In the winter darkness of January 1961, moments after her lawyer
and mother had left her alone in her dorm room, Charlayne Hunter
could hear a crowd of fellow University of Georgia students
chanting outside her window:
"Two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate..."
Complete with racial slurs, it was an unmistakable message from
students enraged by a federal court order that had permitted Ms.
Hunter and Hamilton Holmes to be the first African-Americans to
enroll at the university in Athens, Ga.
But taunts were the lesser problem. The next night a brick came
crashing through Hunter's dorm window, while police used tear gas to
break up the ensuing melee. Hunter and Holmes were suspended by
school officials "for their own safety."
Four decades after passing through the university's gates to
crack the race barrier, Ms. Hunter-Gault is an award-winning
journalist. Today, she will give a keynote address there to help
celebrate the first desegregation of a public university in the
deep South. (Holmes died in 1995 after becoming a well-known doctor
The UGA campus now is a vastly different place, even if race
issues still flare occasionally, students and faculty say.
But marking a historic moment for desegregation takes on added
relevance because of the spate of current cases challenging
affirmative-action, which has been commonplace nationwide for
Cases at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University
of Texas at Austin, and the University of Washington in Seattle -
as well as UGA itself - have reached the appeals stage and could be
reviewed by the US Supreme Court. In each case, white applicants
claimed reverse discrimination because of race-based factors in
Living down a reputation
Mark Anthony Thomas, who last year became the first black editor
of UGA's student newspaper, thinks affirmative-action policies are
still needed. Despite much progress, he and others say, the balance
on campus still needs to be adjusted.
Approximately 6 percent of UGA students are black, in a state
with a one-third minority population, he notes. Only about 40
percent of blacks who are accepted at UGA enroll, possibly because
of perceptions that the campus would be hostile to them, Mr. Thomas
says. But in his view, "The administration makes a conscious effort
to make sure minorities feel welcome."
Thomas cites a remarkable degree of genuine enthusiasm on campus
for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of desegregation. A
volunteer student group he organized to publicize the event is
about evenly split between blacks and whites - and a number of
mostly white student groups are involved.
The strains that still remain, he and others say, have mostly to
do with echoes of the past. One is the segregated Greek system.
Last fall, a white UGA sorority made news by denying admission to a
"The few problems we have are of the students' own making,"
Thomas says. "It's going to take years to dilute that reputation
that we've had."
Robert Pratt, a UGA history professor, expects to publish a
scholarly history of desegregation at the university this year. …