Fifty years after helping to desegregate UGA, Charlayne Hunter-Gault said that the greatest challenge in the years ahead is “overcoming ignorance and intolerance.”
“I am here today to say let the conversation begin-let it begin about ignorance and its wicked companion intolerance. Let it begin during these 50 days of commemoration,” she said Jan. 10 at the 50th Anniversary Lecture held in Mahler Auditorium of the Georgia Center for Continuing Education Conference Center and Hotel.
Her speech was given 50 years and one day after she, then 19, and the late Hamilton Holmes arrived on campus to a crowd of students protesting integration.
Her speech ranged from recounting her time on campus to thanking the kind people who made her admission to UGA possible and then made her feel welcome on campus. It ranged from cheering on the Dawgs to singing a few bars of the songs that helped her keep the faith to a tearful moment when she said that “Hamp” (Hamilton Holmes) is always with her.
“While some of the events during those early days 50 years ago might have caused my dream to turn into a nightmare, I am here today having fulfilled my dreams beyond even my wildest expectations because good people did the right thing-in the past and in that challenging present,” she said.
Hunter-Gault also spoke about the role of television media and her concerns that racist rhetoric still fills the airwaves.
She spoke of the increased diversity at UGA but noted that the university’s current African-American student enrollment percentage does not mirror the state’s population.
“It would appear we have done well, but that we can do better and in the end be best,” she said.
Hunter-Gault was introduced by Josh Delaney, president of the Student Government Association. Delaney thanked her for her contribution to his education and said that her actions paved the way for a student population he called “more diverse and globalized than ever.”
“My UGA story starts in 1961. And today I am blessed to count among my closest friends, students of all races, backgrounds and creeds,” he said.
UGA President Michael F. Adams said that UGA is a stronger, more diverse place because of what Holmes and Hunter-Gault did 50 years ago.
“What Hamilton and Charlayne started here 50 years ago continues and expands, and we all grow and mature together as we work to be truly emblematic of service to this state and region,” he said.