Charlayne Hunter-Gualt and Hamilton E. Holmes were civil right trailblazers who were at the center of integrating the University of Georgia. The pair were the first Black students admitted at the school on this day in 1961, after launching a lawsuit with the assistance of the NAACP.
Hunter and Holmes were top students at Turner High School, which was part of Atlanta’s segregated education system. Despite their high grades and the landmark Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board Of Education, the pair were denied entry to the university. This caught the attention of the NAACP’s Constance Baker Motley of its Legal Defense and Educational Fund branch.
Motley filed a lawsuit against the University of Georgia alleging racial discrimination. Joining her in the effort were Atlanta attorneys Donald Hollowell and Horace Ward. Ward was especially devoted to this mission, as he’d tried to integrate the university before. Now one of the country’s leading attorneys, Vernon Jordan was the law clerk on the case.
Each quarter, the attorneys would file applications on behalf of Hunter and Holmes and were denied each time. Their persistence paid off when a federal judge admitted Hunter and Holmes. However, they weren’t welcomed while the grip of Jim Crow laws in the Deep South remained intact. It was such an explosive environment that Jordan had to escort Holmes into the school past screaming white protesters.
But Hunter-Gault and Holmes persevered, graduating from the school and going on to stellar academic and professional careers. Hunter-Gault went on to Wayne State University and Washington University in St. Louis before becoming an award-winning journalist on TV and with the New York Times, NPR and other publications.
The late Holmes entered the Emory School Of Medicine and later became an orthopedic physician and professor of orthopedics at Emory’s medical school. Holmes was also an associate dean at the school. Holmes died from heart failure in 1995.
The University of Georgia Academic Building was renamed the Holmes/Hunter Academic Building in 2001.
(Photo: University of Georgia archives)