Yesterday marked the first day of Black History Month 2017. The University of Georgia celebrates Black History Month annually with a wide variety of programs and activities across campus.
UGA holds a memorable place in Civil Rights Movement history because of the integration of the university in 1961 by African American students Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes. Handpicked by the NAACP, their campaign brought significant media attention to the university, subsequently placing UGA at the epicenter of the South’s civil rights struggle. Hunter and Holmes were the first undergraduates to integrate the school, and in effect, they revitalized the national conversation over equality that had begun with Brown v. Board of Education.
While Hunter and Holmes endured riots and backlash, Mary Frances Early, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, decided to transfer to UGA to help them. Early became the university’s first African American graduate on Aug. 16,1962, with a degree in music education. Her fortitude helped pave the way for Hunter and Holmes’ successful graduation.
Hunter and Holmes graduated in 1963. Holmes earned a bachelor of science degree cum laude, and later went on to medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon. Hunter pursued a career in journalism, working for outlets such as The New York Times, NPR, and CNN.
In 2001, UGA celebrated the 40th anniversary of desegregation by bringing several key civil rights figures from the 60s back to campus, as well a naming the Hunter-Holmes Academic Building in their honor. Since then, additional efforts have been made to celebrate those who worked towards a more diverse University of Georgia. The Graduate and Professional Scholars (GAPS) established a yearly lecture series honoring Early in 2001. UGA’s Russell Library currently houses the Foot Soldier Project for Civil Rights Studies Collection, honoring largely unsung heroes, including Mary Frances Early, who in a 2007 interview stated: “You have to appreciate the progress that has been made…a lot of good things have happened.”