The Integration of the University of Georgia: A Personal account
by Thomas Brahana
The integration of the University of Georgia was an important milestone in the civil rights movement in the United States.
The list of those who were here and participated in the fast moving chain of events 41 years ago grows shorter month by month. Recently I have talked with a half dozen or so of my colleagues who were here with me then and they all feel that the role of the Faculty during this critical time has not been adequately recorded. This account is an attempt to remedy, in part,that situation.
The whole story must give some idea of the pressures that existed at that time as well as asequential narrative of the chain of events. To this end I have consulted some modern sourcesand quote them here when they coincide with what I remember.
In 1979 I wrote an account of the integration for another purpose, but it was not publicly circulated. It has been folded into this paper with some minor corrections. When I attended the Symposium in 2001 on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the Integration, many details of what happened in Atlanta in January 1961 were related by important participants. A briefsummary of some things I learned then is included.
No one person remembers an intense situation the same as another. This is especially the case with the recollection of motivation. I suppose the common denominator in the motivations of the members of the Faculty in 1961 was the desire to continue the education of the young people in our state with a minimum of disturbance. In our group however, I believe there was a majority who recognized that ‘separate’ could never be ‘equal’ and that collecting taxes with color blind rules implies the responsibility that education be equably provided.
Eight months following the integration here the University of Mississippi was integrated. A brief history of that is included. Recently I have come across the following bit of wisdom— The only battles won are those that are not fought. This suggests to me that an important battle was won in Georgia.
a. A significant precursor to the integration of public education in our nation was the integration of the armed services. During World War II military units were racially segregated, and with a few exceptions, now well entered into historical accounts, the black units were given inferior responsibilities. On the airfields at which I was stationed, the only black soldiers were permanently assigned to the mess halls and garbage pick up, and they lived apart. In the Navy most of the black sailors were stewards. The first black to become an officer in the Marine Corps was commissioned in 1948.
Immediately following the war, in October, 1945, President Truman appointed a committee charged to review the policies used for assigning Afro-Americans in the services. Initially the response of those in command in the services opposed any change. In February, 1946, the Navy circulated a letter, making blacks eligible to assignments that had not been open to them, but very little change resulted. During the occupation of Germany and Austria there was some objection to the inclusion of Afro-Americans in the forces posted there. In 1947 General Heubner began an educational program, enrolling thousands of black servicemen in the occupation forces in courses at the high school level, which was judged very successful from the point of view of the efficiency and morale of the units involved.
In the immediate post-war period, the quest for civil rights for blacks became a major political issue, engaging the attention of Congress and the electorate. The traditional two party structure was disturbed by the organization of the Dixiecrats in July, 1948. The Democrats, under Truman, campaigned that year favoring an extension of civil rights, and the Republicans, whose candidate was Thomas Dewey, were non-committal. The Dixiecrats, led by Strom Thurmond, were adamantly opposed to change. In a close election, surprising the pollsters, Truman won.
In February, 1949, after the inauguration, the Armed Forces Personnel Policy Board abolished racial quotas, the Air Force integrated living quarters, and some other discriminatory policies were dropped. Senator Richard Russell, from Georgia, sponsored a bill which would allow a serviceman to choose not to serve in an integrated unit, but it didn’t pass, lacking any support from the army high command.
In June, 1950, the North Koreans, armed with Soviet weapons, invaded South Korea, starting the Korean War. By November, Seoul, the capitol of South Korea, was in the hands of the Northern forces. The United Nations Alliance, headed by the United States, countered the invasion, and by April, 1951, had driven the Communist forces back north of the 38th Parallel.
It was during this conflict that the belief that integrated units would not perform well in combat was abandoned by the military. At a time when delay would have been costly, replacements for casualties in the Marine units at the front were drawn from reserves without regard to race, and it was discovered that the integrated units performed better, without incidents traceable to racial integration. In 1951, the Marine Corps ended its segregated racial policy. While it was not immediate, the other branches of the armed forces followed, and in October,1954, the last racially segregated unit in the armed services was abolished.
b. The situation relative to the integration of public education in the South is briefly describedin the following. In 1954, the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court in the landmark case, Brown vs. Board of Education, ruled that public schools must be racially integrated, and in 1955 that integration should proceed with ‘deliberate speed’.
