ATHENS, Ga. – When Horace T. Ward, the first African American to apply for admission to the University of Georgia, was denied entry to the university’s law school in 1950, he filed suit in federal district court contending racial discrimination. After seven years, with the case having been dismissed, the young man began and completed his legal education elsewhere.
It would not be long before Ward returned to Georgia to practice law, and in 1961 he helped Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter become the first African-American students to gain admission to the university that had denied him more than a decade earlier.
Ward, who went on to a distinguished career as a state senator and federal judge, will return to UGA to deliver a lecture named in honor of those first two African-American students. On Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 2 p.m. in the Chapel, Ward will give the 18th annual Holmes-Hunter Lecture. The event is free and open to the public.
The Holmes-Hunter Lecture was established in 1985 and focuses on race relations, black history or aspects of higher education with implications for race relations. Past lecturers have included Andrew Young, Cynthia Tucker, Vernon Jordan and Jesse Jackson.
Ward was born and reared in LaGrange, where he graduated from East Depot High School as valedictorian. He went on to receive a B.A. from Morehouse College, an M.A. from Atlanta University and a J.D. from the Northwestern University School of Law.
In September 1950, Ward became the first African American to seek admission to UGA when he applied to the law school. Upon being denied admission, Ward and the NAACP brought a lawsuit against the university. The case finally reached trial in 1957 only to be dismissed on technical grounds. Three years later, Ward returned to Georgia with a law degree from Northwestern and joined with Donald L. Hollowell and Constance Baker Motley to bring the Holmes-Hunter case to trial in 1961.
>From 1960 to 1974, Ward and his law partners in the firm of Hollowell, Ward, Moore & Alexander handled several significant civil rights cases throughout Georgia, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s case in DeKalb County.
In 1964, Ward was elected to the Georgia Senate, the second African American since Reconstruction. He was re-elected to four terms and was appointed to several key committees. In 1974, then-governor Jimmy Carter (with whom Ward had served in the state senate) appointed Ward to Civil Court of Fulton County, making him the first African-American trial court judge in Georgia.
Gov. George Busbee elevated Ward to Fulton County Superior Court judge in 1977, and two years later Ward was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the North District by President Jimmy Carter. As a federal judge, Ward presided over many significant criminal and civil cases, including another case involving UGA – Kemp v. Ervin and Trotter. Ward continues to serve the court as a senior judge.
“Horace T. Ward’s long, hard struggle to enter the University of Georgia School of Law, though unsuccessful, played a pivotal role in the desegregation of the University of Georgia,” said Maurice C. Daniels, a UGA associate professor and director of the master’s in social work program. Daniels is author of Horace T. Ward: Desegregation of the University of Georgia, Civil Rights Advocacy, and Jurisprudence (Clark Atlanta University Press), a documentation of Ward’s efforts to gain admission to UGA. Daniels also served as executive producer and senior researcher on “Foot Soldier for Equal Justice, Parts I and II,” award-winning documentaries that explore Ward’s story, the history of desegregation at UGA and the NAACP’s success at challenging segregation in higher education.
“Judge Horace T. Ward is undoubtedly one of the unsung heroes of Georgia’s civil rights struggle,” added Robert Pratt, an associate professor of history at UGA, and author of the book We Shall Not Be Moved (UGA Press), which chronicles the desegregation of the university. “His determination, perseverance and his later career achievements – all in the face of overwhelming adversity – speaks volumes about his humanity and his willingness to forgive. Here is a man who has every reason to be bitter about the way state and university officials treated him, but he has risen above it. His life should be an inspiration for all of us.”
Holmes and Hunter enrolled at UGA in 1961 and graduated in 1963. Holmes, who passed away in 1995, was the first African-American student admitted to Emory University’s School of Medicine. He became an orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta and was associate dean of the Emory University School of Medicine and chairman of the orthopedic unit of Grady Memorial Hospital. In 1983, he became the first African-American trustee for the UGA Foundation.
Hunter (now Hunter-Gault) wrote for The New York Times before joining PBS’s “MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour,” a program with which she was long affiliated. Following an assignment as chief Africa correspondent for National Public Radio, she accepted her current position as CNN International bureau chief in Johannesburg. Her numerous honors include two Peabody Awards for her coverage of Africa. Her memoir, In My Place, was published in 1992. In 2000, Hunter-Gault delivered the Holmes-Hunter Lecture during UGA’s commemoration of the 40th anniversary of desegregation; Ward was in the audience along with Hollowell and Motley. During the commemoration, the Academic Building where she and Holmes registered for classes was renamed the Holmes-Hunter Academic Building.