JUST why “two fine kids” like Hamilton and Charlayne should want to go to any Southern white college is a question often asked in the North, where many people take it for granted that a Negro student would go to jail for the right to eat a dime-store hamburger but must have an elaborate motive for going to a formerly all-white school. Most white Southerners have already settled the question to their own satisfaction. They believe that the students are chosen by the N.A.A.C.P.—hand-picked by one of the crafty operators from New York, where all evil finds its source, and probably paid handsomely for their services. The New York-based N.A.A.C.P. conspiracy remains a strong vision to most white Southerners, even though it should be apparent by now that if the N.A.A.C.P. had a tenth of the resources and efficiency they credit it with, segregation would have been eradicated years ago.
As for Negroes in Atlanta, when they talk about why Hamilton went to the University of Georgia they usually begin by mentioning his family, and especially his grandfather, Dr. Hamilton Mayo Holmes, who is an Atlanta physician and the family patriarch. Hamilton is not only a third-generation college graduate; he is also a third-generation integrationist. His grandfather, his father, and one of his uncles filed suit to desegregate the Atlanta public golf courses in 1955, and, through a 1956 Supreme Court decision on their case, the courses became the first integrated public facility in Atlanta. I had spent some time with Hamilton’s father, Alfred Holmes, during the integration in Athens, and on one of the first days of my return visit to Atlanta I arranged to talk with him at his office about both his son and his father. Alfred Holmes, who is known in Atlanta as Tup, is a short, chunky man with a breezy manner and a cheerful, chipmunkish expression. He seems to know everybody on the street, whether it is Hunter Street or Auburn Avenue in Atlanta or Hancock Avenue in Athens, where he worked for six or eight months as an embalmer early in his career. Almost everybody he sees gets a cheery “How you makin’ it?” or “You makin’ it okay?” Strictly Hunter Street in philosophy himself, Tup Holmes shares an office building there with the Atlanta Inquirer, the law offices of Donald Hollowell and associates, the local branch of the N.A.A.C.P. (which had disturbed some of the Old Leadership by moving there from Auburn Avenue not long before), the Southeastern Regional Office of the N.A.A.C.P., and a school for beauticians. Holmes has been in several businesses, mostly selling one thing or another, and the small office he ushered me into was devoted to the sale of real estate and insurance. Having assured him that I was making it okay, I asked Holmes about Hamilton’s decision to go to the University of Georgia.
“The aggressiveness of the family might have influenced him, but Hamp’s a steady sort of boy,” Holmes said. “He’s always thought deeply and on his own. Jesse Hill asked if I would mention Georgia to Hamp, because he was just about perfect, with his grades and his personality. That’s all I had to do was mention it; before I could do anything else he had already talked to Jesse. I went down to Athens once or twice, and I tell you he’s two different people when he’s there and when he’s in Atlanta. He lives for Friday afternoon, when he can come home. There’s really no one in that town for him to talk to, and he’s not the kind to do much visiting. He sticks to his lessons. He made up his mind he was going to make those crackers sit up and take notice. You know, I travel around the state quite a bit in my business, and sometimes I talk in the high schools or the churches. I didn’t realize for quite a while what a hero this boy is to those people in the backwoods. When I’m being introduced to a group of people, sooner or later the man introducing me gets around to saying, ‘This is the father of Hamilton Holmes.’ And they say, ‘You mean the Hamilton Holmes up at Georgia? Let me shake your hand.’ I think he means so much to those people because of his grades. The white man in the South has always accepted the Negro as his equal or superior physically, because he figures we’re not far removed from the jungle and we’ve had to do physical work for so long that our muscles have got hard. But the whites never have accepted us as their equal or superior mentally. They have always said that the Negro is only good for plowing. Well, Hamp is destroying all those myths. He’s made the Phi Kappa Phi honor society, you know, and we hope he’ll make Phi Beta Kappa. When those people in the backwoods see those A’s, they stand up. That’s why he means more to them than James Meredith, or even Charlayne.”
