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Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter at UGA

This WSB clip from January 17, 1961 features Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter on the campus of The University of Georgia.  Holmes and Hunter became 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 on 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 filed a civil suit against Danner for the repeated refusal of their applications. At trial, Judge William Bootle issued a ruling stating that Holmes and Hunter “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 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’s dorm (Holmes lived off campus). The plethora of students that lashed out by throwing rocks, bottles, and fireworks was so violent that police used tear gas to dispense the crowd.  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 on integration. 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 J.A. Williams (Dean of Students) sent a letter suspending Hunter and Holmes from the University for safety reasons.  Their suspension did not go over well with some faculty, who risked their jobs by signing a resolution demanding Hunter and Holmes's immediate readmission.  By January 16, the students had been readmitted to the University.

Perhaps students today will question, as does the interviewer in this WSB clip, whether the harassment and social isolation that Holmes and Hunter endured was worth the effort.  Statistics have indicated that long term, 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 freshman class, and approximately one in five incoming first-year students were racially and ethnically diverse. 

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Discussion Questions

1. What did your parents and or grandparents think of integration in their schools? 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 The NAACP and the Bibb County Commissioners in the Freedom on Film Macon pages that discusses the institution of affirmative action practices in city government.  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.

Writers: Heather Adams, Emily Doyle, Ashley Elam, Claire Noonan, Laura Ryan, Christina Smith, and Bobby Thompson in Professor Barbara McCaskill's ENGL 2400 (Survey of Multicultural American Literature) at The University of Georgia, Spring 2007.        

Editors and Researchers: Lauren Chambers, Christina L. Davis, Aggie Ebrahimi, Courtney Thomas, and Professor Barbara McCaskill     

Web Site Designer: William Weems 

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