In February, 1956, at the University of Alabama, Governor George Wallace personally denied entrance to Autherine Lucy, in a much publicized confrontation at the front steps. That evening university students rioted, opposing her admission, and in a short while she had been withdrawn. No university in the deep south had been integrated, nor any schools.
In 1957, the public high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, was integrated when President Eisenhower called out the militia to escort the black children through the angry mob.
The following excerpts, taken from This Day in Georgia, are a description of a wave of reaction to Brown vs Board of Education that was taking place across the South. In March, 1956,
“Governor Marvin Griffin signed a second series of bills and resolutions that were part of his ‘massive resistance’ package of legislation at the 1956 session of the General Assembly in response to the U. S. Supreme Court’s 1954 and 1955 decisions in the case of Brown vs Board of Education. These included
H.R. 185 an Interposition Resolution—which declared that “decisions and orders of the Supreme Court of the United States relating to the separation of races in the public institutions of a State as announced and promulgated by said court on May 17, 1954 and May 31, 1955 are null and void and of no force and effect.”
S.B. 152 which authorized the Department of Public Safety to allow members of the State Patrol to make arrests and otherwise enforce Georgia’s segregation laws when requested by a citizen of any city or county.
H.B. 243 the general appropriation act of FY 1957, which included provisions in the appropriations to the State Department of Education and State Board of Regents requiring that appropriations could be made only to segregated schools and colleges in Georgia.”
In addition, the state flag was changed in 1956 to a Confederate Battle flag with a State Seal added.
c. In June, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy gave the main address at the graduation exercises here. I attended. This was obviously a campaign speech, and while I don’t remember what he said now, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind where he stood on civil rights.
In the fall of 1960, Professor Horace Montgomery, a member of the History Department here, came to my office and asked me if I would be President of the local chapter of the American
Association of University professors (AAUP). At that time, the possibility that the University would be forcibly integrated as a result of a court order was in everyone’s mind. We had a short conversation about this, at the end of which he said that he thought the AAUP needed someone who felt as I did, and without much more formality that I can remember, I was President of the University Chapter. The Vice President was Kenneth Coleman, a Professor in the History Department, a Lt. Colonel in the Army during WWII, and the respected author of several books on Georgia history.
During the campaign of Kennedy and Nixon, the court case of the Petition of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter to enter the University of Georgia was working its way through the courts. One day I went to the Federal Courtroom in the Post Office building in Athens to watch the proceedings. My most vivid recollection now is of the calm competence of the lawyer, Ms. Constance Baker Motley, and the two teenagers, Holmes and Hunter, nice kids, awed a little, fundamentally courageous.
Athens is a university community and the prospect that the University and public schools would be closed because of the provisions of ‘massive resistance’ legislation was troubling to many leaders in the town. Mrs. Phyllis Barrow, wife of the Superior Court judge, was president of an organization HOPE, acronym for Help Our Public Education. They obtained thousands of signatures on a petition that public schools remain open.
The last appeal by the University to vacate the order to admit Holmes and Hunter was heard in Macon, by Judge Bootle, last minute appeals to the Supreme Court denied, and on December 29, 1960, the newspapers informed us of the court order to admit them at the beginning of the Winter Quarter. While we talked about it, none of us on the Faculty knew what to expect.
The Governor of Georgia, Ernest Vandiver, gave the State of the State address immediately after the New Year, before the beginning of the Winter Quarter. I remember listening on the radio to the whole speech very carefully. He did not categorically say it was his intention to close the University, but the implication was definitely there. Needless to say there was consternation in the Faculty, and small concerned groups formed all over the campus.
d. January 11. 1961, when registration took place for all students, was a very exiting time. Mr. Holmes and Miss Hunter attended classes, the subject of curiosity, but otherwise without incident.
The national television trucks were very noticeable moving from place to place. There was considerable effort to obtain interesting news. Nationally recognized TV newsmen were interviewing ordinary students; there was at least one journalism professor providing liaison services. Later, it was accused that newsmen asked students to stage “rock throwing” type footage, although I don’t know it to be the case.