After we had talked a while longer, Holmes said, “Well, if you’re going to get in to see Daddy we better get over there. If you come after eleven-thirty, there’s so many patients you can’t get near the place.” On the drive from Hunter Street to Auburn Avenue, where Dr. Holmes has his office, Tup Holmes told me about his father, whose prowess as a doctor, a golfer, and a speaker makes him almost as popular a subject for conversation in the Holmes family as Hamilton. “My daddy’s a real scrapper,” Tup Holmes said. “He ran away from home when he was twelve to go to school. He was from Louisiana. The backwoods—and I mean the real backwoods. He worked in the sugar mills in New Orleans and went to school at night in a small school that’s now part of Dillard. Then he worked his way through Shaw Medical School, in North Carolina, and came to Atlanta to practice—in 1910. He’s a real scrapper. Daddy was a pioneer on this golf-course thing. It required a lot of courage on his part, especially considering all the training and inhibitions of his generation. You have to remember that when he was coming up he would have to tip his hat and move to the side every time he saw a white lady on the street.”
When we arrived at Dr. Holmes’ office, on the fourth floor of an old building on Auburn Avenue, it was half an hour before his office hours began, but six or eight patients were already sitting in the plain waiting room, watching television. They hardly looked up as Holmes and I walked into the doctor’s office, where a nurse from the adjoining treatment room told us to make ourselves comfortable until the doctor arrived. Dr. Holmes’ office was a small room containing an old-fashioned desk, a refrigerator, a daybed, a floor safe with a filing cabinet on top of it, and two or three tables. Almost every flat surface was covered with golfing trophies, and the walls were covered with a staggering collection of plaques, pictures, and framed prayers. There were several religious pictures, some family pictures, and numerous plaques from golf organizations and fraternities. In one frame were three glossy prints of Hamilton and Charlayne and a letter from the Half Century Alumni Club of Shaw University. The wall decorations also included a chart showing the postal zone of every street in Atlanta, a sports award from radio station WSB for a hole-in-one made on January 1, 1961, and a cardboard reprint of the Prayer for Physicians by Maimonides. Between a plaque signifying life membership in the United Golfers Association, which is the Negro equivalent of the U.S. Golfers Association, and a poem about medicine from the Fifty Year Club of American Medicine hung an eye chart.
After a few minutes Dr. Holmes bustled in. A jolly man, shorter, chunkier, and darker than his progeny, he had a tiny gray moustache and a tiny gray goatee. Since he also had tufts of gray hair on the sides of his head and more tufts of gray hair for eyebrows, he looked like a tiny Uncle Remus. He wore a three-piece blue suit, a diamond stickpin, and a watch chain. When Dr. Holmes heard I was there to ask about Hamilton, he could hardly wait to begin.
“I trained my children from infancy to fear nothing, and I told my grandson the same thing,” Dr. Holmes said. “I told him to be meek. Be meek, but don’t look too humble. Because if you look too humble they might think you’re afraid, and there’s nothing to be afraid about, because the Lord will send his angel to watch over you and you have nothing to fear. I’m glad Hamp has faith; you have to have faith. Science is not enough; you have to have more than science. You have to know the Lord is watching over you. Hamp is a religious boy and he’s a natural-born doctor. He’s wanted to be a doctor since infancy. I told his mother before he was born, I said, ‘You just think on medicine and if it’s a boy maybe the prenatal influence will make him a natural-born doctor.’ And she did think on it, and sure enough, that’s what he is, a natural-born doctor.”
Dr. Holmes talked a bit about his own practice. “I’ve been practicing medicine here for fifty-three years,” he said, “and I’m busier now than I’ve ever been. I come in at eleven-forty-five and I stay until four-thirty or five. I come back at seven and stay till ten-thirty or eleven. I don’t much like to work past eleven any more. I try to treat everybody as an individual. Once, a lady came in and said, ‘You sure took a long time with that last patient,’ and I said, ‘Okay, if you want I’ll hurry on you.’ She said, ‘Don’t hurry on me. Oh, no!’ Well, I treat them all like individuals, but I still see fifty or sixty patients a day. I work every day but Wednesday and Sunday. I play golf on Wednesdays, and on Sundays I go to church. Then I play golf.”
I asked Dr. Holmes if his game was still as good as the trophies indicated. “I beat nearly everybody I play with, young and old alike,” he admitted. “They say, ‘I’m waiting for you to get tired.’ I tell them they better beat me now because I’m not going to get tired. I’ll be seventy-nine on the fourth of April, but not an ache, not a pain, not a stiffness in the joints. Not a corn, not a callus, not a bunion on my feet. And my memory is as good as it was fifty years ago.”
