The first event that I attended during UGA’s 50th Anniversary of Desegregation celebration was the opening reception on January 9, 2011, and it was so inspiring. Hamilton Holmes Jr., Mary Frances Early, and Charlayne Hunter-Gault all took the stage in front of “a rainbow of faces” as Mrs. Hunter-Gault called it, and expressed their feelings about being back at UGA. They emphasized that they endured the hardships and bigotry in the 1960s so that one day they could see a campus like the one that we have now, filled with diversity. Later that evening, Mrs. Hunter-Gault actually signed my copy of her book entitled In My Place, and needless to say, I was ecstatic!
The next day, with the help of Dr. Barbara McCaskill, I had the opportunity to attend a semi-private breakfast with Mrs. Hunter-Gault, and I also got to witness her signing her “papers” to the Russell Library. During that time, I asked her what her most cherished memory was at UGA. She said that one memory in particular was when all of the rioting was occurring, and a few Jewish girls came up to her and told her that they understood her difficulties. That memory always stuck with her. At the end of the breakfast, I also had the opportunity to meet Mary Frances Early for the second time (I met her once last year), and I had the pleasure of meeting Sonia Sanchez. Later that evening, I went to a documentary screening about Donald Hollowell, the lawyer that handled Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s court cases. He passed away, but his wife is still alive, and she was at the screening. She is 102 years old and is as kind as can be. The next day, I went to Sonia Sanchez’s poetry reading, and she talked about using the power of words to build people up instead of tearing them down. Sonia Sanchez’s lecture was beautiful, like smooth balm for the soul.
The next day, something really special happened. Mrs. Hunter-Gault came to Myers, my current dorm and her old dorm, to give a special lecture to the residents. She talked about racial harmony and the acceptance of diversity. She also told us to look up the South African term Ubuntu, which basically means, “I am who I am because you are who you are,” and she gave us her e-mail address so that we could e-mail her our thoughts. I looked up the word and e-mailed Mrs. Hunter-Gault, and a few months later, I received an answer from her telling me that she enjoyed reading my response and to keep living Ubuntu. Since I am an editor for the Mandala Journal, (http://mandala.uga.edu), an online, student-run, multicultural journal, Dr. McCaskill suggested that I pursue an interview with Mrs. Hunter-Gault for the 2011 issue of the journal (our theme this year is Reconciliation). I never could have dreamed that this would happen, but Mrs. Hunter-Gault kindly agreed to conduct the interview, and so I ended up skyping with Charlayne Hunter-Gault for an afternoon. She is truly an amazing woman with so much wisdom, and I can never thank her enough for the sacrifice she made so that students like me can attend and thrive at The University of Georgia.
As I continued to enjoy the desegregation events, I talked to my editor-in-chief about possibly getting a poem from Sonia Sanchez for the 2011 issue of Mandala Journal. After some help from the Institute for African American Studies, Mandala Journal received two of Sanchez’s poems. Overall, the desegregation celebration was one of the most inspiring and magical experiences of my life. For me, however, it is still not over. In less than a month, I will be joining 39 other college students on the 2011 Student Freedom Ride hosted by PBS and American Experience. The 2011 Student Freedom Ride will retrace the steps of the 1961 Freedom Riders in order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their act of courage. America has changed drastically since 1961, but in 2011, I am glad to see that we can still recognize and appreciate the beauty of courage.
JoyEllen Freeman, (BA '13, BSEd '13), April 8, 2011
Charlayne Hunter-Gault, one of the first two black students admitted to the University of Georgia, delivered a talk about her experiences in college and beyond on Jan. 10, 2011, 50 years after she first registered for classes. Her 50th Anniversary Lecture, which took place at 3 p.m. in Mahler Auditorium in the Georgia Center for Continuing Education Conference Center and Hotel, was part of 50 days of events on campus to commemorate the anniversary of integration.
Fifty years ago, the news media from all over the world were following me around this campus -- surely because I was a precocious four year old and the youngest student ever admitted to the University of Georgia on early admission.
Oh well, I just thought I would try that out to see if you all were paying attention!
But I have to admit when I got an email from Matt Winston asking if I could be here for the 50th anniversary of my admission to the University, I could hardly believe so much time had passed since I was walking somewhere on this campus, heading towards fulfilling a dream. And for those of you who, like Hamilton Holmes (and unlike me), are mathematically inclined, you can figure out how old I must be today if I entered here at the age of 19. But let me hasten to add, age for me is just a number…so far.