Those of us who have spent our lives on campuses know well the volatile properties of a large student body. I have a vivid recollection of looking out the window at one of the early panty raids, in Ann Arbor, as I worked in the Mathematics Graduate Student Building late one balmy spring evening. While I never saw a ‘scrum’, there have occurred ‘streaking’, ‘sit-ins’ and other student excitements while I have been at the University.
At any rate there was a campus disturbance at the University of Georgia the night following the admission of Holmes and Miss Hunter. It had a frightening aspect, due to the presence on campus of some men armed with shotguns and hunting rifles, who did not in any way give the appearance of college students. I was later told by President Aderhold that it was estimated that there were about forty of them, and that most of them had checked in at a small hotel that was across from the Court House at that time, and that he did not know who they were. There were firecrackers and shots fired, and rocks thrown which shattered the windows in Miss Hunter’s dormitory room.
The University was closed because of the riot, and Mr. Holmes and Miss Hunter were suspended. The next day the faculty was in a turmoil. Many people came to me and said I should call a meeting of the AAUP for that night. In the early afternoon I decided to call a meeting; we arranged for the use of the Chapel, and a committee of AAUP members called each department to tell the members of the faculty about the meeting.
During supper I figured out how I would run the meeting and I had my wife, Mary Ann, make out a list of all of the departments and colleges. My plan was to give each person a chance to speak, in the order of departments on my alphabetical list, and after everyone had a chance to speak, to accept motions, if any. About 375 faculty members came to the meeting, and my format was accepted. This was about three fourths of the faculty. Horace Montgomery rose and asked to be allowed to speak in the place of the Art Department, second on my list, after Agriculture. A consensus was obtained. He read the draft of a resolution which had been prepared that afternoon by himself, together with Frank Gibson, Political Science, and Joseph Schwarz, Art. This resolution was well received. I can’t remember many of the particulars of the discussion now, but there was some angry criticism of Roy Harris, a member of the Board of Regents, and outspoken segregationist who wrote editorials for his newspaper in Augusta. A draft resolution was read which dealt with this.
After about two hours of discussion I appointed a committee to prepare resolutions, and ruled that the two issues should be prepared separately. Horace Montgomery and Calvin Brown, English, were on the committee, and three or four other faculty members. They went back of the stage in the Chapel for about twenty minutes after which the resolution was presented and adopted. The vote was very strong in favor of the resolution. It was suggested that faculty members who desired could sign the document. The next day copies were placed at several points on the campus, and any faculty member who desired was invited to sign the resolution, which was to be given to President Aderhold, sent to the Chancellor, to be delivered to the Board of Regents.
Many people had signed it the night before, but I am not certain how many. I know I went over to the Chemistry Building the next day and signed it. The text of the Resolution follows.
“We, the undersigned members of the University of Georgia faculty, wish to commend the administrative authorities of the University of Georgia, especially the President, the Dean of Men, the Dean of Students, and the majority of the student body for the manner in which they have conducted themselves under the trying conditions of the past week, and we pledge our continued support to these authorities in carrying out their responsibilities under the law. We deplore and condemn the incidents of Wednesday night, January 11, and regret that officials of the state of Georgia were unable or unwilling to protect the rights and property of the University and its students. We also deplore and condemn the behavior of certain outside elements and those university students who regrettably joined in lawless demonstrations. Continued incidents of this kind can only destroy the prestige of the University, result in loss of faculty and discourage and depress the student body.
Let the governor of this state, its law enforcement officials, and the people know that we, members of the faculty of this great institution will not retreat from the responsibility of standing steadfastly by the rules of law and morality. Believing this, we, the undersigned, insist that the two suspended students be returned to their classes and that all measures necessary to the protection of students and faculty and to the preservation of orderly education be taken by appropriate state authorities.”
