ALTHOUGH Hamilton’s high-school record indicated that he was likely to have an outstanding academic career at Georgia, he was found unqualified before he went to court, and not, said the officials, because he was a Negro. Shortly before the trial in Athens federal court in December 1960, at which I first met Charlayne and Hamilton, the university registrar and director of admissions, Walter Danner, having considered the interviews with both students, wrote Charlayne that she would be considered for admission the following fall—there was no room for transfer students in her category before then—and wrote Hamilton that he had been rejected on the basis of his interview. Hamilton, the Registrar said, had been “evasive” in answering the questions put to him by the three-man panel, and had left its members in “some doubt as to his truthfulness.” As Hollowell later brought out in the trial, these were almost exactly the same reasons a special interviewing board had given eight years before for deciding that Horace Ward was unqualified to be a lawyer and should therefore be rejected by the University of Georgia Law School. (Ward had gone on to Northwestern Law School, had returned to join Hollowell’s office in Atlanta, and must have derived a good deal of satisfaction from assisting Hollowell and Mrs. Motley in the trial, not to mention escorting Hamilton into the admissions office to register a month later.) The charge of untruthfulness was based on Hamilton’s having given a negative reply to the board’s question of whether or not he had ever been arrested. The admissions office, Danner said in court, just happened to know that Hamilton had once been fined and had had his license suspended for speeding, and the office considered that an arrest.
Before the trial, Mrs. Motley and three assistants spent two weeks going through the Georgia admission files, which had been opened by court order. By comparing the treatment given Charlayne and Hamilton with that given other students, they had no difficulty in demonstrating that the whole business was a subterfuge, that the only real category the university had was white, and that the interviewers were less interested in Hamilton’s speeding ticket than in the impossibility of stalling him any longer by claiming that the dormitories were overcrowded, since university rules permitted male students to live off campus after their freshman year. The housing problem was not so acute that the university had to refrain from sending an agriculture dean to upstate New York that year to recruit students for its food-technology program. And the interview that had been considered so important in Hamilton’s case was given to some students after they were already attending the University.
The University, of course, had been double-dealing for a year and a half, and it was instructive to see the double-dealing presented as a legal defense by a state that had vowed open resistance to integration. In the effort to correct the false notion that the South has a monopoly on bigotry, the equally false notion has been created that the North has a monopoly on hypocrisy, and I had often heard it said that “in the South at least everybody knows where he stands and people are honest about it.” According to this way of thinking, the resistance promised on the campaign stump by politicians should have been continued in court by state officials. But the university officials I listened to for a week in Athens, testifying about their overcrowded dormitories and their administrative problems, sounded less like Southerners fighting a holy crusade than like Long Island real-estate brokers trying to wriggle out of an anti-discrimination law. After one has spent a few minutes listening to a desegregation trial, the reason for this shift becomes clear. It is a simple matter of law. In federal court, where the case must be tried, the issue has already been decided: segregation in the public schools is unconstitutional. The only possible defense is that segregation does not exist. When politicians say they will resist integration “by all legal means,” they can mean only that they will try to prolong litigation by any available dodge, since the issue has already been settled by all legal means. In Georgia, in 1960, a trial had to be held. It was demanded by what had evolved into a ritual of combating integration even when it was obvious that the combat would do no good.
In a state whose highest officials were declaring daily that there would be no integration, a state that had a law on the books establishing that funds would be cut off from any school that was integrated, a state whose governor had promised in his campaign that “not one, no, not one” Negro would ever attend classes with whites in Georgia, Omer Clyde Aderhold, the president of the University of Georgia, had the following exchange with the state’s own lawyer, B. D. Murphy:
MURPHY: Now I’ll ask you if, as an official of the University of Georgia for the period you have stated and as President of the University of Georgia since 1950, do you know of any policy of the University of Georgia to exclude students on account of their race or color?
ADERHOLD: No sir, I do not.
MURPHY: Do you know of any policy to discriminate against Negro applicants?
ADERHOLD: I do not.