And I am so grateful that I can look back 50 years and remember what it took for me to get to be a Georgia Dawg! And that wherever in the world I meet someone who identifies himself or herself as UGA graduate, we then greet each other – let me hear it, audience… YES, YOU KNOW! Go Dawgs! There is a young man at the U.S. Air ticket counter in Boston who is also a UGA grad. He said to me, “Go Dawgs!” I responded back to him, “Will my flight be on time?”
(And by the way, let me hasten to add my best wishes to UGA THE 8TH for a speedy recovery from his lymphoma.)
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.
I am here today not to celebrate myself and Hamilton Holmes and those, like Mary Frances Early, who followed us in those still unsettled early days. I am here today to recall and remind that, as Barack Obama did in Selma, Alabama on his historic quest for the Presidency where he told the assembled crowd: “I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Hamp, Mary Frances, and I stood on the shoulders of giants in the year Barack Obama was born… And it was the legacy of giants like the one who gave birth to me — Althea B. Hunter and the man who helped her out — my father, Charles, who empowered us with values that enabled us to know that the hate directed at us was rooted in decades of distortion — even of the Bible -- and the corrupt comfort of supremacy.
“No lie can live forever,” is how Martin Luther King summed up what we all believed.
By embracing those lessons, Hamp and I were equipped with a suit of armor that protected us against the racist jeers and calls for us to be killed. And while the Southern landscape was littered with the bodies of people like us who had only the simple desire to enjoy the full rights of citizens of this country, our determination was rooted in a faith that was not blind to that history, but to another part of our history that made us hopeful. The giants on whose shoulders we stood, imbued us with a first class sense of ourselves long before we got first class citizenship.
There may be those among you today who, like a British man I encountered not long ago, who wanted to know why it was important, in his words, “…to keep digging up the past.”
And the answer I gave him included a line from James Weldon Johnson’s poem, often referred to as the Black National Anthem:
“Sing a song full of the FAITH that the dark past has taught us…”
That dark past of slavery, deprivation, and denial taught us about a heritage of defiance and refusal to accept anything less than full freedom and equality.
And in the torrent of words that flowed from my mouth as the answer to the inquisitive British gentleman, who I think by this time was sorry he ever raised the question, I went on to recall the words the Spanish philosopher poet, George Santayana:
“Those who forget the past will be condemned to repeat it.”
Which is why I want today go back to remembering good people who helped prevent my dreams from becoming a nightmare after I walked under the Arch that had been the entry point for thousands of white students for generations before us.
Good people too numerous to name -- but I will name a few -- starting with one we lost most recently, Francis Wallis, a professor in the English Department, who lived across the street from Center Myers Dorm from where she observed the riot outside my window on my second night on campus.
In subsequent days, I returned after the suspension – which I was told was “for my own safety,” -- and as quiet returned, she invited me over for tea, often with another English professor, Dorothy McCullough.
As I recently recalled in the Athens-Banner Herald, we had many stimulating discussions, not about racism and intolerance, but about topics ranging from the works of J. D Salinger to Yevgeny Yevtushenko to William Shakespeare, and the poems of Robert Frost that relieved me ever so briefly from that burden. For a while, when I had to daily confront the hostile reaction to me as a racial symbol, my visits to Miss Wallis' apartment helped re-enforce my existence as a normal human being and also to keep my eye on the prize of fulfilling my dream of becoming a journalist.
My dream was preserved by other good people who are no longer with us, but who should be remembered by freedom-loving people. The tireless efforts and legal skills of Donald Hollowell, whose lovely wife, Louise, is with us this afternoon, and Constance Baker Motley, whose son, Joel, is here today as well, resulted not just in exposing the university’s deceit in refusing our application for admission, but also showed the world that was watching an absolutely brilliant performance. In that Athens courtroom crowded with anticipation, they, too, were standing on the shoulders of giants -- men like Charles Hamilton Houston, the lawyer who initiated the first case against segregated higher education in the South back in the 30’s.
We had the benefit of even a failed attempt of Horace Ward’s when he tried to gain admission to the University of Georgia’s law school in 1950, four years before the Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in schools. Motley and Hollowell led that effort, too.
