HAROLD BLACK had originally gone to the First Presbyterian Church with some of his friends after a Sunday-morning Bible class at Westminster House, where he was a regular participant in its Disciplined Study Community morning meetings, its Wednesday-night seminars, its Sunday-evening supper programs, and just about anything else that was going on. In the first months of the university’s integration, Westminster House had been the headquarters for the Students for Constructive Action and the scene of a lot of discussion about race relations, and Corky King, its minister during the first year and a half Charlayne and Hamilton were at Georgia, had on occasion become personally involved in the integration—accompanying Mary Frances Early to the dining hall after somebody had thrown a lemon at her, having Hamilton to dinner every Tuesday when he became dejected during his second spring at Georgia. On my second visit, I found that the Westminster House seminars and study groups still provided about the only outlet for students who wanted to go deeper than fraternity-house conversations, and that Westminster was still the only place where a Negro was accepted without question.
Westminster House is a big red-brick building not far up the street from Center Myers and the Continuing Education Center. The first time I went there looking for Harold Black—I failed to find him, either in any of the seminar rooms or in the bright, spacious living room—I had a talk with its minister, the Reverend Roland Perdue, in order to find out how a Presbyterian society had happened to become the center of dissent at Georgia. Perdue is a friendly, muscular Atlantan who was an all-Atlantic Coast Conference tackle in 1954, when he captained the University of North Carolina football team. He said that Westminster had acquired its unusual role on campus mainly through his predecessors. The pastor who preceded Corky King was an outspoken liberal, and King was so active that in 1962, when he was encouraged to leave by the board—consisting of thirteen Athens and university Presbyterians—that watches over Westminster House, he was generally considered to be the only job casualty of Georgia’s integration. But the board had hired King knowing perfectly well that he was just about as outspoken as his predecessor, and, instead of finding a champion of caution to replace him, it had hired Perdue, who, when they asked him, said he did not believe in segregation. An influential Presbyterian in Athens later told me that the board, which was not entirely above suspicion itself among conservative Presbyterians, had no real objection to King’s opinions but preferred a pastor who, unlike King, had had some experience with a congregation as well as with students and who tended to start at theology and end up at social problems rather than working the other way around. Also, my informant acknowledged, the board might have thought that Perdue was a bit more moderate than he was.
Perdue could be called a moderate if so many Southern businessmen, editors, and ministers had not used the word to mean not taking any stand at all. Although he believed that segregation was wrong, he had come to Georgia, he told me, as pastor to all the students rather than as a crusader, and he had not sought out Harold Black. But when Harold sought out Westminster, he was accepted as an unquestioned part of the group and became a good friend of Perdue. The Georgia Westminster House had declined to attend a state conference of college Presbyterian groups held in segregated facilities in Covington, but, as Perdue had pointed out in a letter to the conference director, “not because the place is segregated but because we can not all freely go as a group.” The distinction, Perdue thought, was important for a group that had gone beyond talking about Negroes to include one. “I think Harold is a lot less nervous than he was,” Perdue said. “It’s kind of a dead issue here. We often forget he’s a Negro, and only realize it when we want to go to the theater as part of the program, and realize we can’t. I hope the time will come, of course, when Harold won’t need Westminster as much as he needs it now. But until it does, we’re here for the students. We don’t have a sign out saying, ‘Everybody welcome, especially Negroes.’ But everybody is welcome.”
It seemed obvious that if Corky King and his predecessor had not talked sympathetically about Negroes, none of the students frequenting Westminster House would have been likely to bring one along with him. But now, thanks to the two earlier pastors and Perdue, Westminster appeared to be the one place at Georgia that had gone from conscious acceptance to near normality—to the point where it seemed almost natural for Harold to go with the other students to the First Presbyterian Church one Sunday after Bible class. It may have seemed almost natural to the students at Westminster House, that is. To the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church, the oldest church in Athens, it could not have seemed natural at all. At Perdue’s suggestion I went to see the minister there, the Reverend William Adams, to find out how his congregation had reacted.
