be next fall.
You're going to stay home a minute. I know, because I was trying to catch up with you.Back to scenes
My last statement here to remind me of things, is just from your perspective now, what are your thoughts, but you've done a wonderful job, I think, throughout in telling us what your perspective was at the time and sort of now from your years away, what your thoughts are now. Is there anything else that you can think that you'd like to have on tape for the folks in the future to hear?
My perspective on the University of Georgia is that it's a top notch, first class school, and that we need to spread the word. We need to become…if we're going to reflect Georgia as Georgia is, we need to become more integrated. It bothers me that the University of Mississippi where they had so many problems, has a higher percentage of blacks, and I am sure there are reasons, than we do here in Georgia. I think there is hope because the leadership is there, and everybody that I meet on campus…I don't know how they feel personally inside, but they greet you warmly, they get you involved, and I think this is the way it should be, and I'm just happy that I lived long enough to see the difference in 1961 and ‘62, and in 2007…actually 2000 through now. It's a wonderful place to be. I am proud of our university and I want to do what I can to help make it even better.
Thank you, ma'am, and certainly the things that you've done through your life have made it a better place.
I've tried. I don't feel that I've done…I keep asking the Lord, don't take me now. I still have things to do.
Still got a list.
Yeah, I do.
Thank you so much.Back to scenes