I HAD a chance to see Hamilton speak again the following Saturday at the Forty-third Annual Dinner of the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the Y.W.C.A., a building on Hunter Street, across from part of the Atlanta University campus. Both Hamilton and Mary Frances Early spoke as members of a panel made up of Negro students who had entered previously all-white schools. The panel, whose topic was “The Challenge of New Frontiers in Education,” also included Willi-Jean Black, a senior at Northside High School; Ford Greene, one of six Negro undergraduates at Georgia Tech; and Columbus Scott, who had been admitted to Smith-Hughes Vocational School three months before to study tool and die making. After dinner, the program started with a prayer and responsive reading led by Mrs. James Washington, an aunt of Hamilton’s. Then, after a series of reports and introductions, the chairman presented the leader of the panel, a young psychiatrist from Boston named Robert Coles, who had just about completed a two-year study of Negro and white students in newly integrated schools, concentrating on the high-school students in Atlanta, where he had been living, and on the little girls who integrated the elementary schools of New Orleans. Dr. Coles did not have to do much prompting. After he had made some introductory remarks, the panel members passed the microphone around and spoke freely of their experiences. There was a great similarity in these experiences. Most of the speakers mentioned a gradual acceptance inside the classroom and a lingering coolness outside it. One or two said that the nastiest students they had encountered were from the North—people whom Dr. Coles described later as having “a high capacity for adjustment.” Most of the panelists also mentioned the superiority of the facilities in their new schools, and—what struck them as even more important—a great difference in the attitude toward education from what they had known in Negro schools, whose atmosphere is often dominated by the realization on the part of both students and faculty that their ambitions are severely limited by the position of their race. As Ford Greene put it, “There is a distinct difference in students and teachers. The teachers are there to teach and the students are there to student.”
Hamilton’s speech was to the point, as usual, but it was angrier than anything I had ever heard him say in public before. “Basically, the things enumerated so far apply also to me,” he began. “There are perhaps a few original contributions I can make to this discussion, so I’ll go on out to that area and not bother with repeating. I want to get one point clear first. There’s a tendency now with almost everybody I know in Atlanta not closely connected with me or the situation there to think that because Georgia isn’t in the news everything is fine down there, and that I have buddies all over the campus, and we get no resistance. I’d like to clear that up right now. That is far from the case. Although there’s not much said now, the atmosphere is just about the same as in January 1961. The only difference is that there is no overt resistance. The atmosphere is definitely an atmosphere of uncordiality. This is from a lack of responsibility on the part of both groups—white and Negro. It’s partly our fault as a race. There should be ten, or fifteen, or even twenty times more Negro students at Georgia. Take in consideration the two and a half years we’ve been there. The second year, there weren’t any applications. This year, we had six or seven people to be accepted, and they’d had to be just about drafted to apply. This is a big problem. It has bothered me, and I don’t know how it can be overcome. I’m dumbfounded. But it is partly our fault and our responsibility that the atmosphere at Georgia is now what it is.”
Hamilton went on to discuss the superior laboratory facilities at the new Georgia science center, concluding that, all in all, the whole miserable experience had probably been worthwhile because “I’m in sciences and I’ve been able to do experiments I would have never been able to do at Morehouse—also, probably, if I had stayed at Morehouse, I wouldn’t have had a chance to go to Emory Medical School.” The speech was not altogether what the audience had come to the Phyllis Wheatley dinner to hear, but Hamilton got a good round of applause when he finished.
One of the observations made in the panel discussion that interested me most was made by Columbus Scott, a stolid, heavy-set young man who was obviously most at home talking about tools and dies, and made no effort to simplify his language for an audience that was largely middle-aged ladies. “At first I got the silent treatment, more or less,” he said when it was his turn at the microphone. “Nobody spoke. Then in the first class in my tool- and die-making course, my first task was to cut details of acme thread on a bronze lathe. On the first operation, I cut it to one ten-thousandth of an inch, which is very rare, especially on the first try. After that, I had more friends than I knew what to do with in the classroom.”