Dr. Holmes stretched his muscles and his joints to demonstrate their efficiency. I had no reason to doubt it, or to doubt his memory.
“Hamp’s granddaddy is quite a character,” Charlayne told me a day or two later. “He called up once and said he’d decided Hamp and I should get married, and he’d give me any kind of convertible I wanted for a wedding present. He hadn’t consulted Hamp, of course. I explained to him that Hamp and I were more like brother and sister, and that Hamp had a girl. But he said we would just have to get married because we’d have such smart children.”
Charlayne, unlike Hamilton, is rarely explained as the logical result of a family tradition. In fact, even at the age of eighteen, when she entered the University of Georgia, she seemed remarkably independent. “She’s always wanted to be out front,” I was once told by her mother, a pretty, retiring woman who works as a secretary in a Negro real-estate company. “When she was a little girl I never had to get after her to do her lessons or anything. She’s just always been that way.” Charlayne’s poise during the first days of integration was occasionally attributed to her having spent her eighth-grade year as one of only a few Negroes in an integrated Army school in Alaska, where her father, a career Army chaplain, was stationed. Charles Hunter, who retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel while Charlayne was in college, was often the first Negro to hold whatever post he was assigned to, but the extent of his influence on Charlayne is not certain. He and Mrs. Hunter separated after the year in Alaska, and Charlayne, who had previously gone for long stretches without seeing her father while he was overseas, rarely saw him after she returned to Atlanta to live with her mother, her two younger brothers, and her grandmother. Charlayne’s father is a Methodist minister, and her mother is also a Methodist, but Charlayne became a Catholic when she was sixteen.
At Georgia, Charlayne continued to look at things from a point of view of her own, and, because she was a journalism student, she had a kind of double vision for two and a half years. During her first hectic week or two at Georgia, she sometimes seemed to be watching the reporters watch her integrate the university, occasionally making notes on both phenomena for an article in the Atlanta Inquirer. According to Carl Holman, who, as editor of the Inquirer, had also found that covering the integration news often meant observing his own activities, “It gave her a detachment she might not have had otherwise. Hamilton has the views of the average citizen on the subject; that is, he regards reporters as just as dangerous as anyone else. But Charlayne was always studying them, and I think it made her feel better that they were around.”
One day during my return visit to Atlanta, while Charlayne was at home for several days after her next-to-last round of final examinations at Georgia, she and I met for lunch at a restaurant on Hunter Street, and I found that she was still able to see her experience as a news story. Although she had always received more attention in the press than Hamilton, she assured me that Hamilton made a better study. “He’s consistent and I’m not,” she said. “He knows what he wants and where he’s going and how he’s going to get there. We’re a lot different. For instance, he can’t wait for Friday. He comes back to Atlanta every week end. He has a girl here, and his family. I think my mother and brothers are great, but that’s the only reason I come home at all. I’d just as soon stay in Athens and sleep or read. Hamp’s very uncomfortable there. For one thing, he’s not crazy about white people. And he loves Atlanta. I guess I’m just as comfortable there as I am anyplace else.
“Hamp and I were sort of rivals at Turner, but we usually agreed on big things. I wanted to go to journalism school, and I had considered Georgia, but not really seriously. It seemed such a remote possibility. I had just about decided to go to Wayne, for no special reason except they had a journalism school and had answered my letters and I wanted to go to school away from home. When Hamp brought up Georgia—I think it was while we were posing together for a yearbook picture—I said sure, I’d like to go. It seemed like a good idea. I can’t stress enough that I didn’t ponder it. I guess it always was in my mind that I had the right, but Hamp and I never had any discussions about Unalienable, God-given Rights. We just didn’t speak in those terms. It sounded like an interesting thing to do, and in the back of my mind I kept thinking this would never really happen; it was just something we were doing. I guess at that stage of the game we thought that anything we wanted to do was possible. Each step got us more involved, but we didn’t think of it that way. We just went step by step, and it seemed kind of like a dream. When we got together with Jesse Hill and Hollowell and Carl and Whitney Young, they thought we ought to go to Georgia State. It also had journalism courses, and I really didn’t know the difference. Negro kids don’t know anything about white colleges. We figured if it was white it was good. We picked up applications at Georgia State, but neither one of us really liked the place; the catalogue showed they really didn’t offer much. We went out on the steps and stood around, and Hamp said, ‘I want to go to Athens. That’s the place to go.’ And he pointed right in the direction of Athens. I said I’m with you,’ and they said ‘Okay, you’ll go to Athens.’ I think a lot of it was Hamp’s having always taken an interest in the Georgia football team.”
