COMMENTARY: Fighting the good fight for civil rights in US

Recently, I had the opportunity to read Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s 1992 memoir entitled “In My Place.”

I had been aware of her book for some time, and was excited to finally getting around to reading it. Turning page after page, I felt myself being pulled deeper into the story. As the events took place in the early 60s at the height of the civil rights movement, I could easily relate. It brought back painful memories of those dark days in our country when African Americans were forced to suffer racial indignities and second class status.

The book highlights the historic role Hunter-Gault played in ending racial segregation on a Southern campus, and the path she followed in defining her place in life and the world.

She found a coveted place in Georgia’s history, and American history as a champion in the fight for civil rights. Hunter-Gault, along with classmate Hamilton Holmes, were the first two black students admitted at the University of Georgia at Athens.

Betty Ricks-Jarman

Their applications for admission had been repeatedly rejected by college officials for reasons related to space and application procedures. Atlanta’s civil rights lawyers took on their case and filed the proper grievances. During this interval, both students had enrolled in other colleges to pursue their education. After a two-year legal battle, the judge ruled in their favor, striking down the school’s 176-year-old segregation policy.

On Jan. 9, 1961 the students arrived on the UGA campus to register for class. Instantly, they became the focus of national attention and media coverage. They were met with hostile looks and racial taunts from white students. Two days later, an angry mob gathered outside Hunter-Gault’s dormitory, hurling bricks and rocks through windows, before being dispersed by the police.

Later that night, Holmes and a tearful Hunter-Gault were escorted back to their homes in Atlanta by the state police. As a result, college officials suspended both students supposedly for fear of their personal safety. Within days, the students had been reinstated back to the university and their classes. It took heavy doses of courage and strength for them to stand up to the belligerent crowds day after day.

The saying goes “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Holmes and Hunter-Gault stayed the course because they believed in their cause and knew that it was worth fighting for. The celebrity students graduated in 1963 and achieved highly successful careers.

Hunter-Gault became an award-winning journalist and reporter with the MacNeil/Lehrer Hour, PBS, CNN and NPR. Holmes became a prominent orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta. Their outstanding achievements proved their competence and that with the right opportunity they could excel.. As the elders would say, they made us feel good about being African Americans and proud of our race.

Fighting the good fight often requires taking risks. Hunter-Gault and Holmes risked bodily harm and even death at the hands of the protesters. Opening themselves up to ridicule and verbal attacks paved the way for others to follow.

Holmes and Hunter-Gault’s presence at UGA reflected the moral laws of God which gives all men self -worth, value and capabilities to attain his highest potential in life. In a word, they had just as much right to be at the university as anyone else.

Years later, in a display of recognition and honor, the UGA renamed the academic building, the Holmes and Hunter Academic Building. Furthermore, Hunter-Gault was given the honor of being the university’s first African-American commencement speaker in 1988. I greatly admire Hunter-Gault and Holmes for their sacrifice and efforts to make a positive difference. They pursued their dreams, without allowing others to dampen them.

Fighting the good fight never ends, it’s ongoing, never-ending and very necessary. As a country and people, we are in the fight of our lives right now. Not politically, socially, economically, but spiritually.

Our fight is to maintain unity and togetherness, and spread the love of Jesus within and without our circles. It is important to improve and build on our commonality; rather than to be devoured by our differences.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Betty Ricks -Jarman, of Greenwood, is co-founder of the Vine and Vessels Christian Writer’s Fellowship based in Seaford.

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