THE morale of both Charlayne and Hamilton had reached its low point during the spring of their junior year. “I guess my mother’s right about last spring,” Hamilton told me on my last visit to the campus. “I used to walk by those frat houses, and the boys would be out there playing ball, and I’d think, What is there for me to do except go home and sit? A thousand times I wished I were back at Morehouse. But then I thought, Look, I wouldn’t have been going to Emory Medical School, and I wouldn’t have been able to travel around and meet all those people—I like that kind of thing—and I matured a lot here. I had to mature or just die out. I might not have gone to medical school at all if I had stayed at Morehouse. The last semester there, I wasn’t doing very well. I was playing football, and everything, and I got so I just didn’t care. I guess I’m glad I came down here. I might have ended up a bum. Although I guess not. With my dad and mother right there, and my granddaddy, I guess I would have shaped up.”
Charlayne insisted that her troubles that spring had nothing to do with the Issue but were simply the result of her trying to get her required courses in science and mathematics out of the way at the same time—an attempt that resulted in Charlayne’s being put on academic probation and having to go to summer school.
“I really am inferior when it comes to science and math,” she said. “Those guys are right.”
In her two and a half years at Georgia, where even philosophy tests are usually made up of true-false and multiple-choice questions, Charlayne’s grades fluctuated wildly; she was eventually graduated with a B average, but her individual grades ran the gamut from academic probation to honors. Occasionally, she became really interested in a course, such as the honors seminar in the art, music, and drama of the twentieth century (Joe Schwarz, one of the instructors in the course, had helped her get permission to take it, even though she was not in the honors program), but ordinarily, I was told by a professor who knew both Hamilton and Charlayne, Hamilton was not only more likely to remember what he read in the textbooks but also more likely to be reading them. Charlayne could wander off into a flirtation with Yevtushenko (“I love it; it doesn’t seem like poetry”), or end up driving around Athens. Her initial reaction to the journalism courses that made up twenty-five per cent of her schedule was to accept the advice of reporters covering the integration that she consider switching to English. She changed her mind when two or three professors warned her that the Georgia English Department still reflected the influence of the Southern Agrarians, a group of Vanderbilt University English professors and writers who believed for a while in the twenties that everything would be all right in the South if the cultured benevolence they attached to plantation days could just be brought back.
“Some of the professors think the only way I can succeed around here is academic,” said Charlayne. “A couple of them liked to have had a heart attack when I went on probation. One of them told me he thought Negroes should be screened carefully, so only the best students would come. I think we ought to have all kinds. Hamp tells me I’m not serious enough, because I don’t want to make Phi Beta Kappa. I didn’t really have any philosophy when I came about how I would approach it, but sooner or later I figured the only way I could benefit from this was to get personally involved.” Personal involvement proved to be a trickier battlefield for Charlayne than the straight academic contest was for Hamilton. She was in the infirmary off and on throughout her stay—mainly with stomach trouble. After two years of weekly arguments with her Atlanta doctor, Clinton Warner, whose wife had attended the graduate schools of both Georgia (as a commuter) and Georgia State, Charlayne finally admitted occasionally that her stomach trouble might be psychosomatic. Dr. Warner, who was one of the original A.C.C.A. group and was the first Negro to buy a house on the other side of Atlanta’s wall—but no goody-goody—says that Charlayne would have had a nervous stomach wherever she went to school, but that the additional strain of Georgia almost certainly made it worse.
Charlayne also had problems in Atlanta. Unlike Hamilton, who had never really left the Negro community, she sometimes felt that she was living in limbo. “It’s disillusioning that we still have this conscious barrier of color in our own people,” she said. “You should see the way they treat any white I bring back to Atlanta.” She was further disillusioned to discover that the Atlanta Negro community contained quite a few people who liked to play one of the pioneers off against the other, handing out the plaques and money to whichever of them seemed to be in the lead. Some people were even called “pro-Hamp” or “pro-Charlayne,” and being pro one usually meant being anti the other. A Hamilton partisan might point to Hamilton’s extraordinary academic performance as the proper goal of the first Negro at Georgia and complain that Charlayne did not meet her responsibilities, or might accuse Charlayne of snubbing the Athens Negro community and, occasionally, the Atlanta Negro community as well. A Charlayne fan might say that Charlayne was really bearing the brunt of the integration, since she lived on campus and maintained contact with white students rather than with Athens Negroes. Most Atlanta Negroes were genuinely proud of both pioneers, but some—so Charlayne and Hamilton were occasionally informed—were tired of hearing about either of them.
Charlayne and Hamilton, who had not been close friends in high school, often seemed to have been driven farther apart by the tensions of Athens and Atlanta. Hamilton sometimes regarded Charlayne as snobbish, irresponsible, and spoiled, and Charlayne sometimes regarded Hamilton as unperceptive, self-satisfied, and ever so slightly square. Weeks passed when they didn’t see each other, and now and then they were formally not speaking. Still, like the only two high-school classmates in any big university, they sought each other out in time of trouble or celebration. Charlayne made her most frequent trips to Killian’s, where she was uncomfortable, and where Hamilton occasionally accused her of snubbing the boys who played basketball with him, during the bad spring.