Ward later got his law degree from Northwestern University and joined Hollowell in helping an entire generation of young people confront segregation root and branch, non-violently challenging it, sitting in and marching on picket lines and going to jail. They devised a scheme “jail without bail”, so that they could enable lawyers like Hollowell to extend the Brown decision to all public facilities. Their chant was: “King is our leader, Hallowell is our lawyer, and we shall not be moved.”
And while not all those who wore the robes and sat on the bench in courtrooms across the South did the right thing — the legal thing — judges like William Bootle and Elbert Tuttle stand out for having done the right thing in ordering our admission to UGA.
I am here to remember that in those early, tumultuous days here at UGA, my then little brother, Henry, all of 11 years old, used to get on a bus after school in Atlanta and ride to Athens and wait for me at the bus station so I wouldn’t have to ride the potentially dangerous 73 miles back to Atlanta alone.
And I am here to remember the white students who became my friends, despite condemnation from the classmates. Marcia Powell and Joan Zitselman stand out among them.
I am also here to remember students from the Atlanta Student Movement and others from all over the South like Ruby Doris Smith and Julian Bond and Lonnie King and John Lewis who, like my best friends and high school classmates, Carolyn and Wylma Long, fought non-violently for freedom and equality and insisting on going to jail without bail so that bad Southern law could be legally and permanently challenged. Wylma cried when the iron doors of that cold jail cell slammed shut, but she and the others were comforted by the ordinary criminals who understood and appreciated their cause and who may not have been in there in the first place, had justice been equal.
I am happy to still be alive and be able to bear witness to the courage of women like them, as I have just done in the upcoming issue of Essence magazine about a new book called “Hands on the Freedom Plow,” the narratives of the mostly unheralded women of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee – SNCC -- who toiled, labored and went to jails across the South where they were sometimes beaten and sexually abused by either the white jailers or other prisoners they put up to it. I am here to celebrate their survival and their inspiration that helped me down here in Athens, to “keep on keepin’ on,” no matter the challenges.
All of that came back to me in an emotional rush as I read and empathized with the narratives of women like Jean Wiley, one of the SNCC activists:
“It was positively delicious knowing that nobody could stop [the freedom struggle]—not the president of the United States, not the Congress, not the courts, not the FBI, not the black preachers or teachers, who warned us to go slow. The most any of them could do was delay a protest demonstration, but only until other students did arrive. Imagine the sense of power we felt!”
And she goes on to describe the euphoria the students felt as they identified with the worldwide movement of liberation in Algeria, Vietnam, Angola, Cuba, Guinea Bissau, Guatemala, Kenya, Mozambique and China — all over the globe people were asserting their right to determine their own destiny. It was those struggles that helped force the federal government to come to the aid of the endangered but determined students here as the United States vied with the Soviet Union for their allegiance -- a point driven home by Attorney General Robert Kennedy when he came here to speak a few months after Hamp and I entered and demanded the South respect the laws of the land.
I am here today to celebrate a past that had its nightmarish moments, but in the end, remained a dream that would lift me up and enable me to write the rough draft of the history that included many of those places as well as home. I would witness the liberation of oppressed people from South Georgia to South Africa, where I would sit with Nelson Mandela a few days after his release from serving 27 years in prison and compare with him life-sustaining moments on the long walk to freedom. I would come to know that the desire for freedom and full equality was a human desire that knew no boundaries that was the same the world over.
And I learned that there was nothing wrong with a journalist embracing Ubuntu, the unifying ethical concept I learned about in covering Archbishop Desmond Tutu that said, “I am what I am because of who we all are.”
And I would get to see firsthand the necessity of being vigilant about freedom and justice as many of the leaders of newly liberated countries failed to stay on the right path, forgetting their true mission of service to their people, often corrupted by western leaders in their own selfish pursuits for power and plunder.
But today, I am happy to be writing the rough draft of a new history as many of those countries are rising from the ashes of despair that followed and now, like we are here today, marking 50 years of independence. I travelled a world that would find me talking with the major players in the still elusive quest for peace in the Middle East. And in the run up to the Gulf War, my journey to the horizons would take me to Baghdad, where I reported on Joe Wilson, a man now being re-invented in the current movie, “Fair Game,” who was then the US Deputy Chief of Missions and who sheltered his own countrymen, despite the threat by Iraqi leader Saddaam Hussein to execute anyone found harboring foreigners.