MURPHY: Have you ever had any instructions from the Chancellor of the University System or the Chairman of the Board of Regents or anybody else to exclude Negroes as applicants to the University of Georgia?
ADERHOLD: I have not.
MURPHY: Have their applications, so far as you know, been considered on the same basis as the applications of white people?
ADERHOLD: On exactly the same basis, as far as I know.
The Chancellor of the University System, which is composed of all the public colleges and universities in the state, was Harmon W. Caldwell, a respected former president of the University of Georgia. He had sworn in the Horace Ward trial that he would recommend admission of a qualified Negro, and now he had to read in court a note he had sent to Aderhold on that subject. The note, attached to a letter requesting Caldwell to use his influence to get a white girl into the university, had been found in the admission files by one of Mrs. Motley’s assistants. It read, “I have written Howard [Howard Callaway, a member of the Board of Regents] that it is my understanding that all of the dormitories for women are filled for the coming year. I have also indicated that you relied on this fact to bar the admission of a Negro girl from Atlanta. . . .”
Although the spectacle of Aderhold and Caldwell in court was a particularly sad example of what the Ritual can lead to, it was by no means unusual. In one brief, Georgia’s lawyers denied “the existence of any policy, practice or custom of limiting admission of the University of Georgia to white persons.” Nor was this form of defense limited to higher education, where it sounded relatively plausible. Early in the case that brought about the integration of the Atlanta public schools, the defense claimed that the schools were not actually segregated; it was mere chance that resulted in there being all Negro teachers and students in some schools and all white teachers and students in others. This attitude can cause entertaining trials. At some point in every higher-education case, Mrs. Motley, who has handled practically all such cases for the Inc. Fund, always asks the university registrar what she calls “the old clincher”: Would he favor the admission of a qualified Negro to the university? The registrar, often a strong segregationist himself, has to answer yes, as Danner did during the Georgia trial, and face the newspaper stories the next day that begin, as the Atlanta Journal’s began, “The University . . . registrar has testified in Federal Court here that he favors admission of qualified Negroes to the University.”
When I mentioned this to Mrs. Motley one evening in New York before I made my return trip to Georgia, she said, “It’s not funny, really. The system is based on people getting on the stand and telling the truth. But people who talk about their respect for tradition and integrity and the Constitution get involved in one he after another. They’re willing to break down the system to keep a Negro out. In Mississippi, university officials got up on the stand and said they had never even discussed the Meredith case. They do the same kind of thing in voting cases. People are denied the right to vote not because they’re Negroes but because they didn’t dot an ‘i’ or interpret the Constitution correctly. This is one of the most serious by-products of segregation. The people get a disregard for the law. They see supposedly important people get up day after day on the stand and lie. The reason the whole thing seems funny to watch is that you spend all that time proving something everybody already knows.”
To anybody who sat through the trial in the Athens Federal Building—to the reporters, who sat in the jury box, or to the university and town people, who segregated themselves by race the first day or two, even though they were in a federal court, and gradually got used to sitting wherever there was a place—it was no surprise to read Judge Bootle’s decision that “although there is no written policy or rule excluding Negroes, including plaintiffs, from admission to the University on account of their race and color, there is a tacit policy to that effect” and that the plaintiffs “would already have been admitted had it not been for their race and color.” However, Bootle’s decision, issued one Friday afternoon in early January 1961, a month after the trial ended, did contain one surprise; it ordered the students admitted not by the following fall, as had been predicted, or for the spring quarter, beginning in March, but, if they so desired, for the winter quarter, for which registration closed the following Monday.