The next morning, Friday, January 13, the text of the resolution appeared in the Atlanta and Athens newspapers. That day about 400 members of the faculty had signed the resolution. Many people told me on Friday that they thought we had done the right thing at the meeting. It was not clear that classes would resume on Monday. The papers reported that Ms. Motley had appeared before Judge Bootle to ask him to reverse the suspension of Holmes and Hunter, and that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, George L. Smith, had named a special five man committee to begin hearings in Athens to check conflicting reports and rumors of recent happenings at the University.
e. There were also many people who felt that it would not be in the interest of those who signed if the student body came back on Monday and continued to riot. A committee of the AAUP was formed, and I was chairman, for the purpose of finding a way to tell the students when they returned that the faculty didn’t want any more rioting. We prepared a list of prohibited acts, with sanctions for violations and ways that the faculty could cooperate. One of the provisions was the formation of a Faculty Patrol, to be stationed at various points on the campus in the evening to make certain there was no recurrence of the rioting. Other small groups were formed for the same purpose, but I don’t remember any consolidation of these efforts.
On Saturday morning I spent an hour or so with Joe Ball, Mathematics, checking the signatures on the signed copies of the resolution, to make certain that those who signed were faculty members. Then I had a private meeting with President Aderhold, gave him the signed copies of the resolution, and requested that he transmit them to the Chancellor and the Regents. He asked me point blank: Are your people trying to take over the University? I said we were not, but that we would like his support in making certain there was no continuation of the rioting. He did not promise anything.
Later that day we learned of the order by Judge Bootle that Mr. Holmes and Miss Hunter be readmitted, making Dean Williams and President Aderhold parties to the action. Governor Vandiver issued a statement in which he said the Mayor of Athens had not asked for help from the State in quelling the riot, and promising that “I am always available to preserve the peace, good order and dignity of the state.”
On Sunday morning the newspapers had a short list of actions prohibited to students and sanctions for violations, announced by the President’s advisors, (Deans, etc.), and copies were placed prominently all over the campus. The text of this announcement follows.
“ To: ALL STUDENTS
UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA
The University is anxious in this crisis that all young men and women at the University conduct themselves with dignity, judgement and maturity. At the same time we are mindful that oftentimes tension and differences of opinion give rise to emotional outbursts. We therefore call specific attention to the following points:
1. Attention is called to the Athens City ordinance which prohibits parades and mass demonstrations without full consent and permission granted by the mayor and city council.
2. Attention is also called to the Athens City ordinance which prohibits discharge of fireworks in the city limits. Individuals violating this ordinance are subject to arrest and prosecution.
3. Attention is also called to the fact that members of fraternities and sororities will jeopardize their chapter charters by attending and taking part in such demonstrations and riots. Local advisors and national headquarters are being requested to work with students to enforce law and order.
4. Students attending and taking part in riots and demonstrations will be suspended or expelled.
January 14, 1961 Joseph A. Williams
Dean of Students ”
I think of this now as “reading the Riot Act” to the students. The suspension of civil rights during times of riot is an ancient principle of the common law.
f. When the students came back Monday morning it was quiet as a church on the campus. Nonetheless there was considerable tension. About three quarters of our students were wearing white athletic socks. This had been suggested and agreed upon as an acceptable way to express protest against the integration of the University. My own undergraduate class in calculus was very upset, as I was myself, having been told that the committee from the legislature wished to meet with me. I told them we would have a demonstration (specifically prohibited) instead of having class. In particular, I asked each of them to write a theme on “What I think about the integration of the University.” When they were done, after the papers were collected, we had to decide what should be done with them. The first suggestion was that every faculty member at the University be required to read the papers. I didn’t think that would be practical. I didn’t want to read them at that time, since it didn’t have to do with mathematics, and I felt in some cases it might complicate my relation with the students. Finally, I hit on a solution. We would put them in the waste basket, and I would carry them to the Library and give a librarian the papers. They have become the subject of an article in the Georgia Historical Quarterly in 1996 by Robert Cohen.
Soon after this class three members of the committee from the State Legislature came to my office in the Geology, Geography and Mathematics Building of the Science Center. They had been having difficulty finding me, and the meeting started off on a sour note. I don’t remember now the details of this meeting, but the lines of questioning remain clear in my mind. The first was, did I think that the Faculty of the University wanted integration? The answer I gave was, that if each faculty member could make the world exactly as he wanted it, that a majority would prefer not to integrate; but that here in Georgia, now, the majority favored integration. The second line of questioning involved, were any faculty members coerced into signing the resolution? I said that I did not believe that they were. The copies were placed in several convenient places, and a faculty member who chose to do it could walk there to sign the resolution. Finally they asked me if I was part of a group of faculty members sent to the University by the Federal Government to make the integration successful. This was the first time that such an idea entered my conscious thought, and I simply denied it.