One reason for the dreamlike quality of the eighteen months that followed was that, except for two or three hearings they had to attend, Charlayne and Hamilton were merely spectators of the complicated maneuvers that Jesse Hill and Donald Hollowell—eventually joined by Constance Baker Motley, associate counsel of the Inc. Fund—were carrying on with the state. Charlayne and Hamilton each submitted a continuing application, which was regularly turned down, usually on the ground of a space shortage, and all they had to do to be rejected again was submit their college transcripts each semester. They did have to appear in federal district court in Macon, in the summer between their freshman and sophomore years. At that time Judge William Bootle refused to order them into the university through a temporary restraining order, ruling that they had not exhausted their administrative remedies, but he did schedule a December trial on a motion for a permanent injunction. Under Judge Bootle’s orders, Charlayne and Hamilton both went to Athens that November for admission interviews, at which Charlayne was treated politely and Hamilton, appearing before a three-man panel, was asked such questions as whether or not he had ever been to a house of prostitution or a “tea parlor” or “beatnik places”—questions that, Bootle later noted in judicial understatement, “had probably never been asked of any applicant before.”
All-out stalling is not an ineffective strategy, as Southern white strategies against integration go. It worked well against the first Negro who tried to get into the University of Georgia—Horace Ward, who sued for admission to the law school in 1952. The stalling went on until 1957, by which time Ward had stayed out of school for a year or so, had then been drafted, had served in the Army, and had finally entered another law school, so that a federal judge ruled the case moot. The possibilities of carefully managed stalling are demonstrated in a sentence from the decision that eventually ordered the university to admit Charlayne and Hamilton. “Plaintiffs have already prosecuted one appeal through administrative channels which required 122 days for final administrative action,” Judge Bootle wrote. “If plaintiffs were required to appeal from defendants’ failure to admit them each quarter for which they made application for admission, they would probably use up the normal four-year college attendance period before securing any final administrative action.” Some federal judges in the South, as a matter of fact, probably would never have ended the stalling, since the reasons given for rejecting Charlayne and Hamilton always sounded plausible enough.
And such delaying tactics, even if it could be assumed that they would end sooner or later, force applicants either to stay out of school, which Charlayne and Hamilton, ambitious and anxious to get started, would obviously not do, or to enter another college and complicate their problems by applying as transfer students. Georgia admission officials said they were very much concerned about the credits Charlayne and Hamilton might lose if they transferred in the middle of the year from colleges that divide the school year into two semesters to a college that, like the University of Georgia, divides it into three quarters (the summer session constitutes the fourth quarter). Shortly after Charlayne and Hamilton applied, Georgia began to accept transfer students only when they fell into certain categories, supposedly based on whether a transfer was necessary for the continuation of a student’s program, and Charlayne never seemed to be in the right category.
Also, after a year and a half of college life among friends, facing the hostility of the University of Georgia seemed much less appealing to both students than it had seemed following high-school graduation, when Georgia had sounded like a good idea and like something a long way off. This was especially true of Hamilton, who went to Morehouse, the most highly regarded of the Atlanta University Center colleges. An alumnus of Morehouse—Charlayne’s father is one—is always called a “Morehouse man” by Atlanta Negroes, who are proud of A.U.’s School of Social Work, and of Spelman, its girls’ college, but especially of Morehouse. During a visit to see Hamilton’s mother while I was back in Atlanta, I asked his brother Herbert, a freshman at Morehouse, how he thought Hamilton compared Morehouse and Georgia, and I was assured that Hamilton preferred Morehouse in every respect but one: he thought Georgia’s science facilities were superior. Herbert seemed concerned lest I get the impression that anybody could be happier anywhere than he could be at Morehouse.