What struck me about Scott’s experience was that it corresponded so closely to the experiences of Hamilton and Charlayne. Hamilton had said that the students in his classes were always friendlier when he had made the highest mark on an exam or an experiment and Charlayne had found the same magic in Juvenal, the Latin satirist, that Scott had found in details of acme thread. “This classics class in summer school was real cold,” she had told me the week before, in Athens. “Nobody would ever talk to me. And then I did this beautiful paper. It was pretty, if I do say so myself. And the teacher just ate it up. We had to do the paper on one person, and I was supposed to do it on Juvenal. I thought that instead of just giving name, rank, and serial number, I’d compare him with some people criticizing society today. There were a lot of similarities to some poems by Ferlinghetti, and I also brought in Motley’s Knock on Any Door and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. I showed we’re the same as the degenerate Roman society.” She laughed at the thought, and went on, “When I read it, everybody was real quiet. And right after that they started coming around and asking if they could read it, and from then on it was just amazing. Before, during the breaks I used to sit out on the stoop by myself and drink a Coke. But from then on somebody always came over to talk. It just happened all of a sudden. I’ve seen it warm up, but nothing like that. I wrote my mother about it; I just had to write it down. She read the letter to Carl [Holman] and he said the same thing had happened to him once at the Yale Drama School. Later, I started talking in class discussions, and this boy and I had a big argument about whether or not Dido should have thrown herself on a sword after Aeneas left Carthage. He said she had a responsibility to stay with her people instead, and I said she couldn’t do her people any good because she didn’t care about anything any more, so she might as well kill herself. Half the class sided with him and half with me. It was normal.”
I suggested the possibility that a dazzling classroom performance might knock down the last myth propping up the prejudice of some white students—that of the innate mental inferiority of Negroes. “Well, the other time they warm up is when everybody flunks an exam and you flunk it too,” Charlayne said. “Then they warm up even more.”
Hamilton’s speech at Phyllis Wheatley reflected a bitter realization, shared by Charlayne, that Atlanta Negroes were quick enough to get together and hand out plaques—Hamilton got one that night for his “contribution to Phyllis Wheatley”—but were often hard to corral when it came to formulating an organized program and establishing a scholarship fund to get more Negro students to go to the University of Georgia. Charlayne and Hamilton, who had assumed that there would be an influx of Negro students after their first year of loneliness, were extremely disappointed when not one applied for the following fall. Even during their last spring at Georgia, when it was too late for their own lives there to be affected, both of them constantly stressed the importance of getting more Negroes to attend the university.
Because a great number of Negro students did not immediately join Charlayne and Hamilton, the problem had become cyclical. The fewer Negro students there were at the university, the more unpleasant it was for those who were there, not only because they lacked company but because there was less opportunity to accustom white students to the presence of Negroes on the campus. And the more unpleasant it was for Negroes at the university, the fewer Negroes there were who wanted to go there. The cycle could be broken only by the arrival of a significant number of Negro students, and Jesse Hill, who is still more or less in charge of the search, thinks that this is unlikely. “I feel it will be years before there are a lot of Negro undergraduates there,” he told me when I spoke to him in Atlanta. “Until the other cities start sending them, it will be mostly graduate students in the summer.”
Even though the admission standards at the university are not high, most graduates of Negro high schools outside Atlanta cannot meet them, and no organizations have been formed to encourage the ones who can. In Atlanta, Hill restricts his search to A and B students, since he is convinced that only a student whom the university cannot turn down without risking another court case is likely to be accepted. Hill thinks that this is particularly true of male applicants, one of whom had been rejected the preceding fall despite what seemed to be reasonable marks on the college-board examinations and a good record at Turner.
In going after outstanding students, Hill runs into severe competition. Atlanta Negroes have other practical alternatives to the university besides the three state Negro colleges; those who are able to manage the tuition can attend one of the private colleges of the Atlanta University Center, and live right at home. “An outstanding student can almost always get a full or partial scholarship to a Negro school,” Hill said. “Tech has something special to offer, of course, but why should a person want to go down to Athens?” If Georgia offers more academically than even most of the private Negro colleges, it offers considerably less socially. “I don’t blame them for not going,” Hamilton’s mother told me. “It takes something out of a kid. I’ve seen the wear and tear on Hamp.” As compensation for the wear and tear, a Negro who followed Charlayne and Hamilton to Georgia could not expect even the plaques and adulation that they eventually found so hypocritical.