The First Presbyterian Church, which is known in Athens as First Church, was founded by Moses Waddell, an early non-Yale president of the university, in 1820. It is an impressive granite fortress on Hancock Avenue, next door to the Federal Building where some of its members—among them Walter Danner, who is an elder as well as a registrar—had testified in the trial to desegregate the university. I met Adams, a young man from South Carolina, in his office late that afternoon. He told me that during the brief wave of kneel-ins two or three years before, many white churches in the South had decided what their policy would be if Negroes came to pray with them. The Session, or board of elders, of First Church had decided that all visitors would be seated as space allowed, and the policy had been reaffirmed the previous autumn when Harold Black began to go to Westminster House and the possibility of his attending First Church occurred to Adams.
“We haven’t checked on this, but I think we’re the first church in the deep South to have a Negro worship with whites on a continuing basis,” Adams said. “It’s strange. The people thought it would come one Sunday with no warning, when a Cadillac with New York license plates would roll up and eight people would get out and say, ‘We demand that you seat us.’ They were relieved when it didn’t happen that way, but now they say, ‘Why couldn’t we have had a kneel-in and had it over with?’ Nobody got up and left conspicuously the first day, though some people in the back may have. We did have that happen with one family the second time he came. Some people don’t come on the Sundays he’s here. We have had people get as far as the vestibule and realize he was here and turn away. I don’t think any remarks have been made to him. The real antagonism has been toward the students who brought him—some of them sons of our members. People used to complain that the students didn’t come to church, and wonder how we could attract them. Now they’re complaining that the students take all the seats. There was a lot of pressure to change the policy. Some people wanted to set aside a special place for him. But the policy was there and the Session has stuck by it. We’ve avoided a congregational meeting so far, and our attendance is about the same. What will happen during the building-fund campaign we’ve just started for a church addition I don’t know. I get the normal abusive letters and phone calls. Or I suppose it’s normal—I’ll never look at it that way.” He showed me an unsigned letter about the perils of intermarriage; it was written on the program of the previous Sunday’s service. It surprised me that some members of First Church—all of whom appeared relatively enlightened, well brought up and publicly Christian—should be so strongly opposed to a Negro’s attending services that they would write abusive letters to their own minister. “A majority of the people have accepted it but are not happy about it,” said Adams. “Only a small percentage of the people believe that this is good or right. I’m only the eighth minister First Church has had, in a hundred and forty-three years. It wouldn’t be easy to bring any strange element into this church. The people here tend to think in terms of what’s coming next. Who else will come? Will there be a Negro member? Each step will present more complications. I did think they were making an adjustment, but last Sunday, when Harold sat next to a white girl from Westminster for the first time, it all started up again. By and large, though, I’m proud of our church and proud of our people. Even those who have argued in the Session against letting Harold come here have done so on the basis that it will hurt the church—that we’ll lose donations, for instance. It’s an argument among people whose first concern is for the church. Of course, the whole purpose of the church is to get people to come. But this thing is something we haven’t looked for. We’ve been caught, and it hasn’t been easy. Still, everybody in the South is going to get caught sooner or later, and maybe they’ll be able to see from our experience that things can be worked out.”
The other Negro students I had talked with disagreed about just how much trouble Harold Black was having as the first Negro in a men’s dormitory, but they were unanimous in declaring that he would be the last one to admit that anything was bothering him. “That Harold is some boy,” I was told by Mattie Jo Arnold, the Negro graduate student in the Music Department, who often gave him a ride back to Atlanta on week ends. “He and Charlayne are more forward than the rest of us. Charlayne has formed her own friends on campus; they eat together and study together. And so has Harold. I think it’s a matter of personality. And I think it’s fine. Somebody should go there and show them—well, that we’re okay. But that Harold has his own ways, there’s no doubt about that. One thing, when somebody is giving him trouble, Harold will wait until the guy is with some of his own crowd and then give him a big hello. It just embarrasses the guy to pieces. I used to think Harold was conceited—well, he is—but now that I’ve got to know him, I think he’s real swinging.”
I finally caught up with Harold Black, and, as everybody had predicted, it was at Westminster House, where he was studying. He turned out to be a tall, thin boy with very thick hair and a mustache. Roland Perdue lent us his office to talk in, and I asked Harold why he had insisted on living in the dormitory and which of the many accounts of his life there was accurate.