The world I travelled in back home was no less exciting, especially where the world as it was when I entered this campus for the first time was also changing as black men and women took seats long denied them in local and state governments and in the halls of Congress. And gradually in corporate America and its inner sanctums, its boards where decisions affecting millions were made.
I interviewed “firsts” like Hamilton and I had once been until it was no longer unique. And I chronicled a world at home where people like Vernon Jordan, once a $35 a week law clerk here in Georgia who had been key in winning the case that led to our admission here, had risen to the top of the world of both civil rights and social justice, only to take those principles with him as he rose to the top of the world of corporate America. Vernon has never forgotten where he came from, a young black man growing up in segregated Atlanta, which held out little hope for the dreams of young men like him, and yet, thanks to the same kind of encouraging environment I grew up in, he made it, and also mentors young black men and women today to help them rise, as he has risen in the worlds he has traversed -- even the world of golf! He is busy creating a new generation of giants. And Vernon also took the lead in raising the money and establishing a chair here at the University of Georgia for Donald Hollowell, which I am sure put a smile on his face in heaven.
He and the others who dedicated their lives to the fight for justice and equality are surely as encouraged as I, not just by the chair in Hollowell’s name, but by the fruits of his labors and those of others in 1961, in every sphere of American life. I am sure he, like I, would have loved to have been here for the crowning of last year’s Homecoming King and Queen of UGA, when the faces under the crowns were Black -- Darryl Tricksey and Christina Swoope, and for the election of this year’s black student government president, Josh Delaney, whose introduction of me was so gracious. Each of them have participated fully in and demonstrated the positive benefits of diversity in college life. They would love to see African-American presidents of major colleges and universities or their governing boards across this land — from the Ivy League to those under state systems like the University of Georgia. Motley and Hollowell are surely pleased that in the last 30 years, the number of black lawyers increased from 3,000 to 20,000. One of those black lawyers is now Mayor of Atlanta, and another, the President of these United States.
So why do we go to memory, when we have such a moment? For one thing, some of those young lawyers didn’t forget that justice had not been served in many Southern States where culprits who had murdered civil rights workers were still walking free. But they did remember and have pursued them and, in many cases, put them in jail, even after all these years. They worked under the compulsion of and the guidance of memory.
But we also need memory today when we turn on our television sets, where most Americans still get what is now passing for information and listen to the vile and retrograde and yes, even racist rhetoric now filling the airwaves. Where the racist rhetoric in a country that ended legal repression some 57 years ago is as bad, if not worse than in South Africa, where the racially oppressive system known as apartheid ended only 17 years ago.
It is heartbreaking on the one hand, but gives yet another answer to my British friend’s question: “Why keep digging up the past?” And I revert again to the words of James Weldon Johnson:
“Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won.”
The historic election of Barack Obama was indeed a new day begun. But his victory has yet to be the country’s victory.
As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote not long ago: “It’s nice to talk about change, but you can’t wipe away yesterday.”
Thus, as it my nature and training, I ask the question: “Why is it that attitudes about race have not changed in almost 50 years?” According to Gallup, Blacks are more pessimistic about race relations since Obama’s election. Their pessimism is fueled, in part, by the fact that even when everyone is suffering from the shrinking economy, Blacks are suffering the most; with their unemployment rate twice that of whites.
And yet, Gallup reports, many whites believe their fortunes and opportunities have decreased due to affirmative action, their growing anger exacerbated by rising immigrant populations that are challenging their status as the majority population and, they believe, threatening their jobs. Some of these attitudes have led to a dramatic rise in racist hate groups. The Southern Poverty law Center has documented a more than 50% increase since 2000.
And those who are most vicious and vocal are finding kindred spirits on the airwaves, where their ratings from racist rants are skyrocketing. And that adds hot pepper to the still simmering soup of racial antagonism in America.
In the weeks leading up to this anniversary, I consulted with family and friends, academics and journalists of all races and colors and religions about what I should talk about today. And I got many great suggestions — from some of UGA’s own who acknowledge the efforts at diversity here on campus in the last 50 years — a stunning example of which we saw last night in the huge attendance at the reception and in the enthusiastic responses I got from student as we spoke later… but in the days leading up to yesterday, I also heard praise for the University’s leadership, as well as concern about the fact that the African American student enrollment is only eight percent in a state whose African American population is 30 percent and where the African American faculty representation stands at only 6 percent. I would hope there are good reasons as well as good explanations for these realities, but in the meantime, they are realities that appear challenging in the least and need some deep analysis.