Hill is known in the Atlanta Negro community as a catalyst rather than an administrator, and nobody has come forward to organize the tedious and undramatic business of sifting through records to find qualified students, battling the red tape at the admissions office, and raising money for those students who need scholarships. In the early days of integration, a group of whites and Negroes who were interested in the problem held meetings in Atlanta and got as far as sending Negro high schools in the state a pamphlet listing the courses offered at the University of Georgia and outlining the procedure for application. The pamphlet had no visible effects, however, and the group eventually broke up. While I was in Atlanta, plans were being made to take advantage of an approaching meeting of the Georgia Teachers Association, the state organization for Negro teachers, to talk to teachers and counselors about encouraging students to consider the University of Georgia, or at least to take the college-board examinations required for admission. According to Hill, less than one per cent of the Negro high-school seniors in Atlanta take the college boards. Hill was also planning a campaign in the Inquirer, of which he is chairman of the board, on the advantages of going to Georgia and Georgia Tech.
Most of the time, all such activity seemed half-hearted. At one point, Hill did hold a meeting of the various Negro fraternal organizations in Atlanta, asking them to divert some of their funds into scholarships for students who were attending newly integrated colleges. The only group that agreed to do so was the Jack & Jills, a mothers’ organization—and one whose president might have had an extra measure of sympathy with the project, since she was Mrs. Washington, Hamilton’s aunt. The Jack & Jills began to support one of the freshman girls at Georgia. “In general,” Hill told me, “we simply were not able to generate the kind of funds we expected.” Because of this, the informal organization encouraging Negroes to go to Georgia has occasionally been in the position of implying that the community would take care of a scholarship for a prospective student, and then not being able to produce it when the time came. Mary Frances Early had needed some help, particularly for the spring quarter, when she took a leave of absence from her teaching job to attend Georgia. But when she was about ready to leave, the promised funds were still nowhere in sight. At the last minute, the Negro teachers in the Atlanta schools were asked to give two dollars apiece for a scholarship—an arrangement that was satisfactory neither to Miss Early nor to the teachers, some of whom grumbled that they were having enough trouble putting away a dollar here and a dollar there for the education of their own children.
The obvious solution to the problem would have been a scholarship fund, providing some steady source of aid and eliminating the need for a personal appeal on behalf of each student. Most people who have been concerned with the matter believe that the chance for a fund was lost as soon as the drama of the entrance and riot had faded from the front pages. “The difficulty with financing results from the fact that no one person or organization took the responsibility then and there,” Hollowell told me. “A good fund could have been raised with the proper organization. I’m not thinking so much of Charlayne and Hamilton as of the people who came after them.”
Even with Charlayne and Hamilton, the Student Heroes, money was always a problem. It had been assumed that the Negro community would provide an informal scholarship for the pioneers, whether they were in desperate need or not, and, particularly in Charlayne’s case, some help was necessary. The plans, however, did not provide any method of maintaining financial support, and Charlayne’s education was financed by a series of last-minute scramblings for cash. It was raised, Hill told me, “from quarter to quarter.” Charlayne, who had assumed that whatever help she received would come from some sort of fund, resented having to make personal appeals. Sooner or later, she looked to Hollowell and Carl Holman, who—often the day before a new quarter began—scratched around Atlanta until they had got the money together.
While I was in Atlanta, I talked with one of the few people who had responded to Holman’s last-minute appeals—Mrs. P. Q. Yancey, the wife of a doctor. The Yanceys live near Collier Heights, a Negro residential district that is always one of the first stops on any Chamber of Commerce tour of the city. (William B. Hartsfield, the retired mayor of Atlanta, liked to tell of Northern journalists who refused to believe that Negroes lived in its forty-thousand-dollar houses until the mayor went to the door to prove who lived there—and even then, Hartsfield said, the journalists weren’t convinced because they concluded that the Negro who answered the door was probably the butler.) Mrs. Yancey’s large house is set back from the street, in grounds that include a private tennis court. One of her sons was at Villanova, she told me, and another at a prep school in Massachusetts. Her third son was the first Negro to attend Marist, a Catholic military school in Atlanta, where one of Charlayne’s brothers had just been accepted.
Because many of the Atlanta Negroes interested in Charlayne and Hamilton live, if not quite as grandly as Mrs. Yancey, at least in middle-class comfort, it is not always easy for people to remember the simple fact that underlies the need for fund-raising—that very few Negroes can afford to send their children to college. Mrs. Yancey, who seemed to have no trouble remembering this, had some unkind words for her neighbors. “This is a selfish community,” she told me. “Oh, they’ll give to the United Negro College Fund or the N.A.A.C.P.—their consciences make them do that—but they’ve been too busy too long trying to get things for their own families to worry about other people.
