Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Conversation with Charlayne

This year the University of Georgia celebrates the 50th anniversary of desegregation on its campus.

In January of 1961 Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter became the first African Americans to enroll at UGA, after winning a lengthy legal battle to gain admission. That summer Mary Frances Early, an African American graduate student at the University of Michigan, joined Holmes and Hunter at UGA to complete her degree in music education. This year the University celebrates the accomplishments of these brave individuals with a series of events held over the course of January and February, “Celebrating Courage: The 50th Anniversary of Desegregation at UGA.”

Neither the threat of snow and ice, nor their actual occurrence and overwhelming abundance, kept attendees away from the opening events of “Celebrating Courage” which kicked off on Sunday, January 9, 2011. However, the inclement weather did relocate events scheduled for the first week of celebration to the Georgia Center. The Russell Library was to serve as the host for a small breakfast program, featuring Charlayne Hunter-Gault on January 10th, which was also relocated to the Georgia Center. Ever the faithful public programmers, Russell staff Jill Severn, Jan Levinson, and Sheryl Vogt braved the weather to serve as hosts for the event in its new location.

“Conversation with Charlayne” provided an intimate setting for the small group of attendees to have a casual Q&A session with Ms. Hunter-Gault. Jill Severn, Head of Access and Outreach at the Russell Library, provided welcome and introductions. Severn described Hunter-Gault’s donation of personal papers to the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies several years prior. Describing the donation of the papers as “a political act” – one that ensures those future generations will have continued access to this history – Severn noted the Library’s enthusiasm for serving as a home for the collection. Further, she mentioned that the Russell Library looks forward to receiving future installments to the collection – those relating to Hunter-Gault’s distinguished career in journalism.

Below: Charlayne Hunter-Gault signs the deed of gift alongside (left to right) Sheryl Vogt, Cheryl Dozier, and Derrick Alridge.

After a few words, Mrs. Hunter-Gault signed the official deed of gift and posed for pictures with Sheryl Vogt (Director, Richard B. Russell Library, UGA), Derrick Alridge (Director, Institute for African American Studies, UGA), and Cheryl Dozier (Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer, UGA).

After the deed signing, attendees were invited to ask questions of Mrs. Hunter Gault. The questions prompted stories of her time on campus, her career as a journalist abroad, and how the experiences of both were intertwined. She reflected on meaningful moments during her years at UGA, those in which she found friendship among the students and faculty. She also touched on her own philosophy of journalism explaining that objectivity and tenacity are central, but that often these attributes are most effective when they are balanced with compassion and human understanding. Most of all, she ably described for the crowd how, in big and small ways, her experiences at the University of Georgia touched the rest of her life. Both she and attendee Sonia Sanchez, noted poet, reflected on the state of civil rights today – how much has been achieved, but how much farther there is left to go. The event closed as Mrs. Hunter-Gault thanked the crowd for their attendance and headed to her next engagement on campus – the crowd clapping loudly as she gathered her things to depart.

Right: Sonia Sanchez chats with Mary Frances Early following the program.

A small case exhibit, “Finding Her Place: Selections from the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Papers” is currently on display in the Lobby Gallery of the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies. The display uses letters, photographs, documents, and artifacts from the collection to portray Charlayne Hunter’s experience integrating the University and her life as a student at UGA from 1961-1963. Many of the items on display were referenced by Hunter-Gault in the writing of her memoir, In My Place. The exhibit will remain on display until April 1, 2011.

The lobby gallery of the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies is open from 8:30AM – 4:30PM, Monday through Friday, with the exception of University holidays. For more information on the exhibit, please contact Jan Levinson at or (706) 542-5788.

Post by Jan Levinson, Outreach Archivist, Russell Library

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