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Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault at The University of Georgia

In this WSB clip from May 30, 1967, Hamilton Holmes is speaking from Emory University, where he is enrolled in medical school.  He discusses his role in one of the most influential events to occur on a college campus: the integration of the University of Georgia.  Six years earlier, Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault had become the first two African American students admitted to the University, one of many segregated southern institutions.

When they initially tried to apply in the Winter Quarter of 1959, they were not accepted because of “limited space.” Holmes attended Morehouse College with a full scholarship, but continued to re-submit applications every quarter, in hopes of gaining access to the University's better science facilities. Walter Danner, the University Registrar , wrote a letter to President Aderhold, recommending that Aderhold only admit transfer students who needed to leave their present school in order to complete their degrees, or freshman who had never attended college. Holmes fit neither of these categories and was rejected.

On September 2, 1960, Holmes and Hunter-Gault filed a civil suit against Danner for the repeated refusal of their application. Finally, their complaints went to trial and Judge William Bootle issued a ruling stating that Holmes and Hunter-Gault “would have already been admitted had it not been for their race and color.” UGA finally accepted them, and they registered for classes on January 9, 1961.  Click here to see that day’s issue of Red and Black.

While Holmes and Hunter-Gault registered for classes, over 100 students stood outside the building chanting “2, 4, 6, 8, we don’t want to integrate.” Just three days later, a riot broke out in front of Myers, Hunter-Gault’s dorm (Holmes lived off campus). The plethora of students that lashed out by throwing rocks, bottles, and fireworks was so violent that “the local police had to use tear gas in an effort to control the assembly.”  Click here to read what Red and Black columnist Terry Hazelwood said in an editorial after the riot. 

The riot sparked a mass uproar of varying opinions. Issues concerning thoughts of segregation and integration flooded campus. Thomas Brahana, a UGA math professor, asked his students to write an in-class essay about their feelings regarding integration; much of their feedback vacillated between positive and negative. One perplexed student inquired, “What I don’t understand is why we don’t mind eating with a Negro in the kitchen but we wouldn’t want to eat with him in our dining room” (Essay 1).  Another student pointed out, “The Negroes in the South definitely live at a lower status than most whites, but the reason for this is that the whites have kept them at this low level.  I can’t see how people who call themselves citizens of a democracy allow these conditions to exist” (Essay 24). 

Other students wanted segregation upheld. One who opposed the general enforcement of equal rights and opportunities for African Americans wrote, “The Negroid race is mentally and morally inferior to the Caucasian race” (Essay 8). The day after the riot, Dean William Tate sent a letter suspending Hunter-Gault and Holmes from the university for reasons concerning “their personal safety.”  Their suspension did not go over well with some faculty, who risked their jobs by signing a resolution demanding Hunter-Gault's and Holmes's immediate readmission.  By January 16, 1961, the students had been readmitted to the University.

Perhaps students today would question, as does the interviewer in this WSB clip, whether the harassment and social isolation that Holmes and Hunter-Gault endured was worth the effort.  Statistics have indicated that longterm, positive change resulted from the students' struggles.   In 1961, only two African American students were enrolled at The University of Georgia.  In 2006 there were 380 African American students in the first-year class, and approximately one thousand of the five thousand incoming first-year students were racially and ethnically diverse. 

Discussion Questions

1. What did your parents and or grandparents think of integration in their schools, and also what were their opinions of integration in general?

2.  What have you, as a student, personally gained by going to a school that is now integrated? Is your school truly integrated or are there still signs of segregation on different levels?

3. What more could be done in both your school and community to educate its members and citizens on the importance of cultural diversity and differences between people of different races?

4. Dictionary.com defines affirmative action as “a policy designed to redress past discrimination against women and minority groups through measures to improve their economic and educational opportunities.”  Read our story on the Macon NAACP's encounter with the Bibb County Board of Commissioners over the institution of affirmative action practices in city government.  What are your thoughts on the subject, and what is your opinion on affirmative action as a policy to redress discrimination?

  Take it to the Streets!

Divide into two groups. Once the groups have been formed, declare one group in support of Affirmative Action, and one group against it.  Spend a week or two researching Affirmative Action cases in your state.  Formulate a two-page position paper that defends your group’s side of the case. Conclude with a classroom debate, moderated by your teacher, on the validity of Affirmative Action.

Group Members: Laura Ryan, Bobby Thompson, Emily Doyle, Christina Smith, Heather Adams, Ashley Elam, Claire Noonan

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