“Carl Holman called me one day and said, ‘That girl can’t go back to school unless we get some money.’ A friend of mine here knew a man in Memphis who is in charge of the Negro Elks education fund, and she called him, and within two or three days we had some help. It wasn’t all we wanted, but we had something. We also managed to get something from a women’s club that had some money sent down from an organization to be used for the student sit-ins or a similar project. Since we were already raising money for the sit-ins, I managed to get the money for Charlayne, although it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Then I asked my husband one day—he belongs to two clubs, exclusive clubs, of businessmen and professionals—‘What are you doing, all you rich men?’ Of course, they’re not really rich. He managed to raise money at both of the clubs. But we missed the psychological time. Right at the start, when everybody in the country was interested, we should have organized something, the way we did for the sit-ins right when the demonstrations were going on. I hope Charlayne isn’t bitter, but I think she is, a little. She felt that it should have come easier, and she was right.”
Charlayne received a check for eighty-three dollars from the Elks at the beginning of each quarter, the total of two hundred and forty-nine dollars for the academic year constituting her only steady income. Minimum expenses for a year at Georgia, according to Charlayne’s estimates, amounted to between thirteen hundred and fifteen hundred dollars, and much of the difference was made up through such gifts as a United Packinghouse Workers scholarship for five hundred dollars; room and tuition payments for one quarter by Delta Sigma Theta, the sorority she had joined at Wayne; a check from an organization of postal workers in Atlanta; and the honorariums that she and Hamilton ordinarily received for their speeches.
The irony of the Student Heroes’ being unable to get scholarships was heightened by the belief among University of Georgia undergraduates that Charlayne and Hamilton were being paid generously by the N.A.A.C.P. Fifty thousand dollars was usually the figure mentioned, though some people believed it was fifty dollars a day, which, for two and a half academic years, works out to be considerably less. As a matter of fact, the N.A.A.C.P. is one organization that has a policy of not giving even an occasional honorarium. “There’s a plaque in our den from the N.A.A.C.P.,” Charlayne told me one day. “That’s what I got from them, exactly.” Even so, neither Charlayne nor Hamilton did much to discourage the N.A.A.C.P. story. Charlayne said that after a football scandal broke at Georgia as the result of an alleged overheard telephone conversation, “This boy came up to me in class and said, ‘It’s the funniest thing—a lady in my home town called my mother last week and said that she was on the phone and heard you talking to the N.A.A.C.P. in Jacksonville, asking for more money. Isn’t that funny?’ I told him, ‘Yeah, buddy, that’s pretty funny.’ I guess he expected me to deny it.”
Charlayne’s car was often pointed to by undergraduates as an example of her heavy financing by the N.A.A.C.P. Some of them felt that their case was proved when Mary Frances Early showed up with a compact car of the same model and even the same color, indicating the possibility of purchase in wholesale lots. “They wondered why Hamp’s was different,” says Miss Early, “and we told them they have a different color for boys.” The cars were also used as an excuse by Negroes in Atlanta for not supporting the students financially. Many of them, said Charlayne, had heard the N.A.A.C.P. story so often that they had come to believe it themselves; others thought anybody who could afford a car at college had no need of a scholarship. Hamilton’s car was a gift from his grandfather. Charlayne’s mother had borrowed the money to buy Charlayne’s car, believing that on an unfriendly 260-acre campus it might well be a necessity rather than a luxury.
Mrs. Yancey had suggested that I talk to Hamilton’s aunt, Mrs. Washington, and on the day after the Phyllis Wheatley program I drove back to Mrs. Yancey’s neighborhood, where the Washingtons live in a pleasant brick house. When I arrived, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who is a bachelor and lives with his sister and brother-in-law, was about ready to leave for his Sunday-afternoon golf game. I had heard that Holmes helped Columbus Scott, the tool-and-die student, in his effort to get into Smith-Hughes Vocational School, and I asked him just how difficult that had been in the new atmosphere in Georgia.
“Yessir, that’s my boy,” Holmes said proudly. Scott, he told me, had graduated from Turner two or three years before Charlayne and Hamilton. He spent five years in the Army, during which he became interested in tool-and-die work and even attended a German civilian school in the subject for a while. When he got back to Atlanta, he went to Carver, the Negro vocational school, to take a tool-and-die course and was told that none was available for him in the city. Scott worked in another field until one day he answered an advertisement for a tool-and-die apprentice. He was informed that only Smith-Hughes graduates were hired. That put Scott in the desegregation business, Holmes said, although he was actually interested only in taking a tool-and-die course.