The idea kept recurring in my mind. Many of my personal friends had high connections in Washington. My thesis advisor, R. L. Wilder, was President of the American Mathematical Society, and became a member of President Kennedy’s Science and Public Policy Committee, a high ranking subcommittee of the National Academy of Science. I was perfectly happy at Dartmouth when I got a letter from Gerald Huff, Head of the Mathematics Department here, who had obtained my name from Wilder. That was, however, how most job offers were arranged in those days. The idea that the Federal Government might use game theory on citizens appalled me. On the other hand it was clear that the technique was available.
The Faculty Patrol was stationed Monday night at various points on the campus. I was assigned to the Center Meyers dormitory, where Charlayne had been assigned a small suite, which had provision for preparing food. She was not allowed to eat with the other students. Afro-Americans were prohibited from being seated in the restaurants in Athens in 1961.
John Belcher, a Professor of Sociology, who lived three houses down the street from me picked me up, and we drove to the dormitory, at about 7 PM. As we parked and walked across the street, I saw a small group of men, 4 to 6 of them, standing in a line, looking at the dormitory, from the other side of Lumpkin Street. They did not look like students, and they had rifles. When we entered the dormitory, there was substantial commotion. The parents of some of the girls in the dormitory were there removing them from the University, and girls were walking through, carrying their belongings. I talked to one father, who said he was neutral about the integration, but he did not think it was right to subject the girls to such pressure. A colleague, Bill Waggoner, Chemistry, was stationed in North Meyers, who talked to the father of a girl whose mother insisted they all spend the night away from the scene of the riot. Another colleague, Gayther Plummer, Botany, was in Center Meyers, and spent the evening in quiet conversation with the Director of the Libraries, Porter Kellam. I was only there a brief time. For the first time I was forced to consider the possibility that serious harm could be inflicted on Miss Hunter, and I became very upset. John took me home.
One story came from the Faculty Patrol. Bob Ayres, Philosophy, and another professor, while patrolling saw a car parked with two men sitting in it, just observing things. They reported this to the Athens police, and were told in a little while that the men were FBI agents. It was reported in the paper the next day that four men were arrested on a concealed weapons charge, when they put rifles in the trunk of a car. The next day the University administration asked that the Faculty Patrol be discontinued. They said it was adding to the disturbance, and that the civil authorities had things under control. It is difficult now to describe the tension of the period of waiting to see if the State Legislature would take retaliatory action against the University, or the members of the Faculty who signed the resolution. The Atlanta paper printed the complete list of names of those who signed the resolution. About fifteen students had been summarily dismissed by Dean Tate for violation of provisions of the “Riot Act”, and the Legislature voted a censure of the faculty for limiting the right of the students to free speech, and requested that the students dismissed be immediately readmitted.
The Budget of the University had not yet been acted on. My recollection is of an unnatural stillness on the campus. There was a regularly scheduled meeting of the AAUP about three weeks after this time, and there were the three officers, the speaker and perhaps two other members in attendance. The tension gradually lifted toward the end of the Spring Quarter. Later, Bobby Kennedy, the Attorney General spoke at Law Day. In his speech he congratulated the Faculty of the University for their patriotic behavior during the integration crisis.
g. On January 9, 2001, a symposium was held to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Desegregation here. The main address was given by Charlayne Hunter-Galt, who now is a well known correspondent for the Cable News Network. Present at the meeting were many of the important individuals who had influenced the events in 1961. The panel on the stage consisted of Ernest Vandiver, Carl Sanders, George L. Smith, Constance Motley and Horace Ward. Each of the panelists gave a personal account of the events which took place. Governor Vandiver called a meeting of his legislative leaders, about 20 of them, and asked each of them directly-- Should we close the University? The reply was in all cases "yes" until at the end he reached Carl Sanders, Majority Leader of the Senate, who advised against closing. George L. Smith said that during WWII while he was stationed in San Francisco, his wife had taught in an integrated school and she did not think it was wrong. Carl Sanders said that an older black man had a mentoring influence on him when he was a boy. Constance Motley, now a Federal Judge in New York, said things are better now than they used to be, but not good enough.