But on the topic at hand, I also consulted others far afield. One friend wrote me an e-mail saying that I should talk about the future — the new dangers, the new challenges, the new possibilities. When I read that, I said to myself, “Whew! Do they know who they are talking to?”
I worried about that, because even as we have not yet met some of the old the challenges, we are confronted with new ones — from climate change to a voracious rising China — challenges that could not have been imagined 50 years ago, any more than one could have imagined back then Blackberries or a Black president.
So, I lay awake wondering how am I going to even begin to imagine the challenges of a future that is likely to make some of these current challenges as obsolete as pay phones in airports?
But then, as I thought about it in the days that followed and moved to memory, I came to the realization that I could, in fact, do that, not in the specific terms laid out, but in the experience I had here 50 years ago and those that followed until this day. I decided to posit that our greatest challenge in the years ahead is overcoming ignorance and intolerance -- part of my own goal as a journalist.
And, as my preacher grandfather and my sainted grandmother would say: “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” For no sooner had I reached that conclusion that I picked up an old copy of The New Yorker to take a break and there, in a column by Hendrick Hertzberg, was a rumination on public ignorance. He quoted a recent Bloomberg poll taken the week before the mid term “shellacking” Obama himself called it, finding that “some two thirds of likely voters believed that, under Obama and the Democrats, middle-class taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk and the billions lent to banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program are gone, never to be recovered. “
And he goes on to write:
“One might add to that list the public’s apparent conviction that illegal immigration is skyrocketing and that the health care law will drive the deficit higher.”
“Reality,” he writes, “tells a different story,” and goes on to cite how for 95% of Americans, taxes are lower … the economy has been growing … for five straight quarters, and most of the loans to banks have been repaid, with the rest soon to be … plus a modest profit for the Treasury.
Moreover, he points out, the number of illegal immigrants FELL by close to a million last year, thanks, in part, to more energetic border enforcement, and that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the new Health Care Law will bring the deficit down.
And I have to say, having been there, that The New Yorker checking department has no equals in its insistence on getting the facts right. But despite that and an impressive readership of the magazine where I began my writing career just after my graduation from UGA in 1963, the “true facts” if you can excuse my incorrect usage but which I use to emphasize a point: the “true facts” are being distorted for reasons that I find hard to fathom, but which give rise to charges ranging from plain old politics to not so subtle racism generated by those antagonistic to a Black man in the White House.
Let me hasten to say, THIS IS WHAT I READ -- not necessarily my personal opinion. But these attitudes and views are out there in the public arena and are fueling the toxic atmosphere in the country that may have been a factor in the recent tragic shooting in Arizona and that caused even a fourth grader in New Orleans to ask President Obama: “Why do people hate you?”
That question had a certain resonance for me as I walked down memory lane to that cold January day in 1961 when white students called me names and demanded I leave “their place.”
Why did they hate me?
Which brings me back to ignorance – the demon I believe is our greatest challenge as we confront the future — of 2011 and beyond. Ignorance about our values as a nation, and about our people who are the nation—whether they wear farmer’s overalls or Muslim garb, whether they are native born or new to a nation proudly known since its founding as a nation of immigrants. Ignorance about the value of diversity and respect for diversity of views. Ignorance of the world in which we do our grocery shopping as well as the world from which we get our fuel to cook the groceries that can’t be eaten raw. Ignorance that has resulted in the U.S. dropping to the second tier of countries with young adults getting college degrees, while countries like China and India are investing heavily in education as a the key to having strong vibrant economies in the future.
And I am here today to say let the conversation begin – let it begin about ignorance and its wicked companion intolerance. Let it begin during these 50 days of commemoration—not just to have a talk shop, but to have a series of conversations that can be heard around the state, the nation and the world, with concrete ideas about how we overcome the ignorance that is threatening to engulf us here in America, and come up with concrete ideas that keep us, dare I say, “on the good foot.”
Let the students who brought back memories of the days of the Civil Rights Movement when they turned out in unprecedented numbers during the presidential campaign -- let them keep walking and never get weary, their journey fueled by the embrace of the wisdom memory imparts and which lights their path to the future. Let them continue to remember the importance to their future of not just having values, but defending them through their actions. Let them begin to prepare their shoulders for the generation behind them to stand on.
