ON June 1, 1963, Charlayne and Hamilton received their degrees from the University of Georgia and, for a day or two, became Student Heroes again. A picture of them in their academic caps and gowns was widely published, and a television network flew them to New York so they could discuss their experiences at Georgia on an afternoon television show.
Three months later, just after Labor Day week end, Charlayne was back in the news, more famous—or, in her terms, less obscure—than ever. She acknowledged the truth of a rumor that had been circulating in Atlanta throughout the summer—that she and Walter Stovall III, the white journalism student with whom she had often been seen riding around the campus and eating lunch at the Continuing Education Center during her last quarter at Georgia, had been secretly married that spring. Stovall, a soft-spoken twenty-five-year-old Army veteran, was the son of a well-to-do chicken-feed manufacturer and prominent citizen of Douglas, a town of about nine thousand in south Georgia. The marriage had been kept secret until he finished a summer job in Atlanta and joined Charlayne in New York.
Roy Wilkins, the executive secretary of the N.A.A.C.P., told a television reporter, “I expect the opposition, being what it is, to try to ride it high, wide, and handsome. They’ll say, ‘This proves our point.’ But, of course, we don’t think it does prove the point. There will be a certain number of intermarriages. Let’s face it. But of all the tens of thousands of Negroes that have gone to college in the north, east, and west over all these years, the percentage of intermarriage has been infinitesimal.” The loudest reaction in Georgia came, as predicted, from the extreme racists. A restaurant keeper who regularly buys space in the Atlanta Constitution to advertise fried chicken and racial purity said, “I Told You So,” in precisely those words, and Roy Harris, the university regent who had objected most vigorously to the integration, decried the marriage throughout most of two issues of the Augusta Courier, a small paper he publishes to air his views. Although the governor of Georgia commented, when asked, that the marriage was a disgrace, there seemed to be remarkably few public statements from Southern politicians. The attorney general of Georgia, noting that Georgia (like twenty other states) has a law against miscegenation, launched a brief but noisy investigation, and the president of the University of Georgia, O. C. Aderhold, appearing almost as shocked as he had been when Mrs. Motley suggested in court that the university had discriminated against Negro applicants, promised that neither Charlayne nor her husband would be allowed to return to the campus. (Stovall lacked a few credits for his degree, but he had no plans to return. Charlayne, of course, had already been graduated; she was working in New York and was expecting a baby.)
Most of the news stories in the North concentrated on how much damage an interracial marriage involving one of the Student Heroes might do to the Cause, which in these instances is usually spoken of as solely a public-relations campaign rather than an attempt to redress legal wrongs. One or two conservative Washington columnists stated flatly that fear of intermarriage was the principal cause of Southern white resistance to integration and implied that the resistance was now bound to stiffen. Others argued that the Cause would benefit in the long run by the issue of intermarriage being brought out in the open, and that the reality of what was often referred to as “the specter of intermarriage”—a reality that turned out to be one nice-looking, respectable white boy and one nice-looking, respectable Negro girl getting married—must have seemed to Southern whites much less horrible than the visions that had been conjured up by the phrase over the years. Many Negroes and white liberals discussed the marriage more or less as they would have discussed the marriage of the Duke of Windsor; they regretted that it had happened and wondered whether or not Charlayne should have given it up for the Cause. Pointing out the sacrifices that Charlayne had made previously, the Atlanta Inquirer, her old paper, asked, “Did Charlayne, because of the key role she accepted from history, have a special obligation or responsibility to make additional personal sacrifices?” The Inquirer could find no answer, only a personal decision: “Charlayne simply did not elect additional personal sacrifice.”
Charlayne herself was interested to note how few of the people she had told of the marriage during the summer had bothered to wish her happiness before beginning an analysis of how the Cause would be affected. And the day after the marriage was revealed, her answer to the questions of television reporters on the subject reflected the attitude that had been building for two and a half years. “This is a personal thing,” Charlayne said, “and my personal life should not have anything to do with that which affects the masses of people. And so I can’t be too terribly concerned about that, because I have my own life to live.”
There had been other, less publicized developments at the University of Georgia after I returned to New York. For one thing, it turned out that the Reverend William Adams, the minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Athens, had spoken too soon when he told me that Harold Black’s integration into First Church might serve as a demonstration to others in the South “that things can be worked out.” A few weeks after our conversation, Adams met with Harold Black and, explaining that First Church would continue to seat all visitors, outlined to Harold the possibility of violence and the damage to the church that might be caused by his continued attendance. Harold decided not to return. When I phoned Adams from New York, he told me that pressure had increased since the Sunday Harold sat next to the white girl and the Sunday, a couple of weeks later, when he brought one of the Negro freshman girls with him. Harold had not been forbidden to come, Adams emphasized, and might return in the fall. “I think we did pretty well, considering all things,” he said. “We’ve managed to maintain the official church policy of everybody being welcome. I think we’ll do better next time.” Some later news from Athens reflected movement in the other direction; in the fall of 1963, the Clarke County school board voluntarily and peacefully began the desegregation of the Athens public schools.
At about the same time that I spoke to Adams, I received a letter from Dean William Tate announcing that Hamilton had been elected to Phi Beta Kappa and sending along a form letter that Tate, as secretary of the Georgia Phi Beta Kappa chapter, had sent to Hamilton. It said, in part, “I am authorized by a ballot of the society to extend to you membership because of your scholastic record here, because your course was interpreted by the Elections Committee as generally liberal in nature, and because your activities and conduct here have been above criticism.” Tate had enclosed the letter because it was mentioned in a column by Eugene Patterson, the editor of the Atlanta Constitution. Patterson’s column, which was also enclosed, began “Dean Bill Tate literally fought Hamilton Holmes’ way into the University of Georgia. . . . Now, three years later, the dean had written Holmes a letter informing him that he, the first Negro boy admitted to a white Georgia school, has been elected to Phi Beta Kappa.” Patterson continued, “James Meredith has had academic troubles at Ole Miss. Four of the six Negroes at Georgia Tech are struggling to stave off failure. The few Southerners who might be unfeeling enough to try to use this to prove a point for school segregation are simply missing the point of desegregation. This is a land of the lone man, the individual. Americans aren’t weighed in bulk. They are measured singly. Their rights include the right to fail. But when desegregation gives one single American the right to succeed, whereas segregation of his whole race would have hobbled him, the point of individual rights, and the worth of the U.S. Constitution, is proved.”
On June 6, five days after he had gone to Athens to see his grandson graduate Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Georgia, Dr. Hamilton Mayo Holmes passed a milestone of his own. It occurred on the Macon public golf course, which had been peacefully desegregated two years before, without even the help of a lawsuit or a member of the Holmes family. Playing in a foursome that included Oliver Wendell Holmes, who told me the story, Dr. Holmes, by that time seventy-nine years old, finished the course with a score of exactly seventy-nine—and finally, after twenty-nine years of trying, shot his age.