The mantelpiece of the Holmes house had almost as many trophies for Hamilton’s achievements as a regular student at Morehouse and Turner as for his being a Student Hero at Georgia. I noticed a trophy he had received for being the outstanding freshman football player at Morehouse; a Turner High valedictorian trophy; the National Newspaper Publishers Association Russwurm Award for “making possible a richer conception of democratic principles”; a trophy from Turner for excellence in math; two trophies for his attendance at Georgia from Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity Hamilton joined at Morehouse; and a plaque from the Turner High School P.-T.A. given to Mr. and Mrs. Holmes.
Hamilton’s mother, Isabella Holmes, turned out to be an articulate, attractive woman with a gentle voice, which added force to rather than detracted from what she said. She had grown up in Tuskegee, Alabama, where her father edited one of the trade magazines published by Tuskegee Institute, and where she met her husband while both were students at the institute. When Mrs. Holmes mentions integration she is almost always talking about the integration of blind and partially sighted children into regular classrooms—a pioneer program in Atlanta that Mrs. Holmes, as a sixth-grade teacher, has been taking part in for several years.
“Hamp was supposed to go to Morehouse through the early admissions program the year before he got out of Turner,” Mrs. Holmes told me. “He had a four-year Merrill Scholarship that paid full tuition. But that summer he decided he didn’t want to give up his senior year at Turner, and later he decided on Georgia. Then, I remember the day the judge’s decision was handed down, after Hamp had been at Morehouse a year and a half. I saw that the judge said they didn’t have to enter that quarter, or even spring quarter. And, since I knew how much Morehouse meant to Hamp, the first thing I said was that he wouldn’t be letting anybody down if he waited until fall. It surprised me. He said, ‘No, I’ve got to go now.’ Hamp doesn’t do much talking, and sometimes you don’t know what he’s thinking. It’s lonely for him down in Athens. It’s particularly hard for a boy who’s from a large family. With four others, there’s no such thing as isolation in this house. You’d think some students there would make overtures to a boy in a situation like that. It’s hard for me to believe that nobody would bother, unless the boy was objectionable. I guess I’ll never understand. He got so low last spring, when he saw the other boys playing baseball on the lawn and all, that I wanted him to come home for a while. He wouldn’t hear of coming home. If Corky King, the Presbyterian minister there, hadn’t started having him over to dinner every week, I don’t know what would have become of him. I sometimes wish one of my other boys, Gary, the one who’s in college in Charlotte now, had gone instead of Hamp. They could have run him over with a truck and not bothered him. But Hamp is very sensitive in many ways.”
I asked Mrs. Holmes how much harassment the family had been subjected to in Atlanta after Hamilton applied. “We had quite a time here with the phone,” she said. “I think they had the phone tapped, because they cut in on conversations, and if you left it off the hook it would cut off and go dead and you couldn’t call out. We complained to the phone company, and they gave us a private number, but before I even knew the number myself—they sent it by mail—the calls began coming in on that one. They would start about the time I got in from work and go through the night. Sometimes, when we left the phone off the hook, we’d have to cover it with something, because they would just keep talking. And I hated to be without the phone. And I was afraid about somebody passing by. I think I even imagined things when I got into the car and put my foot on the starter. I wondered about jeopardizing other people if somebody passed by and threw something. I did wonder sometimes if it was worth it.”
Hamilton spent most of his final spring break filling speaking engagements, a function he had left pretty much to Charlayne during their first two years at Georgia. “I’m getting around a little more,” he said, when I finally got him on the phone late that week. “But with me the studies still come first.” He went on to say that he was scheduled to speak at the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Atlanta that Sunday, and I arranged to meet the Holmes family there.
Sunday was another beautiful spring day in Atlanta. It was, in fact, Safe Boating Sunday in WSB-land, the radio announcer said as I drove over to Emmanuel Baptist, a neat, new red-brick church in the middle of a red-brick Negro housing project in the southeastern section of the city. Hamilton’s father was chatting with friends in the vestibule when I arrived, and he led me down to the first row, where his wife and his father were already seated. Dr. Holmes looked as natty as he had in his office, wearing a blue suit with a light pin stripe, a blue tie, his diamond stickpin and, hanging from his watch chain, a medallion, which, he told me a few minutes later, was one of Tup’s golf awards. “I have a lot of them of my own, but I like this one,” he explained. “It looks like a gold dollar. Tup got it in Chicago in 1940 or 1941.”