“Scott filed application for Smith-Hughes,” Holmes went on, “but the night principal told him to see the day principal and the day principal said, ‘Why, I don’t know why he would send you to me; that’s a matter for the night principal.’ And he started to get the old runaround.” Scott’s mother was a friend of the secretary in the office of the Georgia Council on Human Relations, and she asked if the Council could help. After making certain that Scott realized what he might be getting into, Holmes accompanied him to Smith-Hughes and saw on the bulletin board that the tool-and-die course was offered in both the day and night sessions. (Holmes later published a report listing seventeen subjects that were offered at Smith-Hughes and not at Carver.)
“We went to see the principal again,” Holmes said, “and he said we should go over to Carver, because they’re now offering the course. The principal at Carver is just as friendly as he can be; he’s been waiting to see us. He tells us that Carver is going to offer the course, beginning in January, and later they had a big meeting, with all the leading lights of the Negro community, and the leading-light whites, and they showed this hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of new equipment and told about all their great plans, and everybody’s happy again. Well, I asked Scott, ‘What are you going to do?’ He said he would just as soon go to Carver, so he was going to wait three months until January. Jimmy Washington here first let the cat out of the bag when he came in one night and said, ‘I met a fellow who’s going to be one of the teachers at the tool-and-die-making course at Carver and he can’t even spell tool. He might be a carpenter, but probably not even that.’ So I sent Scott out to Carver to see what the equipment looked like and to write up a report. Well, he came back and said the equipment was useless. It couldn’t run. It had no component parts, none were on order, and the professor wouldn’t know how to order them anyway. And the ground wasn’t level and there wasn’t even any electricity. So we went back to Smith-Hughes and told them what Scott found out. We finally got to see the deputy superintendent, who hadn’t answered Scott’s letters before, and he started talking about the dimly lighted corridors and the dimly lighted parking area, and we said, ‘That’s not our problem. That’s a police problem.’ Well, he said, the city is going to spend six million dollars for a new industrial school in three years and they were thinking about three million for white and three million for Negro, but if there were no disturbing incidents between now and then, maybe they would just build one school for the six million. Well, I said, ‘That’s a fine idea, but meanwhile what’s this boy supposed to do for three years, go and hide?’ Well, the deputy superintendent said he’s going to have a breakfast meeting with the superintendent and everybody, and they’re going to talk about it. Finally he called and said, ‘When can you have your boy over here to register?’ And I said, ‘Oh, ten or fifteen minutes.’ This whole business took about three months. The school board announced Scott’s registration, and the newspapers wrote about how nice it was that everything had been done voluntarily. You couldn’t help but laugh.”
Mrs. Washington is also involved with the admissions problem, as a teacher-counselor in the Fulton County school system. “The counselors in Negro schools have hesitated to recommend white colleges in the past,” she said. “They’ve been afraid of their jobs. But that’s less true now. Ford Greene’s mother has been made a principal since Ford went to Tech, and I don’t think there has been any pressure against Isabella, Hamilton’s mother. In fact, during the sit-ins, one high-school principal used to leave word occasionally in his office that he was down bailing his daughters out of jail. Times are changing.”
Times, however, still have a long way to go as far as the Washingtons are concerned. James Washington, a Morehouse man who often joins his brother-in-law and father-in-law for U.G.A. golf tournaments, works as a mail carrier at the Atlanta post office. “The University of Georgia is still like any place else here,” said Washington. “To be accepted, the Negro has to be super-special. It’s the same at the post office. All but two or three of the Negroes there have been to college, and most of us have graduated from college.”
Even if the University of Georgia gave no thought whatever to the question of race and made a conscious effort to treat all citizens alike—sending its admissions representatives to Negro high schools as well as white ones, for example, and removing the designation of race from its applications—there would be few Negro students on the campus, although real or suspected prejudice might influence the number of Negroes who think they have a chance of being accepted if they try. Some Georgia faculty members, who were dismayed by the way university officials lent themselves in court to the Ritual, are afraid that the prejudice might be real enough. When I told one of them that I was going to ask Walter Danner, the registrar, about the admission of Negroes, he said, “In a way, the key to the Administration’s behavior is whether they’re playing it straight now.”