If the entire conspiracy against the state of Georgia had indeed stemmed from the intricate machinations of a foreign-looking man in New York, he could have picked no better place than the University of Georgia for the first confrontation, so it was ironic that this, the most cunning maneuver of all, was the result of two local accidents—the accident that the University of Georgia case got through the courts faster than the Atlanta school case, which had been filed two years earlier, and the accident that two seventeen-year-old high-school students happened to prefer the University of Georgia to Georgia State, probably because of the football team. There is no doubt that by 1961 the atmosphere in Georgia had benefited from the dismal example of other Southern states, and that the movement to keep the schools open, even with some desegregation, had spread from its normal base, consisting of housewives, to the ordinarily timid businessman. This was especially true after the Sibley Commission, a fact-finding committee created by the Georgia legislature, more or less as part of the Ritual, to gather opinion on segregation around the state, had submitted a surprising majority report urging that each community be given a choice of whether to close its schools or submit to desegregation. Still, most observers thought that if the first test came in Atlanta high schools in September 1961, as was expected, the result would be about the same as the result in New Orleans a year before. The Georgia legislature, dominated by representatives of the rural counties, might have enjoyed closing the Atlanta schools, or at least harassing them for the entertainment of the folks back home.
Closing the University of Georgia, where many of the legislators had gone to school, was a different matter. The university, ninety per cent Georgian, customarily had students from every county—no slight achievement in a state with 159 counties—and its graduates often went right back where they came from. The spell of the university was once explained to me by William Tate, its dean of men, who has been there for forty years and exchanges more affection with the university than any other man in the state. “When integration came, the university was the one institution that could weather it,” Tate said. “There came a time when the people of the state of Georgia wanted the university not to close. A lot of people in the state love the university, and the university has always been tied up to the state. We usually have people here from every county—though sometimes we fudge a little to get one from Echols County or some little bitty place like that. We also have five hundred agricultural-extension workers and home-demonstration workers spread out all over the state. Our agriculture people have borne the brunt of shifting from a cotton economy to diversified farming. Ernest Vandiver, the last governor, was a graduate of the university. Carl Sanders, the present governor, is a graduate of the university. Both United States senators—Talmadge and Russell—are graduates of the university. Herman Talmadge’s son is here and he is the fourth generation of Talmadges to attend the university. Richard Russell went here; his father was a trustee; his uncle was here. Why, he was the fourth Richard B. Russell here. I went down to speak in Greenville not long ago, and nine graduates came to hear me speak. Nine graduates right there in Meriwether County. It’s not that way with Tech. The engineers don’t drift back to these little old counties. There’s not a soul in Meriwether County who gives a damn what happens to Tech. When this thing happened I bet a lot of folks said, ‘Hell, I get griped up a lot with that university. The students don’t behave so well. I don’t like the football. But it’s a pretty good old university. It’s helped us. They’ve done the best they can. They got their feet on the ground. And my granddaddy went there. I’ll help them out.’ ”
If, by chance, there was a politician in Georgia at the time who thought Dean Tate’s interpretation was overly sentimental, he could look at the record. The only political defeat of Eugene Talmadge, a Georgia graduate and one of the South’s most adroit demagogues, came when he meddled with the university. That was in 1941, when the Board of Regents refused to fire a dean whom Governor Talmadge suspected of integrationist sympathies. Talmadge installed a new Board of Regents, which fired the dean, but a good number of angry teachers left as well, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools suspended the accreditation of the entire University System because of the political interference. In the next campaign, fought largely on the education issue, Talmadge could not shout about race loud enough to avoid an overwhelming defeat by Ellis Arnall, a liberal. Accreditation was restored, and a simple lesson was learned—that the voters of Georgia cared more for their university than their segregation.
Although, as it was later revealed, Governor Vandiver had advisers who thought he should make the gesture of going to jail before permitting the university to admit Charlayne and Hamilton (he had, after all, promised “not one, no, not one”) there was never much doubt about what the governor would do or how the legislature, then gathering for its annual session in Atlanta, would react. On the day that Charlayne and Hamilton registered, Vandiver finally announced that he would have to cut off the university’s funds, because the law required him to, but that he would ask the legislature to change the law. (The university planned to declare a five-day “holiday” while this was being arranged.) He must have been thankful that Judge Bootle enjoined him the next day from using the law, at least providing Vandiver with the opportunity to rail against the tyrannical federal judiciary for doing something he would otherwise have had to do himself. Later, Vandiver offered the legislature his alternative to all-out resistance: repeal of the segregation laws, and the passage of a new group of laws, built around a state tuition grant to parents who wanted to send their children to private schools rather than to integrated public schools. According to the Ritual, Vandiver could not call this retreat a retreat. He called it, instead, “the child-protection freedom-of-association defense package.” It passed easily.
