Hunter-Gault Looks Back, 50 Years After Breaking Color Barrier At Georgia A half-century ago, Charlayne Hunter was one of the first black students to enroll at the University of Georgia, the state's flagship college. The other was her friend, Hamilton Holmes. Both went on to great success, but that 1961 day, they "were greeted by a screaming, howling mob of students," she recalls.
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Integrating A Southern Giant: A Pioneer Looks Back

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Integrating A Southern Giant: A Pioneer Looks Back

Integrating A Southern Giant: A Pioneer Looks Back

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Afterward, both students went on to successful careers. Holmes became a doctor, and Hunter is now Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who has reported over the years for NPR News. She remembers the day they walked onto campus in January 1961.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER: And we were led by - accompanied by Vernon Jordan, who was on the legal team that had won the case, and my mother, who was about five feet, four inches tall, Hamp's father and Hamp. And we had no security or anything, and we just walked into this crowd so confident that we were doing the right thing, that I just don't think we ever for a moment thought about being afraid.

HUNTER: Don't walk so fast. My legs are not as long as yours.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HUNTER: So, you know, we had - we maintained our moments of sanity, I think, by being just who we were.

INSKEEP: Didn't you have to do this twice, though? You went for a day. Then it was advised that you stay away for a while, for your own safety. And then...

HUNTER: Well, it was advised because there was a riot outside my dormitory the second night I was on campus. I lived in a dorm room that was isolated from the other students. The girls lived on the second floor. I lived on the first.

INSKEEP: And all of a sudden, in the middle of one of these chants, a brick was hurled through the window. And, you know, in those days, I might have been a historical symbol, but I was also a 19-year-old girl and I loved clothes. And the thing I thought about as that brick came through my window was, oh, my goodness. There's glass all over my clothes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Oh, man.

HUNTER: And as I walked out of the dorm, the girls had come down from the second floor. They were all assembled down there because tear gas had been thrown to disperse the crowds - somewhat belatedly. And so they had been told to change their sheets, in case some of the gas got in the sheets.

HUNTER: And then our lawyers went back to the courts the very next day, and we were readmitted and came back the following Monday, just to give us time to catch our breaths.

INSKEEP: Did it ever feel normal?

HUNTER: Well, I guess there were times when it felt pretty normal. Yeah, there were students in the journalism school who became friends. And then there was a teacher, who just passed recently. Her name was Frances Wallace. And she had seen from her window, up high in the building where she lived, the rioting students. And when things calmed down, she invited me over for tea.

HUNTER: J.D. Salinger and Robert Frost, all the people that I was enamored with as a student of English. And those were precious days. And the tea was pretty good, too.

INSKEEP: How do you think your life might be different if you had gone somewhere else to college?

HUNTER: Well, you know, my lifelong dream had been to be a journalist. But I think my path was different in one way because of the notoriety of the case. I was invited to come to New York by that legendary editor, William Shawn...

INSKEEP: He was the editor of the New Yorker magazine for many years.

HUNTER: And one of the things I learned about journalism and journalists is that you don't have to be an advocate for something you care about. But you can care about something and do it in a totally acceptable, journalistic way, without violating any kind principles.

HUNTER: Well, now, look. If anybody was going to get scoop, if anything was scoop-able, he was going to get it. You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HUNTER: So I learned that you can develop your sources and be nice to people. So I was able to be an observer, as well as a participant, and fortunately, of an age where I could learn and benefit, looking at the good and the bad.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much.

HUNTER: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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