Class of 1966
When Harold Black first came to UGA in 1962, he was the only black male student to live in a residence hall.
By the time he left in 1966, he had to introduce himself to a group of black students he saw at the library. What happened in between, he said, was nearly a revolution.
“I had never spoken to a white person in my life until I went to Georgia,” Black said from his office at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he is the James F. Smith Jr. Professor of Financial Institutions. “I had all sorts of misconceptions about whites and white culture. Obviously, whites had a lot of misconceptions about black culture, too.”
Ready or not, Black moved from inner city Atlanta into Reed Hall in the fall of 1962, when he was 17.
Although he wasn’t the first African American at UGA, his presence brought controversy. Nearly every night someone would break his dorm room windows. Several times, his room was set on fire. And the segregated bathroom he-and only he-used was repeatedly vandalized.
But it never got him down.
“I had a lot of good friends, a lot of strong-willed, strong-minded friends who had to reject some of their own friends, other white students, just to be my friend. I am not in the least bitter,” he said. “It was all part of growing up.”
And he means it.
It wasn’t about being black or being white, he said. The discrimination he faced was because he was different. And, to hear him tell it, he wasn’t the only one.
For Black, the ’60s were a time of changing roles. The same kids who would taunt black students one day, would be called up by the National Guard to protect them the next, he said.
As his time at UGA wore on, high schools began to integrate, which made it harder for the university to determine a student’s race from their applications.
More black students began arriving, and, Black said, the novelty of the race controversy began to subside.
“I just think that the students I encountered were used to seeing a few black students who were not carrying brooms and mops. They got used to our presence, so they stopped yelling at us and throwing stuff at us,” he said. “They started sitting on the same row with me in class-my first two years I don’t think a white student even sat on the same row with me, but by my senior year, I became a fixture in the College of Business. People knew me, professors knew me.”
By the time he left UGA in 1966, he’d earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. But he’d also earned a place in history.
“I remember talking to my great-grandmother, who was a slave,” Black said. “A lot of progress was made between the time she lived in and my going to the University of Georgia.
“If anything, I knew my history. I was involved in the civil rights movement. I could see the changes going on in the country,” he also said. “I met all these wonderful students and great professors, and so what if they were all white? It reinforced my feelings about people in general. Why be bitter?”