On our 40th anniversary here on this campus in 2001, memory served us well. It enabled those who had used deception to keep Hamp and me out to look back at their actions and realize how wrong they were. It enabled the former Governor of Georgia to admit it and ask our forgiveness. It was a moment of triumph over ignorance.
So why do we keep on “digging up the past?”
It would appear we have done well, but that we can do better and in the end be best.
As the journalist, I am required to ask the questions. But I would also hope you would build on the legacy Hamp and I created here, judging people by the content of their character alone. You have our shoulders to stand on as you build up yours for the next generation that follows you.
I will look to you for the answers you come up with to the thorny issues I’ve raised. And I look forward to having them included when students and faculty and others convene to review the next 50 years.
I will be somewhere taking notes!
I was a freshman at UGA beginning in the fall of 1984, which was a time in which the university was beginning its year-long celebration of its 200th anniversary as a state-chartered institution. I have to admit that while I respected this milestone of the university, I couldn't help but think how much of the university's 200-year history didn't involve the inclusion of black students. Therefore during my freshman year, I focused much of my thoughts on the part of UGA's history that involved the experiences that began for Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes 25 years before my own entrance into the university.
They were quite simply my heroes. I sought any information I could as to what they experienced, as a reminder to me to appreciate the privilege of an education at this institution, thanks to their extraordinary efforts. I had the honor of attending a speech made by Dr. Holmes while I was a student, and I remembered the great sense of pride I had when it was announced that Mrs. Hunter-Gault would be the commencement speaker for my graduating class in 1988. I had a particular affinity for Mrs. Hunter-Gault because like myself, she was an African-American student living on campus while at UGA. Whenever I would pass by the Myers community (where I would subsequently live as a graduate student) I couldn't help but think of what she endured there while she was student. Yet, when she spoke at the commencement exercise in 1988, I sensed her pride and love of the university, a sentiment which I also share. I will be forever grateful for their courage and its legacy.
Sharona Woodley, (BBA '88, MBA '90), December 30, 2010
J. Davidson Williams
My older brother Phil and I were students at Athens High School during these events. We would have been 16 and 15 respectively, and Athens High School was still segregated. The general sentiment among the high school student body was that integration was something to be feared. Remember this was back in the day of four rest rooms in every gas station and almost no interaction between youths of high school age.
Our dad Joseph A. Williams was the Dean of Students at UGA, and it fell to him to escort Ms. Hunter to classes while the Dean of Men escorted Mr. Holmes. Dad reported directly to Dr. Aderhold who was the President and had been Dad's old major professor. I don't know if Dr. Aderhold asked my father to take on this duty or if he took the decision himself. In any event the escort duty was well suited to my father. He was a natural diplomat and a social liberal even though he grew up in South Georgia. I remember he had once witnessed a lynching during his youth in Bainbridge which he said had completely turned his stomach.
The times were indeed tumultuous, and I remember we received threatening phone calls at home and even a death threat from local yahoos who did not like the idea of my father protecting Ms. Hunter. Our mother was completely distraught and had given instructions to not let anyone in the house under any circumstance. Of course my brother and I thought the whole thing was rather exciting. I look back at this events with a good deal of pride that my father did the right thing in what had to have been a difficult and uncomfortable situation. In any event Dad survived and went on to another distinguished career at UGA as the Dean of Education which he held for over 20 years. He is now buried behind the football stadium which is an ideal spot for a Georgia man through and through which he definitely was: undergraduate, graduate, doctorate, professor, administration and twice Dean.
David Williams, Dunwoody GA, December 20, 2011
Carolyn Kelley Hatcher
I served on Women's Student Govt. Assn. that year, and Ms. Hunter-Gault was given the WSGA suite in Center Myers (where I had been living), because it was "away from the other students in the dorm". I well remember the riot...very, very scary. Ms. Hunter-Gault appeared a very frightened young lady, as well she should have been. People were mean, and angry, and loud, and very emotional and out of control. She handled herself well....much better than the students and outsiders in Athens. I admire her very much, to this day!
The women students had to be put on restriction that week, no nights out past 5:00....they were extremely angry at the WSGA and Dean of Women for this. But, it was dangerous to be out in Athens. The mob of angry people, old and young, was roaming the streets and creating a very bad situation. We felt it was for the good of the students to restrict them.