As Charlayne and Hamilton began their final quarter, they were agreed on one thing at least—they were glad that the end was in sight. Although Hamilton would be the first Negro in Emory Medical School, he expected no trouble, and he would be living with his family in Atlanta. Charlayne planned to work for a magazine in New York after graduation, and had no desire to return to the South. “This hasn’t really been a bad experience,” she told me the night before I left Athens. “I’ve benefited from it, and I think everybody ought to try to be a bit selfish about these things. I’m not bitter. But,” she added, “I’m sick of Negroes and sick of white people. I just want to be obscure.”
“Everybody here is just delighted to be over the hill,” a Georgia professor told me one day at lunch just before I left Georgia, and that summed up the attitude of most of the faculty and administration as Charlayne and Hamilton approached commencement. Everybody seemed happy at having weathered a crisis that could have meant violence and educational chaos. Even those few whose behavior at the time had been disgraceful remarked on how well Georgia had come out of it, especially compared to Mississippi.
Occasionally a university official who was talking about Charlayne and Hamilton would note with some gratitude that neither had been a troublemaker, as if, in the back of his mind, he was as thankful that Georgia had not drawn James H. Meredith as Charlayne and Hamilton were that they had not drawn Ole Miss. The remark was often made with a slight smile, as if of secret understanding—a smile that I had seen on the faces of admissions officials testifying during the trial. Its apparent purpose was to inform the listener that the speaker knew perfectly well that it was all part of the plot—that the N.A.A.C.P. had conspired to thrust upon the University of Georgia two particularly bright and attractive Negroes, and that, as part of the conspiracy, the two Negroes had reacted to a difficult situation with remarkable poise and maturity. It was just what one might have expected of them. “They have both been very cooperative,” William Simpson, the university public-relations man, told me, smiling. “They haven’t stirred anything up; they haven’t tried to antagonize anybody. It’s been to their advantage, of course. They’ve had good legal advice all the way.”
The behavior that evoked expressions of relief from the administration seemed to evoke a detached respect from some of the students. Both responses were complicated by what Carl Holman calls “the anomalous feeling of whites who are against that Negro who has broken the taboo but are drawn by the natural American interest in a celebrity.” Holman first became aware of the phenomenon when he and Charlayne were representing the Inquirer at a press conference held at the close of the day on which the Atlanta public schools were peacefully desegregated. The police chief of Atlanta informed Holman that he had never talked to Charlayne and would be very much interested in meeting her. I had noticed a less friendly but still genuine interest and curiosity on the part of even the most abusive fraternity members I talked with about Charlayne and Hamilton. The two of them were, after all, the most famous students on the campus, and, in fact, might have been among the most famous people who had ever gone to Georgia—four generations of Talmadges naturally excepted.
One day during my visit, I went to see John Drewry, who has been dean of the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism since 1940. Like most journalism schools, the University of Georgia’s school is conscious of its image. It administers the Peabody Radio and Television awards in a dignified manner every year, invites important guests to press institutes, and is proud to give any visitor a list of its successful alumni. Dean Drewry is a dapper, penguinish man with courtly manners and a soporific Southern drawl. He assured me that Charlayne’s stay in the Journalism School had been “perfectly normal,” and that he had been most happy to see her “make that connection” in New York. He explained that he had attended Columbia University, in New York, with Chinese, Japanese, and all manner of exotic students (not to speak of the broadening experience of having attended the Peabody Awards dinners at such places as the Hotel Astor). The journalism students, he said, had consistently made the highest scores on the university’s intelligence test ever since 1928, and he suggested that “there may be some correlation between intelligence and behavior.”
“I see her out in the hall talking to other students,” the dean said of Charlayne. “She has attended classes like all the others, completely free of incident. I believe she’ll tell you that she’s been treated just like any other student in the school. I’ve been just as kind and considerate, just as detached and formal. She has conducted herself very well. I don’t think they would have sent anyone but a person of more than average intelligence to be the first. She has traveled a lot. I believe she had some previous connections, and then the N.A.C.C.—you know what I’m talking about—arranged some speaking engagements, I’m sure.”
It seemed to me that the dean’s courtliness was slipping; white Southerners often have difficulty with the names of Negro organizations, presumably on the theory that if they are mispronounced often enough they will go away.
A moment later, Dean Drewry said, “Here, look—here’s something very interesting.” Coming out from behind his desk, he reached into a bookshelf, and then sat down on a chair beside me, holding a large, elaborately designed, expensively printed book called Milestones to American Liberty: The Foundations of the Republic. He read the title aloud, formally, and told me that the book was a recent one and a very good one. “Look here,” he said, riffling through the pages. “Here’s Thomas Paine, John Peter Zenger, Thomas Jefferson. See, here’s some of Jefferson’s writing. And Woodrow Wilson, you remember him. Here’s a picture of Wilson. And look here, on page two hundred and nine.” After a brief glance at the table of contents, he had turned to a chapter on school desegregation, which included a photograph of Charlayne and Hamilton. “And here, by golly,” the Dean said proudly, pointing at the picture of Charlayne, “here is a graduate of the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism.”