UGA’s Desegregation History on Display at Main Library

Camie Williams

Tuesday, January 12th, 2021

In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of the University of Georgia, the Main Library at UGA is hosting an exhibit that chronicles the historic events of 1961, when Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter (now Hunter-Gault) became the first African American students admitted to the university.

 Honored guests, including the Holmes family and members of the UGA Black Alumni Council, were among the first to tour the exhibit, “Georgia Trailblazers: Honoring the 60th Anniversary of Desegregation at UGA,” on the day it opened, Jan. 9, 2021, the 60th anniversary of Holmes’ and Hunter’s enrollment.

The day began with remarks by UGA President Jere W. Morehead and others before a ceremonial ringing of the Chapel Bell by African American UGA alumni from each decade since the university’s desegregation.

 “This anniversary gives us an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come as an institution. It also reminds us that our work is not done,” Morehead said. “This progress continues today as students, faculty, staff and alumni work together to build a diverse university community that is welcoming to all.”

After the bell ringing, the group visited the Main Library on UGA’s historic North Campus.

The exhibit includes images, documents and other items from this significant time period. Designed in collaboration with Hunter-Gault and the Holmes family, the exhibit includes items from the Special Collections Libraries as well as items borrowed from the Holmes family, such as the fraternity sweater that Holmes was wearing in photographs taken when he first received notice of his admission to the university.

“The University of Georgia Special Collections Libraries are proud to be the stewards of documents and artifacts from this major milestone in the history of Georgia’s flagship university,” said Toby Graham, associate provost and university librarian. “We invite our campus community, alumni and people across Georgia to visit our Main Library to learn more about the events of 1961 and those that followed and how Hamilton Holmes, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and other groundbreakers have changed UGA, our state and higher education nationally.”

The installation begins in the Main Library’s lobby with reproduction items and graphic panels that focus on the events of 1961. The exhibit continues into the first-floor main hallway of the building, which welcomes more than 500,000 annual visitors, including students, researchers and members of the community. Original items in the hallway spotlight the career achievements of Holmes and Hunter-Gault after their graduation from UGA in 1963. Fabric panels in the space explore milestones in the six-decade journey toward a more inclusive and diverse campus.

“We certainly feel that the displays that have been established here in the library are important for everyone to see,” said Hamilton Holmes Jr., who followed his father in attending UGA, graduating in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. “It’s very important for the students to be able to learn more about the history of the university. Everyone who is here now as a student may not have a connection or understand what it took for the university to become integrated in 1961, but now they can actually walk through the middle of the library and know more about their campus history.”

In addition to the exhibit at the Main Library, a complementary exhibit, “Making Space: Fighting for Inclusion, Building Community at UGA,” will be on display at the Special Collections Libraries beginning Jan. 15 through July 2, and a virtual version of that exhibit will launch online in March.

Students, researchers, alumni and others are welcome to further explore this history through a collection of oral histories and digitized resources, much of which is available through the Digital Library of Georgia‘s Civil Rights Digital Library. The most recent addition includes a collection of Pandora yearbooks for the period of 1965 to 1974.

In February, the University of Georgia Press, a division of UGA Libraries, will host a campus read of the book “An Education in Georgia: Charlayne Hunter, Hamilton Holmes, and the Integration of the University of Georgia,” journalist Calvin Trillin’s on-the-ground account of the desegregation of UGA published by the UGA Press in 1992. Hunter-Gault will join Trillin in a Feb. 4 virtual conversation as part of the event. The campus read will culminate with a Feb. 25 virtual event featuring a conversation with Mary Frances Early, UGA’s first African American graduate, and Phaidra Buchanan, UGA’s first Black Rhodes Scholar and a student in the College of Education, which was dedicated in Early’s name last year.