There was a slide presentation by Robert Pratt, an Associate Professor of History here, which suggested that the rioting on January 11, 1961 here was more serious than is currently acknowledged, and that he is writing a book on the subject. Earlier I had had a lengthy conversation with him during which I outlined the material above which describes the Faculty response.
Charlayne's speech was eloquent and moving. She makes her living reporting and writing. I was previously unaware of the extent of the nastiness that was inflicted on her while she was here. Few young girls could have withstood it. She did remark that the integration here did not get the respect it deserves because no one got killed. I believe however, that she was well served by the University. There were members of the English Department who extended her friendship and guidance. A few other members of the Faculty were cordial. The Faculty was unanimous that she and Hamilton had a right to pursue their studies without fear for their personal safety.
This feeling was not shared by everyone in Athens, and in 1964 a black army officer, Lemuel Penn, was assassinated by local members of the Ku Klux Klan, after he stopped for lunch while passing through town.
Finally, on leaving the Symposium, I left feeling that the Faculty was extremely fortunate that the message contained in the resolution had not fallen on deaf ears. Our debt to Governor Vandiver, Senate Majority Leader Sanders and Speaker George L Smith was substantial. I left feeling proud of my state and my country.
h. The following is taken from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Book of the Year,1963,
Events of 1962.
" Higher Education and the University of Mississippi.
The breaching of segregation at the University of Mississippi-- the first break in that state's pattern of rigid segregation-- led to a crisis in state v. federal authority. Early in 1961 James H. Meredith, a Negro air force veteran studying at all-Negro Jackson State college, applied for admission to the University of Mississippi and was rejected. He then filed suit in federal district court. After many court hearings and appeals, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, on Sept. 10, 1962, upheld an appeals court order that Meredith be admitted without delay. Mississippi Gov. Ross R. Barnett promptly announced that he would go to jail first, invoking the old doctrine of interposition, which holds that a state has the right to interpose its power between its citizens and an unlawful exercise of federal authority.
On Sept. 20 Meredith, accompanied by U.S. department of justice officials, made the first of four unsuccessful attempts to enroll at the university. Then, and again on Sept. 25, Governor Barnett personally barred him from the campus. On Sept. 26, Lieut. Gov. Paul Johnson, supported by state police, rejected him. On Sept. 27 Meredith and his escort turned back when they learned that state police and an angry crowd had gathered at the university entrance.
On Sept. 28 the U.S. circuit court of appeals found Governor Barnett, in absentia, guilty of civil contempt and ordered him to admit Meredith by Oct. 2 or face arrest and fines of $10,000 for each day of delay. The court also found Johnson in contempt and sentenced him to fines of $5,000 a day if he failed to purge himself. The following day hundreds of U.S. deputy marshals assembled at and near Oxford, the site of the university. Federal troops were alerted for action and Pres. John F. Kennedy federalized the Mississippi national guard. On Sunday Sept. 30, Meredith arrived on the campus with an escort of marshals. President Kennedy made a nationwide television address explaining the need for federal intervention and appealing to University of Mississippi students to accept desegregation peaceably. Governor Barnett announced that Mississippi was powerless to resist the armed might of the federal government, but pledged to continue his opposition to desegregation in the courts.
Despite the president's appeal, large-scale rioting erupted on the campus. A mob of several hundred students, adult Mississippians and out-of-state segregationists attacked U.S. marshals with stones, bottles and other missiles. State patrolmen, whom federal authorities had expected to maintain order, vacated the campus at the height of the rioting. Only after several chaotic hours was the mob subdued by the use of tear gas and the ultimate arrival of federal troops. Two men, one a French journalist, were killed by gunfire and hundreds were injured. Among those taken into custody was former Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker, who commanded the federal troops used in Little Rock, Ark. in 1957. He had resigned from the army to serve as spokesman for ultraconservative causes.
In the days that followed, Meredith attended classes under the watchful eyes of U.S. marshals and hostile white students. Desegregation had at last begun in the state but a long period of continuing resistance and federal intervention seemed in prospect. "