University of Georgia commemorates 60th anniversary of integration

ATHENS, Ga. — During Black History Month, the University of Georgia is honoring the first African American students to enroll in the school 60 years ago.

When Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault walked up the stairs of the academic building in January 1961, they became targets of harassment but were also trailblazers in the civil rights movement.

Their admission to UGA, following a court order, sparked riots by those opposed to desegregation.

“I can still see in my mind’s eye. The events of January 1961, and the feelings I had about them,” said Hunter-Gault.

Hunter-Gault and Holmes were the first Black students to walk through the UGA arches and into the academic building to register. They stood calm and courageous in the face of grave danger.

“Not even on the night of that riot did I permit myself to think any harm would come to me, not even after the brick came crashing through my dormitory window,” said Hunter-Gault.

Both students had to be temporarily removed from campus for their safety.

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“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,” said UGA Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Michelle Cook.

UGA administrators hailed the heroic students for breaking down barriers for minority students in Georgia and across the South.

“We are able to stand on their shoulders and build our shoulders up for others,” said Assistant to the President and 60th Anniversary co-Chair Alton Standifer.

Holmes went to become a renowned orthopedic surgeon at Grady Memorial Hospital. Hunter-Gault is an international award-winning journalist.

Current UGA students said the civil rights groundbreakers are paving the way for generations to come.

“They are an inspirations to people who look like me,” said student Elphaz Eskender.

University officials are also honoring Mary Frances Early. She transferred to UGA to help integrate the university and became the first African American student to graduate.