Danner told me that he formally admitted all students, but that his role in admitting graduate students was more or less nominal, since it consisted of giving official approval to their application on the recommendation of the admissions committee and dean of the graduate school. Freshmen, he said, were admitted according to a standard mathematical formula, which combined the applicant’s high-school record and his college-board aptitude scores to predict the grade average he would have at Georgia. Everybody above a certain predicted average was taken, and the borderline cases were turned over to the admissions committee. The minimum for males living in the state, the committee’s chairman told me later, was that year a predicted average of 68, or D, slightly higher minimums being required for female applicants and for applicants who did not live in Georgia. Using this system, Danner had sent admission notices to 2495 freshmen the previous fall and had rejected 285. For that class, four Negroes were accepted and five rejected. All five, he said, were rejected strictly on grades and college-board results. No case had to be settled by the admissions committee, and no one had been turned down on the basis of a pre-admission interview as Hamilton had been. After the court ordered Hamilton into the university, the admissions specialists seemed to have lost interest in interviews. When I told Danner that some people in Atlanta suspected him of bias, he assured me that Negroes “are considered right with the other students.” Any other answer was, of course, unlikely. In two different court cases during the years Georgia was bragging about its segregation, Danner had sworn that his office had not discriminated against Negroes.
The professor whom I had spoken to earlier agreed that the disparity in the percentage of white and Negro applicants accepted could as easily be the result of a difference in qualifications as the result of prejudice. And he had an admissions story of his own. A Negro graduate student, a young woman, had applied for the summer session in his department, he said. Her application was brought up in a faculty meeting with the other applications, discussed routinely, approved, and sent to Danner for action. Her race was clear only through the name of her undergraduate college. The professor said he was amazed at how simple the whole problem suddenly seemed—a graduate student’s being accepted on the basis of her record. Then he added, “I guess that’s what this is all about.”
On the surface, it might seem that the ten thousand Negroes who live in Athens had benefited most from the University of Georgia’s integration, since it afforded their young people the opportunity of getting a reasonably good education without leaving home—a bargain of the sort that has been responsible for the educations of thousands of Americans who happened to live in college towns. Yet there was only one Negro student from Athens at Georgia—Mary Blackwell, a small, shy Music Department freshman who was the oldest of ten children of an Athens taxi driver. In many ways, her life seemed less different from what it would have been if she were white than that of any other Negro student at Georgia. The contrast between Hamilton’s life as a football hero at Morehouse and as an alien at Georgia was obvious, but Mary Blackwell’s routine did not seem to vary greatly from that of any poor, shy college-town girl who was managing to get an education she would otherwise have missed. When I spoke to her one evening in the library of the Music Department, she said she sang in the chorus and played flute in an orchestra made up of students, faculty, and musically inclined Athenians. Although she found the general atmosphere on the campus hostile, and preferred to drive with Mattie Jo Arnold to a self-service hamburger stand for lunch rather than try a university dining hall, her life in the Music Department was not unpleasant. As a music-education major specializing in piano, she spent most of her time there, and, she said, “They seem to be used to seeing me.” Mary particularly liked the other piano students, who gathered once a week at their professor’s studio, and she had found the faculty uniformly fair and thoughtful. She laughed as she recalled the only disturbing incident that had taken place in the Music Department. “Our practice rooms are downstairs, and that was before we had Venetian blinds, so you could see right into them from the street through big windows,” she said. T used to practice from five to seven-thirty, and there’s usually nobody here then, or maybe one or two people upstairs. One night—it was a practical joke, I guess—this boy barged through the door with a scarf over his face and a toy pistol in his hand and screamed, ‘Bang, bang.’ It was just a joke, but it scared the life out of me. He almost knocked over another girl as he was running out. After that, the head of the Music Department decided that I shouldn’t be here alone, and he arranged for me to practice in the mornings between classes.”
One reason there were not more Negro students from Athens at Georgia was money. Mary’s education was being financed mainly by a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, but the opportunities for outside financing in Athens are limited, and the number of Negroes who can afford even the low in-state tuition is small. More important, practically none of the Negroes who are both willing and financially able to go to the university could get in. Charlayne and Hamilton had wanted to go to court about one boy from Atlanta who had been rejected, since they were convinced that he was qualified (because the boy himself was not enthusiastic about a court case, and Hollowell was busy defending Preston Cobb, the boy ended up at Morehouse), but nobody in Athens complained about prejudice in the rejection of three Athens Negroes who had applied for admission to the same class, because nobody in Athens pretends that the town’s Negro high school, Athens High and Industrial, could conceivably produce more than one or two students able to meet the relatively undemanding minimum requirements for admission to the University of Georgia.