“I had to find out for myself,” he said. “I figured I could always move out, but it would be hard to move in. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I’m real pleased with it. Hamp’s said a number of times he’s lonely for friends. I’m not lonely for friends. Plenty of times, people ask me, ‘Is Hamilton Holmes still at Georgia?’ Not one of my friends has ever seen him. You can’t find people who’re going to go clear over to his neighborhood and say, ‘Come over to the room.’ Hamilton and I are different people, and I have a lot of respect for him, but I have to do this my own way. Of course, Hamp probably couldn’t have done it my way, being the first, but the dorm is the best thing that’s happened to me in this university. I came to this place with one of my friends from the dorm. I’ve met every one of my best friends in the dorm. We sit around each other’s room and play chess and bridge—I’m teaching them another game, bid-whist—and sometimes they say, ‘Hey, Harold, let’s go down to the Old South for a couple of beers,’ or, ‘Hey, Harold, let’s go to the movies.’ We have some jokes, but you know they’re your friends because they meet some opposition for knowing you, so they have to be your friends. These are my friends. I know them and I trust them, and they trust me. The main thing about the girls is that they’re isolated in a room all by themselves. Down there, they might as well be living off campus. If they put them up there with the rest of the girls, things would be different. They might get a little opposition from some of the girls, but they would make friends, too.”
Harold smiled when he talked about “opposition”—his word for the harassment he had had to put up with in the dormitory. He seemed to treat the trouble as a game between pals trying to outwit each other, and seemed to enjoy telling the stories, often ending them on a humorous note. “There are pranks,” he admitted. “I won’t deny that. For instance, they put chewing gum in my lock. But now I’m prepared.” He pulled a nail file and an eye dropper out of his pocket. “I always carry these. One or the other will take care of anything they put in there. I either dig it out with the file or melt it with hot water. So it takes me another thirty seconds to get in my room—I don’t mind. We had a little trouble with the vent. They used to drop firecrackers through it. Of course, I’m a very heavy sleeper, and sometimes I didn’t even wake up; I moved my bed away from the door right away. Once, they strapped a cherry bomb to the vent and blew it out completely. The proctor came and woke me up, and I asked him what was the matter. He said, ‘The vent,’ and I said, ‘What vent?’ He said that was the point. But really, it wasn’t that bad. I figured what could they think of next. And they thought of a few things. They were pretty ingenious. One day, my room was almost flooded; they had put a balloon full of water through the vent.” As he talked, Harold seemed to find flooding even more entertaining than the cherry bomb. “I thought all that stuff was funny,” he went on. “And it wasn’t only me. Like, I had three windows broken out, but the first one was in the winter quarter, not the fall, and a proctor down the hall had every window broken. If somebody upstairs had a window broken, I didn’t think they were probably aiming for mine and missed. Nobody could miss one of those big windows. They used to write on the door, but usually the janitor would wipe it off before I saw it, or one of my friends would wipe it off. We did have some trouble with that vent. Somebody scratched ‘Nigger Nest’ on it. But, you know, I’m glad they did. This way, it’s there, and after the first couple of days nobody even noticed it any more. It’s better than worrying every time if something is there. The dorm’s okay. The only thing is—the next Negro boy in there, they ought to give him a roommate. He ought to have somebody in there to talk to.
“I don’t get much opposition on the campus. I eat at Memorial Hall, and they look up and look back down. Tonight, when I went in with my brother Charles, who’s visiting me from Purdue, they kept looking. They thought, ‘My God, he’s got a roommate!’ Plenty of times, when I’m with my friends, if somebody says something, we’ll go over there and see what they want. Plenty of times, I’ll say something back. I don’t believe in turning the other cheek. I’ve been to two pep rallies. I went to the intersquad game. I went to the freshman football game—at night. I cheered for our team. I didn’t stand up when they played ‘Dixie,’ of course. I got a little opposition for that, but most people thought it was funny. I play clarinet in the Air Force R.O.T.C. band, and if I join the Dixie Red Coats, the school band, I’ll have to play ‘Dixie.’ I don’t care; let them have their fun. Once, Mattie Jo Arnold said, ‘That’s good. You’re taking one more step.’ But I can’t swallow that. What I’m doing is just floating along naturally with my friends. Now the church, that was a step—and the first couple of times after Sunday school here when they asked me to go, I said to myself, ‘No, Harold, that’s off campus. They might think you’re crusading.’ But finally I decided my friends wanted me to go and I wanted to go, so we went. But I don’t consider the rest of this a step.”