When I returned to Atlanta two and a half years later, I was curious about the outcome of all the legislative and judicial activity that had gone on during the integration. I noticed in back issues of the Atlanta Constitution that B. D. Murphy, Georgia’s chief counsel at the Athens trial, eventually presented a bill to the state for $14,500, plus $248 in expenses. The total bill for outside counsel for the Georgia trial, exclusive of the expenses of the Georgia attorney general’s office, was something over $25,000.
“The state got off cheap,” an enlightened lawyer, wise in the ways of Georgia politics, told me during my visit. “It’s just a matter of who loses gracefully, of course. But this way the issue is settled. They got the best lawyer they thought they could get, he lost, and nobody can say the case was thrown or that the state should have had more lawyers or that somebody else might have won. Why, we fought election campaigns on that very issue after the decision outlawing the white primary. I don’t begrudge them the twenty-five thousand.”
Governor Vandiver’s “child-protection freedom-of-association defense package” turned out to be an even costlier form of the Ritual. The tuition-grant law—“the basis of our defense,” according to the governor—could not mention segregation without being thrown out by the courts; it therefore merely provided grants enabling any child to attend an approved private school. But, as it happened, not everybody in Georgia was willing to go along with the game. A number of citizens took the law at its word and claimed the grant it provided them, even though they did not live in an integrated school district, and even though, in most cases, their children were in private schools anyway. The week I arrived in Atlanta, the Constitution printed the names of 1200 Georgians who had received tuition grants for the 1962-1963 school year—the first year they were available. The Constitution pointed out that eighty-three per cent of the people had had their children enrolled in private schools before the law was passed. Among those listed were hundreds of people outside Atlanta, which had the only integrated schools in the state; a Negro educator in Atlanta, who was sending his children North to prep school; and, one suspects, dozens of smiling integrationists. The Constitution soberly printed letters from outraged citizens who pointed out that the total cost of the tuition grants, $215,000, was a lot of money to be handed out by a state that regularly ranks among the last in the country on money spent for public education. The legislature, equally alarmed, changed the law so that a parent could apply for a tuition grant only if the school board and the county authority of his district had agreed that a “need” existed in the district. Even then, the request would have to go through the local board, and the grant had to be paid partially from local funds. “We expect this will cut this business down to nothing,” a legislative assistant at the Capitol told me. That seemed to be the ideal arrangement for a law that was part of the Ritual; it would remain on the books for all to see but it could not be used enough to become expensive or embarrassing.
I also discovered, to my surprise, that Georgia still maintains a program of grants to Negro students who go outside the state to study subjects offered at one of the “white” institutions in the Georgia University System but not at one of the colleges it provides for Negroes. The out-of-state aid program was originated to give some semblance of “separate but equal” to a system that offered whites two large universities, a medical school, and a dozen other colleges across the state and offered Negroes three liberal-arts colleges that were once summed up easily by Tup Holmes as “a joke.” Although Negroes can now legally attend any college in the system, the out-of-state aid program remains, perhaps to hold down the attendance of Negroes at colleges still considered white. (Charlayne could have received aid for studying journalism out of the state during her last two years in college.) The students annually receive the difference between the tuition they pay outside the state and what they would pay at a Georgia college, plus the equivalent of one round-trip railway coach ticket and a room-and-board supplement of $2.78 a week. The records for the 1961-1962 school year, which were the last available, showed that 1425 students were given out-of-state aid for study in thirty-four major fields at eighty-one institutions. Of these students, nine hundred and twenty-five were majoring in education. The total cost in 1961-1962 was $236,124.73, and the estimate for the next school year was about the same. In the 1962-1963 school year, then, Georgia, through tuition grants and out-of-state aid, was spending between $400,000 and $450,000 for the ritualistic protection of a custom that had already been violated. That was in addition to the cost of maintaining two separate school systems.