That was enough to turn the conversation to golf.
“About the only time I leave town is for golf tournaments,” said Dr. Holmes. “I used to go to a lot of medical meetings, but I’m getting tired of them. I play in three tournaments a year, usually—United Golfers Association tournaments, in the senior division. I usually shoot in the low eighties.”
“He kills those old men,” Tup Holmes said proudly. “He just kills them. But he hasn’t been able to shoot his age yet. It’s all mental. He gets a thirty-six or thirty-seven on the first nine and then he gets to thinking about it and he blows it on the back nine. He gets nervous.”
Dr. Holmes acknowledged that Tup was the best golfer in the family when he was in form—he won the national U.G.A. in 1947, in Philadelphia, and again in 1958, in Pittsburgh—but said he was able to beat him occasionally. “In the seniors, I win first place sometimes, second place sometimes, and sometimes third place, although not often,” he went on. “The seniors are for men over fifty, and you have to remember that I didn’t have a golf club in my hand until I was fifty. Some of those other fellows are experienced.”
I reminded Dr. Holmes that even though he had a late start, he’d had twenty-nine years of experience. He just smiled and turned toward the pulpit, where the service was about to begin.
According to our programs, the church was holding its Annual Youth Day Observance, on the theme of “Christian Youth and Their Spiritual Challenge in an Emerging Age of World Freedom,” although the bulletin board on the lawn outside had said merely, “9:30—Sunday School. 10:45—Hamilton Holmes.” About half an hour after the service was scheduled to begin, Hamilton walked on the platform with four girls. He looked about the same as when I had last seen him, almost two years before, except that some extra weight accented the characteristic Holmes heaviness around the jaw. He was, as usual, well dressed, wearing an Ivy League-cut blue summer-weight suit, a rep tie, and a white button-down shirt, and he had a tiny Alpha Phi Alpha pin in his lapel. As Hamilton shifted in his seat through the first part of the service, his face had the serious look that most people at Georgia had interpreted as a scowl. The service, conducted by the four girls, proceeded through an opening hymn, a responsive reading, the morning hymn, a scripture lesson, the morning prayer, a selection by the youth choir, a statement of purpose, several selections by the Turner High School choral ensemble, the collection, and the doxology. Finally one of the girls introduced Hamilton, calling him “a militant and pioneering young speaker who has symbolized and portrayed in his own actions and character the fight for human dignity and first-class citizenship.” There was one more hymn, and then Hamilton rose to speak.
Putting on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, he read from a prepared text entitled “Higher Education and the New Negro”—Hamilton’s favorite speech topic. He began by outlining advances in science, in industry, and even in household labor—advances that had eliminated many traditional Negro jobs. There was, he went on, an increasing need for highly trained workers, and that need could be filled by the New Negro, “who realizes he is just as good as any other man . . . not the Negro sitting passively around waiting for his rights to be handed to him on a silver platter.” Hamilton said that such movements as the sit-ins had opened doors but that the Negro must be prepared to go through them, and that his greatest drawback was his lack of education.
“Ours is a competitive society,” he continued. “This is true even more so for the Negro. He must compete not only with other Negroes but with the white man. In most instances, in competition for jobs and status with whites, the Negro must have more training and be more qualified than his white counterpart if he is to beat him out of a job. If the training and qualifications are equal, nine times out of ten the job will go to the white man. This is a challenge to us as a race. We must not be content to be equal, education- and training-wise, but we must strive to be superior in order to be given an equal chance. This is something that I have experienced in my short tenure at the University of Georgia. I cannot feel satisfied with just equaling the average grades there. I am striving to be superior. I have found that I must be superior in order to be accepted as an equal. If the average is B, then I want an A. The importance of superior training cannot be overemphasized. This is a peculiar situation, I know, but it is reality, and reality is something that we Negroes must learn to live with.”
That was, I thought, a pretty good summary of Hamilton’s philosophy at Georgia—what his father would call “making those crackers sit up and take notice.” As Hamilton sat down, a man in the congregation said, in a sonorous voice, “Richly spoken, richly spoken.” He turned out to be the minister of Emmanuel Baptist, Benjamin Weldon Bickers, and he came forward at that point to take over from the girls and introduce some guests, including three students from integrated Atlanta high schools. He also introduced Mr. and Mrs. Holmes, and Hamilton’s sister, Emma, who had joined the family after singing in the Turner chorus, and two or three more Holmeses, and then somebody reminded him that he had neglected Dr. Holmes. Mr. Bickers not only introduced the doctor but asked him to say a few words.
