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Cities: Athens

The Board of Regents Weighs In

In this WSB clip, filmed on January 17, 1961, the chairman of the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents, Robert O. Arnold, comments on The University of Georgia’s response to the anti-integration riots that erupted on the evening of Wednesday, January 11.  Arnold points out that his information is limited and based largely on second-hand accounts from official channels, such as the University’s president, O.C. Aderhold.  However, Arnold ventures that as far as he can tell, “the Administration has done an excellent job of handling this thing.”  Ironically, part of the University’s means of “handling this thing” included suspending Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes, rather than suspending the rioters. 

Hunter and Holmes’s attorneys, Donald L. Hollowell and Constance Baker Motley, challenged the suspension of their clients.  On Friday, January 13, Federal Judge William Bootle ruled in favor of the students and ordered that they be reinstated no later than Monday, January 16.  In preparation for Hunter and Holmes’s return to campus, the Dean of Students, Joe Williams, informed the student body of several new rules of conduct written by administration officials.  These new rules prohibited unofficial parades and demonstrations, the possession or use of fireworks, and participation in riots, all at the threat of expulsion or arrest.  Fraternity and sorority members were also warned that any individual’s participation in a demonstration or riot would result in the revocation of an entire chapter’s charter.

Later that same weekend, on Sunday, January 15, University officials met with Arnold and the Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, Dr. Harmon W. Caldwell, to continue outlining precautionary measures so as to avoid another campus outburst.  They decided that any persons not enrolled in or working for the University would be barred from entering campus buildings.  Reporters were to refrain from interviewing either Hunter or Holmes, and photographers were to shoot footage from a distance. 

Such mandates, as well some of the questions asked of Arnold in this clip, demonstrate the extent to which the news media were accused of exacerbating or even initiating the hostilities.  In fact, the news media became the object of the most scathing accusations even though eight Klan members, two of whom were special duty sheriffs in Atlanta, were eventually arrested for participating in the riots.  Some UGA students were alleged to have planned the riots with assistance from the local community. Some allegations even posited connections to the Georgia legislature.

University officials and students were afraid of the reputation their school would garner from publicized accounts of the crisis.  Roy V. Harris--a Board of Regents member, segregationist, and publisher of the Augusta Courier-- sparked a public debate when he vociferously condemned President Aderhold and asked for his resignation for attempting to “conduct an experiment in race mixing.” To counter Harris’s bad press, several different groups in Athens wrote and released petitions supporting Aderhold and his administration’s civil conduct during the course of the University's process of ending segregation in its student body.  Such statements were released by the Alumni Society of Georgia, by UGA students, by a group of 350 UGA faculty members, and by an ad hoc body of about 1,200 Athens citizens.

Sources outside of Athens also discussed the riots, including Ralph McGill’s widely-read Atlanta Constitution column, television’s Huntley-Brinkley Report, and NBC’s Today Show, hosted by David Garroway.  Reports of the violence even appeared internationally, reaching as far as military bases in Tokyo, newspapers in Ghana, and in Western Europe through the New York Times international edition.  Politicians, pundits, students, and faculty feared that sensationalized publication of such images of American democracy would decrease enrollment at the University, and more globally would push non-committed Latin American, Asian, or African countries to communism.  News reporters rebutted, as does the off-camera reporter in this clip, that they were not dramatizing events but reporting “exactly what happens as [they] see it.”  In this restrictive Cold War era, however, concern for factual reporting and media integrity were often superseded by artful images, the deliberate control of perception, and careful construction of reputation.  

Still, many reporters and photographers of this era were uncompromising in their pursuit for the truth.  It was through their relentless reporting that such journalists exposed the hatred towards African Americans that many whites felt.  These images and reports of racial violence brought shame upon the reputation of America as a civil, democratic, and peaceful nation, and helped put pressure on the nation to make legal and social changes towards equality.

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Discussion Questions

1. What do scholars mean by "citizen journalism"? Discuss the pros and cons of news gathered from non-trained reporters and disseminated by new media outlets such as cell phones, the Internet, and podcasts.

2. Read the essay North Georgia's Alternative Press in the Freedom on Film Athens pages. How do new media outlets compare to the alternative newspapers of the twentieth century?

3. How can you distinguish between unbiased and biased reportage in the news media?  Bring for class discussion an example of both kinds of reporting in newspapers or magazines, or copy the URLs of your sources if you choose to use the World Wide Web.

Take it to the Streets!

Research and write an essay on the influence of the American press during wartime. How do the experiences of journalists in World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War compare to those of their colleagues reporting on the Iraq War? Issues you might consider include censorship, access to troops, combat experiences, types of news media (television, the Internet, radio, magazines or newspapers), and the roles of women and people of color.

Writer: Aggie Ebrahimi
Editor: Professor Barbara McCaskill
Researchers: Aggie Ebrahimi, Professor Barbara McCaskill
Web Site Designer: William Weems

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