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... These were two very, very brave and courageous people....Best of luck to Ms. Hunter-Gault
Dr. Wm. L. Landrum
I was a student at Georgia Tech at the time, and transferred to UGA 1.5 years later. At Tech, the college president called us all together for an assembly. He said that we were being integrated the next quarter, and that we were not going to have any incident like UGA's. Any student that was involved in any way on any incident, would have be expelled from school, and never allowed to return. I have always felt that UGA was a little unlucky to have been first, but by their pain that allowed other colleges in the area to think the whole thing over, and to step up and do what was right at their school.
Looking back, I was at Wesley Foundation, where we took a proactive stance of dealing with the new African-Americans on campus. I remember two emotions: 1) fear for my own safey, and 2) the extreme loneliness expressed by these students as they remained isolated from most other students, while in the midst of so many people.
I remember a much more positive desegregation event at UGA. Namely, the first time a black person gave a concert at UGA. UGA officials seemed worried that there might be another scene, and they picked the first performer carefully. It was Lewis Armstrong who was near the end of his great career. The colosseum was about half-filled, but the ones that were there had a fantastic time. He played many arrangements of "Hello Dolly" as well as other numbers. At the end he got a standing ovation. The studend newspaper later reported that it was the first standing ovation that he had received in about ten years.
Suzanne Scoggins, a student intern with the UGA News Service in 2001, interviewed her father, James Scoggins (BS ’63), who as a zoology major shared several classes with Hamilton Holmes. Here are his remembrances of that time:
"I remember Hamilton Holmes mainly as being very low key. I got the chance to have several short conversations with him, and from that, I was able to tell that he was a really nice and intelligent guy. I regret never talking to him more than the few times I did, and looking back, I’ve always seen it as my loss for not making a stronger effort. I really wish I had.
"Most people ignored him in class, and he was treated just like any other person you didn’t know even though everyone in the class knew exactly who he was. I’ve heard rumors now that people would get upset because he always broke the curve, but none of the classes we were in together ever disclosed the grades of other students. I didn’t really know how good of a student he was until later because he was always quiet in class.
"I think most people were opposed to desegregation. It must have been very difficult for both Holmes and Hunter to go through what they did. I don’t think anyone really understood what they went through until years later.
"Looking back now after 40 years, I think desegregation is probably the best thing that happened to UGA. It was a really difficult time for the school, but it was something that needed to be done. I’m glad the administrators didn’t listen to the protests that took place on campus. Those were just different times back then. No one had ever even been to school with an African American before, and people didn’t know how to react. The civil rights movement was just beginning, and the South was still extremely segregated.
"I would love to see UGA recruit more blacks and minorities. I know they’re trying to raise their percentages now, and I think it’s in the best interest of the state of Georgia to stop the brain drain of the top minority students to the schools in the north. I think it’s important that students go to school in a diverse environment."
The Killian family of Athens provided housing for Hamilton Holmes while he was a student at the University of Georgia. At the time, Archibald Killian had recently moved back to Athens from California to open a restaurant with his younger brother, Alfred. To be close to the business, the two brothers lived with their mother, Ruth Moon Killian, at 125 Harris Street. Archibald Killian, now a pastor at St. Mark AME Church, was also the first African-American officer in the Athens police department. He provided these reflections to Juliett Dinkins (ABJ ‘83), a member of the staff of the UGA News Service:
"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 he needs a place to stay 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."
In addition to the desegregation of the university, Killian remembers marches and sit-ins at the Varsity and other demonstrations:
"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 shot guns, 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."
Killian also remembers a converstion with his sociology professor at Los Angeles City College, which he attended on the GI Bill:
"We got to talking about integration, and the professor got upset. And he said, ‘Mr. Killian, I don’t know whether you know what accommodate means, but when you leave my class, you go by the library and look up accommodate because that’s all we ever intend to do for you people is to accommodate you. Some places will accommodate you in the back of the bus, some places will accommodate you in the front of the bus. We might even let you drive the bus, but you will never own the damn bus.’
"And that’s the way is was for Hamp. After they couldn’t do anything else, they admitted him. But they said as far as a place to stay and all that, you’re on your own. Nobody else would keep him so I said I have been around the world trying to get folks free, why can’t I help him? He was a nice, young man. Somebody has to fight for the struggle for civil rights. It’s just that simple."