Through the Arch: An Integration Anniversary, Part 1

Part one in a three-part series on the 50th anniversary of the University of Georgia’s desegregation.
Fifty years ago, Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter walked onto North Campus in Athens, Ga., to register for classes. After a lengthy legal battle, federal judge William Bootle had ruled on Jan. 6, 1961 that Holmes and Hunter were “fully qualified for immediate admission” to the University of Georgia, and “would already have been admitted had it not been for their race and color.”
The two teenagers were impressively qualified: Holmes was valedictorian at Turner High School in Atlanta, senior class president and co-captain of the football team; Hunter was No. 3 in the same class, paper editor and Miss Turner. To civil rights leaders looking for a couple of bright kids willing to attempt integration, they made the perfect applicants. But they also had their own ambitions. When their legal defense team suggested applying to Georgia State in Atlanta, they one-upped and chose the University of Georgia — chartered in 1785 and far outside of the capital.
African-Americans had been attempting to integrate the state’s flagship school for nearly a century. During Reconstruction, a group of black parents confronted the school’s chancellor about admitting their sons; he replied, according to the Hargrett Library, “this is a white man’s college and you are perfectly powerless to help yourselves.” In 1950, Atlanta University-graduate Horace Ward applied to the university’s law school. He spent seven years battling officials, before having his case dismissed and attending Northwestern University’s Law School.
By 1960, though, Ward was back in Atlanta working for the African-American lawyer Donald Hollowell, whose firm represented Holmes and Hunter. As their admission process also stretched on for years, the two students started college at Morehouse and Wayne State University in Detroit. Then, halfway through their sophomore year, Judge Bootle’s ruling arrived: The University of Georgia was finally about to be integrated.
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Topics in this Post: Stuff You Missed in History Class, Charlayne Hunter, Hamilton Holmes, integration, University of Georgia

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