Hunter-Gault reflects on challenges of the past and future

Posted on January 10, 2011 By Drew Hooks

Fifty years ago when Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes walked on the University’s campus, they were greeted by angry crowds of white students. On Monday, Charlayne Hunter-Gault was greeted with a standing ovation after a generous introduction by University President Michael Adams and Student Government Association President Josh Delaney.

Hunter-Gault, one of the first two black students to attend the University, was invited to give a lecture as a part of the University’s celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Desegregation. She received a degree in journalism from the Grady College and went on to pursue her career by working for publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times and National Public Radio, Public Broadcasting Service.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” Hunter-Gault said. “I am here because of people who did the right thing.”

Hunter-Gault spoke about the giants of the past who paved the way for desegregation and the furtherance of freedom in not only the South but also South Africa, China and numerous other nations throughout the world.

She said citizens must look into the past and learn from the people before us who have fought for freedom.

Hunter-Gault recounted how lawyers and business leaders in Georgia helped her attend the University; how Dean William Tate’s magnanimous presence when she and Holmes walked onto campus made her feel safe; the importance of tea engagements with faculty members and neighbors whose hospitality reminded her she was human; and the white students who faced criticism from their peers for being her friends.

“They inspire me to keep on keeping on,” she said.

She acknowledged that even though the US has made advancements in alleviating racial discrimination, there are many problems in the future which must be faced.

Despite Barack Obama being elected president, she said, “his victory is yet to be America’s victory.”

She said blacks are pessimistic about the future because they have been the hardest hit during the recession, and whites feel threatened and cheated out of jobs because of affirmative action and the immigrant population.

“Our greatest challenge in the years ahead is overcoming ignorance and intolerance,” she said. “Fifty years ago was a triumph over ignorance and it happened right here at UGA.”

She encouraged the attendees to advance the cause of educating and breaking intolerance and to remember they are not alone.

“You have our shoulders to stand on as you build up yours for the next generation. Hamilton and I are right here,” she said. “I will look to you for the answers in the future, and maybe after 50 years when we reconvene, I will be somewhere taking notes.”

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