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.