I had heard that Athens High and Industrial started offering geometry only two or three years before, and when I called on the Clarke County school superintendent, Sam Wood, at the old Victorian house that the Clarke County school board uses as its headquarters, this was one of the first things I asked him about. After a quick phone call to Professor H. T. Edwards, the principal of Athens High and Industrial, Wood told me that the recent addition was advanced algebra rather than geometry. A survey of Athens education by the League of Women Voters the previous fall had, I knew, listed twenty-six courses that were still offered only at Athens High, the white high school, among them American government, physical science, trigonometry, Latin, Spanish, German, and art. The main difference between the two schools—and the reason that most Athens High seniors score between 350 and 500 on the college boards, while any Athens High and Industrial student who takes the exams usually scores less than 300—does not lie in the curriculum, however.
Since Athens has no significant Negro middle class, most Negro students start out at a cultural disadvantage relative to the white students, many of whom are children of college professors. The Negroes may also have a psychological disadvantage, in a society that offers them few job opportunities, no matter what their education, and calls their principal “Professor,” one of the titles that were originally used in the South as a way of recognizing a position without going so far as to call a Negro “Mister.” But mostly, according to Wood, the difference lies in the teaching. Athens High and Industrial, he said, had a teaching staff that was qualified “only on paper,” and, despite some in-service training programs, it was still woefully behind. Although Athens had shown more interest than most Georgia towns in improving Negro education, its Negro children remained caught in the cycle of half-educated teachers teaching students who, in turn, became half-educated teachers—an educational cycle that could only be broken by integration, whatever the social and political ramifications of that might be.
As I was leaving Wood’s office, he told me of a conversation he had recently had with Professor Edwards. “I told Professor Edwards I wasn’t taking up for segregation or anything,” he said, “but, just forgetting for a minute the sociologists and the Supreme Court and politics and all that, didn’t he think his people were better off right now—maybe not later but right now—in their own schools? I said, ‘Remember last year when I came out to your school to induct ten of your seniors into the National Honor Society? Now, just how many of those seniors do you think would have made the National Honor Society at Athens High—with that competition?’ And he said, ‘Not the first one.’ ” If the goal of education is a wider distribution of National Honor Society places, Wood had a good point, but it was probably lost on the Negro seniors who made the National Honor Society and found themselves with so little education that they could not be given a predicted average of 68 at the University of Georgia.
“If they figure the Negro kids in Atlanta are about two years behind by the time they’re seniors,” Carl Holman once remarked to me, “you can imagine how far behind the ones in the rest of the state are.” Even in Atlanta (where most of the Negro undergraduates at Georgia Tech, all of whom had been outstanding students in Atlanta Negro high schools, were having academic difficulties), the situation is not likely to change soon. The Atlanta desegregation program is based on integrating one grade a year, starting with high-school seniors and moving down, and with the Negro transfer students accepted on the basis of an elaborate pupil-placement plan that requires certain standards of intelligence, psychological fitness, and educational background. The pupil-placement plan, which nowhere mentions race, is “not on its face unconstitutional,” according to court rulings so far, and it is generally used to hold down the number of Negroes entering white schools. Some Negro leaders have no objection to gradual integration plans, provided they represent a sincere effort to break the cycle without pulling down what education there is. The Atlanta plan, however, has nothing to do with education. Instead of beginning in the first grade, where white and Negro students can make an almost equal start, and phasing in the Negro students from the bottom up, it begins in the twelfth grade—where the disparity, having been fostered by twelve years of inferior education, is strongest—and goes backward, each class finding the transition from inferior education slightly less agonizing, until, after a dozen years, the program ends up where it should have started in the first place. The advantage of such a plan, in the eyes of some politicians, is that fewer Negroes are likely to be involved in the first year or two of integration, since few seniors can meet the pupil-placement requirements. They are unqualified precisely because of the inequality that the 1954 decision was meant to correct. According to its present desegregation plan, Atlanta, which was widely praised in 1961 for its peaceful compliance with the 1954 decision, will not start a Negro student on an equal footing with whites until 1971.