Back PageMarch 2001: Vol. 80, No. 2

Giving thanks for 'two who had courage here'

The governor observes that the lesson Holmes and Hunter taught us in '61 is still true today: It takes only a handful of people with courage to make a majority

by Gov. Roy E. Barnes (AB '69, JD '72)

As a student, both at the University of Georgia and the UGA law school in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, I was aware of the turbulence of that era that students of today cannot understand or comprehend. It was a period of great change and even greater courage by some of Georgia's brightest young people.

Great young civil rights leaders such as John Lewis and Julian Bond and Vernon Jordan and Mary Frances Berry joined the struggle to make a difference. And among those showing greater courage were 18-year-old Charlayne Hunter and 19-year-old Hamilton Holmes when they became the first African-American students to attend the University of Georgia.

Gov. Barnes walks to the unveiling ceremony for the newly renamed Holmes/Hunter Academic Building with Charlayne, her daughter Suesan, and Hamilton Holmes' wife Marilyn. In his speech, Barnes noted that, at their young age, Charlayne and Hamilton "had more courage than many of our country's eldest statesmen."

On Charlayne's first night in the dorm, a brick and a bottle were thrown through her window. Hardly a welcome to the University. Both Charlayne and Hamilton suffered unimaginable pressure from the burden of ending more than 160 years of racial segregation at the University of Georgia. They endured because they saw the possibility of a better Georgia, a Georgia that was not consumed by hate and exclusion, not consumed by inequality and misunderstanding, but one committed to equal opportunity and tolerance.

As we commemorate the desegregation of the University today, there is no doubt about the magnitude of what Charlayne and Hamilton were willing to do to make things right. At their young age, they had more courage than many of our country's eldest statesmen. They stood proudly and boldly and declared that African Americans deserve the rights guaranteed in our federal constitution—and they prevailed.

'Don't look at a vote or an action today, in the context of the pressures of the day. But ask this simple question: How will history view this?'

In the light of history, we see events more clearly today. Most of those consumed by hate who objected to the actions of Charlayne and Hamilton now thank God for their courage. In fact, one of the things I often remark is that when I tell my own children, who are all grown now, that there was a time in the South when segregation was the rule, when there were separate water fountains and separate schools, they don't think I'm telling the truth—they didn't when they were young. It was inconceivable to them that such a time existed in the South. Those of us with a little gray hair and a long memory know differently.

It is to Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes that we owe a debt of gratitude so that disbelief like that could ever exist. That's what makes Georgia better.

I, personally, am grateful for the contributions of both of these heroes, to our nation and to our state. If there is one thing that this tells a generation of young people today and those generations yet to come, it is that only a handful—in fact only one—with courage makes a majority. The two who had courage here changed the hearts and minds and the souls of Georgians.

One of the things that I often tell legislators—one of the things I've often forgotten in my past legislative history—is "Don't look at a vote or an action today, in the context of the pressures of the day. But ask this simple question: How will history view this? Twenty years from now? Forty years from now? Fifty years from now?"

Well, we know the answer because we've lived it. And the answer is that the youth of today can take comfort, to know that a story with an example like this—and with power and integrity of conviction, and really and truly in the face of adversity—can change us all. You have changed us all [looking at Charlayne]. You did change us all. And for that, on behalf of a grateful people, we're proud to take this action today so that generations yet to come will remember what you did.

These remarks are excerpted from the governor's speech at the dedication of the newly renamed Holmes/Hunter Academic Building on Jan. 9, 2001, which marked the 40th anniversary of the desegregation of the University of Georgia.

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