Harold, like Charlayne, disliked admitting that anything he did at Georgia, including his decision to come in the first place, had any connection with the Cause. He said, at one point, “Maybe being brought up with the thought, ‘We pay taxes, too, and we can’t go down there and that’s not right’ might have had some influence.” But he preferred to talk about academic challenge and financial advantages. Like all the other Negro students, he particularly resented the belief, held by so many of the people around him, that he was at Georgia as somebody else’s tool, incapable of making up his own mind about where he wanted to go to college.
“A lot of the attention is gone,” Harold said. “You’re the first person who has ever interviewed me. People in Atlanta, boys I went to high school with, still ask me where I’m going to school. My preacher in Atlanta, Sam Williams, was president of the N.A.A.C.P. branch last year, and one Sunday this fall he said, ‘Well, haven’t you gone to college yet, Harold?’ And I said I was going the next week. He said, ‘Where are you going?’ I told him the University of Georgia, and he almost fell over.”
One afternoon I arranged to have a talk with “the girls,” Kerry Rushin and Alice Henderson, and when we met, I was impressed, as I had been before, at how small they were. They both looked too young to be involved in anything like being among the first Negroes at the University of Georgia—too young, really, even to be in college. We met at the Continuing Education Center, and, suddenly finding myself in what must have been a familiar situation to them, I suggested that we seek the sanctuary of Westminster House, the one place on campus where I knew we would not be stared at as we talked.
Alice had occasionally attended a Sunday-evening program there with Harold Black, but it was Kerry’s first visit to Westminster. From having heard them nearly always spoken of together, and watching them break into each other’s sentences to finish relating a common experience, I thought of them at first as looking alike. Then I saw that Kerry had a round face and a cheery look, while Alice, who was light-skinned and very thin, had a long, sad face, which always seemed to reflect thoughts of some vague misfortune. They explained to me that much of their isolation had to do with the lack of a base. Harold had his dormitory; Charlayne was in a small school, where people had a chance to get used to her. But both Kerry and Alice, who, like Harold, had been outstanding students in their high schools in Atlanta, were planning to major in zoology, and they wandered in and out of the same large, impersonal classes that Hamilton did, returning to the dormitory—or, occasionally, to the library—to study, and eating at the dining hall either alone or with each other. They were not close to Charlayne, although they shared the same suite; she had little more in common with them than with any other freshmen. All in all, they seemed the most isolated of the Negro students. In some ways, they were treated more naturally than the first students, but what little improvement they had noticed in their reception by other students was, they believed, not lasting. “What we went through, the next Negroes who come will have to go through the same thing,” Alice said.
Since the number of invidious remarks directed at the Negro students on the campus was in almost precisely inverse proportion to the students’ size, Kerry and Alice heard the most.
“A lot of times, people make remarks in the dining-hall lines,” Alice said. “Like, ‘I thought I smelled something,’ or ‘I’m not standing in front of a nigger.’ ”
“There’s a difference between us in how much we hear,” Kerry interjected, smiling. “Alice hears some things that I don’t.”
“There’s, say, five a day I hear,” Alice said. “Sometimes I don’t hear them, but a lot of times it’s pretty obvious.”
I asked if they thought the situation would always remain the same.
“Until one of us makes an attempt to enter some social activity, it will be the same,” Alice said. “Take Harold, for instance. He’s in the R.O.T.C. and the R.O.T.C. band. It’s a small step, but it’s a step. It’s up to us to try to enter everything that we have an opportunity to enter, and that we want to do. You come back in a couple of years. Everything won’t be perfect, but we’ll have integrated more activities, Harold and us. I think we have to. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be any use in our being here, the way I look at it.”