Dr. Holmes, still beaming over Hamilton’s speech, popped right up and turned around to face the congregation. “Brothers and sisters,” he said, “I assure you that it is a pleasure to be here. I always hoped I would be able to live long enough to see this young man stand as he stands in the community and in his daily deportment. It gives me a thrill, and I thank the Lord I lived long enough to see it. And to have such a fine boy! He does not smoke or chew; he does not drink beer, wine, or liquor. I told him when he was a little boy, ‘Never live long enough to smoke or drink.’ As a result, here he is. It did me good to hear him philosophize, to go step by step through what the New Negro needs. It did me good, and I thank the Lord I lived long enough to hear him.”
The congregation was already nodding in approval as Dr. Holmes digressed briefly to talk about another grandchild, a girl who had gone to Elmira College, in upstate New York, as an exchange student from Spelman and had immediately become the star of the choir. “I’m glad I took the Biblical advice not to let your riches pile up where thieves and robbers can get them but to deposit them in your children,” Dr. Holmes went on. “I’m proud of this boy. And we don’t want him to stop. We want him to get his M.D. or his Ph.D. or whatever D. he wants. He might be too smart to practice. He might have to teach. But we want him to have everything he wants. It’s a pleasure to be here.”
As Dr. Holmes turned and sat down, there was the shuffling and murmuring of a congregation that wanted to show approval but knew better than to clap in church. Just as I thought I might have witnessed my first Negro church meeting in the South that had only one collection, Mr. Bickers announced that he was going to collect Hamilton’s honorarium right there, and he passed the plate again.
Although Hamilton’s family has long been active in community affairs, the only one of his relatives professionally involved in race relations is his uncle, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was destined by Dr. Holmes to be the family lawyer but ended up as a Congregationalist minister instead. A small, cheerful man, and the most direct heir to the patriarch’s jolly eloquence, Oliver Holmes is the associate director of the Georgia Council on Human Relations. In 1956 the council grew out of the Georgia Interracial Committee, which was founded right after the First World War to start some communication between whites and Negroes, meeting as equals. Among the early participants in the Georgia Interracial Committee was Oliver Holmes’ mother—Hamilton’s grandmother—who, as one of the first Negro registered nurses in the South, was, before her death, a prominent member of the Negro community. “Mama used to go have her tea and cookies once a month,” Oliver Holmes recalled when I visited him at the organization’s headquarters in Atlanta. “And we’d say, Well, mama, you’ve had your tea and cookies now, and next month you can go have your tea and cookies again.’ But I think it actually did do some good. It kept the lines of communication open, and they could have closed easily in those days.”
I had first met Oliver Holmes two years before in Savannah, where he had become pastor of the First Congregational Church in 1959, after several years of preaching in Talladega, Alabama. While he was in Talladega, Holmes had organized the area’s first N.A.A.C.P. branch, but, he said, the most important case was a criminal one rather than one involving civil rights. It came up when “a drunken Negro cab driver, in a one-eyed car with no brakes, in the rain, hit and killed two white policemen who were harassing a couple of college kids who were parked there by the side of the road doing a little light necking.” Holmes went to Birmingham and came back with a young Negro defense lawyer. “They said if a colored lawyer came there to defend that boy he’d be lucky not to get the chair himself,” said Holmes. As the case turned out, the cab driver got only five years for manslaughter, because the policemen had been on the wrong side of the road and the accident was, despite his condition and the multiple handicaps of his car, not his fault. “Everybody in the town was just as happy as could be,” Holmes told me. “The Negroes said, ‘Our lawyer got that boy off with five years’ and the whites said, ‘Despite that little nigger we put that boy away for five years.’ When it came time that he was eligible for parole, we went up to see him at the state prison farm and he said, ‘Don’t you bother me about any parole. I’m driving a tractor and I got more money in my pocket than I ever had and I don’t want to leave. When my time is up, I’m going to ask for an extension.’ Yes sir, everybody was happy about that case.”
