It is fitting that during Black History Month the University of Georgia marks the integration of UGA 60 years ago.
Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter became both trailblazers and targets when they walked onto the Athens campus as the first enrolled Black students.
Their court-ordered admission sparked campus protests by thousands opposed to desegregation.
Former Marietta mayor Bill Dunaway had a front row seat to that history. It was his senior year in 1961 and Dunaway, along with a like-minded group of UGA students, saw the storm clouds coming with the arrival of Holmes and Hunter and wanted to help quell the expected turmoil that would accompany one of the first desegregation efforts of a major southern university.
“There was a group of students — we were not a highly organized group — and we wanted to make sure there weren’t going to be any bad problems. So we decided we wanted to try to do something about it.”
That “something” was to shadow the new students as they walked to classes in order to deter conflict. He said two of his group would walk 20 yards ahead, two 20 yards behind and others to their flanks.
“And if we saw somebody that we knew was a potential troublemaker, screamer, or something like this, they might even throw a rock, we would engage them in a conversation to try to reason with them. If we couldn’t reason with them, we would get them into an argument to try to occupy them in an argument until after either Hamilton or Charlayne could walk by,” Dunaway explained. “It worked pretty well.”
He recalled a particular Thursday night a few days after Charlayne and Hamilton had arrived on campus. Word had spread of planned demonstrations outside Myers Hall, the dorm where Charlayne lived. Dunaway and his cohorts alerted university officials to no avail.
“They didn’t do a doggone thing. I think that was intentional. They wanted it to happen because after it happened they could kick them both out of school as being a source of a conflict.”
Dunaway remembers the night well. As a member of the UGA cheer squad, he was working an evening basketball game. After the game, Dunaway caught a ride to Myers Hall where he and his fellow volunteers tried to reason with members of the gathering crowd.
“We were trying to talk to folks, to reason with them. And it didn’t work. I was fixin’ to get the hell beat out of me. The cops were there and they started popping tear gas and there were rocks thrown. And then it got rough and I sought ‘religious refuge.’ I went running for the Episcopal Student Center, which was an old house across Lumpkin from the Myers dorms. And the priest saw me coming, opened the door and slammed it behind me, protecting me. But thank goodness I could run fast because they were after me.”
From the Episcopal Center, he phoned his girlfriend for a ride and they decided on a pickup point on Baxter Street a few blocks away. That meant Dunaway needed to sneak through people’s yards to meet up for the rendezvous.
“And sure enough, I ran up upon a group of white guys, adults talking to the students. They were passing out beer and alcohol and money and fireworks. And there was a little restaurant there that was selling eggs (to be thrown during the demonstration) to the students. I was walking through that crowd, scared to death.”
Later that night, university officials informed the two Black students their enrollments were being withdrawn “in the interest of your personal safety and for the safety and welfare of more than 7,000 other students” at the university. (UGA had a much smaller enrollment than it does today.) Days later, the courts again ruled in the students’ favor and they resumed their studies at UGA.
The Dunaway family was famous for their chain of drugstores and, years later, Bill discovered that his campus activities in support of desegregation impacted the family business.
“I think we had seven or eight drugstores at the time. My father believed very strongly that politics and business don’t mix and he was quite right.”
Dunaway told his father of his plans to help usher UGA into the era of integration. “I said that with all the news media … sooner or later my name may get put in the paper and it could affect the business. And I’m not going to do this if you tell me you don’t want me to.”
Dunaway said there was dead silence on the phone. Finally, his father said, “Son, if this is something you feel you must do, then you’d better do it.”
Four or five years later, the company’s business manager mentioned to Bill that Dunaway’s drugstores lost significant business when word spread of his involvement.
“I said, ‘what?’ and he said, ‘Yeah. Some people wrote letters, some people called, but we lost a sizable number of charge accounts.’ My father never said a word to me. It hurt Dunaway’s for a little while.”
In his book, “Cobb County, Georgia and the Origins of the Suburban South,” Thomas Scott writes that Dunaway Drugs, like many other drugstores and businesses, remained segregated in the early 1960s.
“W.H. Dunaway did not want to be the first in Marietta to integrate. After McLellan’s, a national chain, did so, he was happy to be next. Dunaway Drugs proved to be the first locally owned store to desegregate,” Scott writes. “While Dunaway’s desegregated shortly before they had to, all businesses were required to integrate a few months later with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a measure that outlawed segregation in all public accommodations.”
Holmes became an orthopedic surgeon at Grady Memorial Hospital. Hunter (now Hunter-Gault) is an award-winning journalist. The two have been feted at recent events at UGA, marking their accomplishments.
UGA Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Michelle Cook remarked on the pair’s courage to take these steps at an early stage in their lives.
“It can’t be lost on us that these were young people in their twenties, who were doing this and were deciding that this was important enough for them to put themselves at personal risk,” Cook said.
“I think that that was the best thing that ever happened to the state of Georgia, not just University of Georgia, because I would say this was the first integration, as far as I know, anywhere in the state of Georgia ... there was probably a white student at Georgia from all 159 counties. And people could see that the quote-unquote riots ... didn’t work. And I think that’s the reason that Georgia had, comparatively speaking to Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, a lot less trouble with integration than other places.”
ELECTION FRAUD? Georgia Board of Elections has referred 35 cases of alleged election fraud to the state attorney general and local prosecutors, including two with ties to Cobb County.
Some of those 35 are from as far back as 2015. The Cobb cases are of more recent vintage, however.
Lilburn’s Tabilah Fagueera Fatimah Bint Abdul Hamid Bratton allegedly submitted a false voter registration application in 2016.
A year later, the Cobb Board of Elections failed, allegedly, to properly process a voter registration application and to allow a person to vote in the precinct of his former residence in a special election.
So will Cobb District Attorney Flynn Broady pursue these cases? We don’t know.
As of Friday — two days after the state BOE announced these investigations — Georgia Secretary of State spokesperson Walter Jones claims the cases have been forwarded to Broady’s office. A spokesperson for Broady’s office insisted the office had received no such cases, however.
POLITICAL PLATTER: The Cobb County Republican Women’s Club will be hosting its monthly lunch and learn event featuring Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds, 11:30 a.m. Feb. 26 at the Atlanta/Marietta Hilton Conference Center.
Reynolds will speak on “The Truth about Sex Trafficking, Gangs and Drugs.” Former Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes will share her story and introduce Reynolds.
On Feb. 17, the Republican Women’s Club is hosting a “Wine Down Wednesday” event at the Marietta Wine Market from 5 to 6:30 p.m. All proceeds from this event will benefit the Babe Atkins Byrne Scholarship fund, which is awarded each year to a deserving student.
To register for any of the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club events or for more information, visit www.ccrwc.org.