While Holmes was in Talladega, he found time to make trips to Atlanta for golf, and was in the foursome that tested the segregation of the public golf course in 1955. “When we first went out there to make the test they were a little surprised,” he said. “I went up to the window and asked for four tickets and the man said, ‘Tickets for what?’ I told him, ‘For whatever you’re selling them for.’ And he said he couldn’t sell us any tickets because the course wasn’t open to Negroes. I told him that’s what I thought—just testing. After the Supreme Court decision, we went out to play, and we figured somebody had better stay home in case something happened. So we finally convinced Daddy that as long as he held the purse strings, maybe he’d better stay home. He didn’t want to. He sure is crazy about golf, and he was just as excited as he could be about this. My brother Tup was really up for this game, with the press out there and everything. I think he had been practicing for it; he shot a thirty-eight on the first nine. I had been stuck out in Talladega without much chance to play and my game was a little off, and maybe I was a little nervous.”
When Holmes moved to Savannah, he found that the public golf course was available to Negroes only one day a week, and then did not permit them access to such facilities as the rest rooms and the snack bar. Those were conditions that would put any Holmes off his game, so Oliver Holmes worked out a plan with the mayor whereby the course was at first open to Negroes two days a week, with the use of all facilities, and then, a couple of months later, was desegregated completely. The golf-course desegregation worked out so smoothly that the mayor appointed Holmes to the Park Board, which put him in a good position to work on the integration of the parks. While he was in Savannah, Holmes also worked with the mayor to get the library quietly desegregated and headed the N.A.A.C.P. negotiations committee that, with the aid of a year-long boycott, effected the desegregation of the lunch counters in downtown Savannah department stores. When a human-relations council was formed in Savannah, Holmes was the logical choice for cochairman. “We usually try to have cochairmen, to insure the participation of both races,” he told me. “It’s always easy to find a Negro cochairman but sometimes not a white. So I was the co-cochairman for a while.” Holmes eventually decided to leave the pulpit for a full-time job with the Georgia Council, which, he said, “does a little trouble shooting around the state. We try to see if we can’t get the whites and Negroes to sit down and talk. We try to stress reason rather than force.”
When I visited Holmes in Atlanta, he had just returned from a little trouble shooting at Jekyll Island, a state-owned resort whose facilities Negroes believed to be not only separate but distinctly unequal. “They have a sign up at the Negro end saying ‘Site of Proposed Golf Course,’ ” Holmes said. “They’ve been proposing that golf course for three years now. The first time I tried the white golf course, they put out a sign, ‘Closed for Watering.’ I never heard of a course being closed for watering. You just turn on a hose and water it. Finally they said they did not allow Negroes to use the course.” Holmes had then started appearing before the State Park Commission to argue for the desegregation of Jekyll Island. “I saw the Director of State Parks at this hearing,” Holmes went on. “He said he lived down in Albany and he asked me, ‘With all this trouble down there how do you explain it that I’ve got a hundred and sixty Negroes working for me, and they’re just as happy as they can be. They tell me so.’ I explained it. I said ‘You got yourself a hundred and sixty of the biggest liars in the state of Georgia.’ ”
Holmes said that the rest of the Holmes family had always been active in civil rights in one way or another. “My father has always been active in the N.A.A.C.P. in a financial way,” he told me. “He’s never had time for any other. Of course, since he met golf, he’s never had time for much of anything. Hamp’s daddy always thought he was entitled to what other people were entitled to, and, unlike some Negroes, he always spoke out. In fact, he always shouted it from the rooftops.” Oliver Holmes had arranged for Hamilton to make a speech to the Savannah Human Relations Council the week end before and had gone along to introduce him. When I told him that I had heard Hamilton speak at Emmanuel Church, and had unexpectedly heard a speech from Dr. Holmes as well, Holmes laughed and said, “I’ve been asked to preach twice since I left the ministry, and both times I took my daddy with me. Both times they asked him to say a few words after the sermon, and both times he gave a better speech than I did. He really killed me. The second time, the fellow behind me said right out loud, so I could hear, ‘That’s the one who should be preaching.’ I told Daddy next time I got an invitation I wasn’t going to tell him about it. When I heard that he spoke in church where Hamp spoke, I said, ‘I hope he didn’t kill Hamp like he killed me.’ ”