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The Power of Now
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Fifty years ago, today, two African American students walked onto the campus of the University of Georgia in Atlanta, effectively integrating the school. One of them was Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Host Michel Martin speaks with the award-winning journalist and with Vernon Jordan, the civil rights lawyer who fought for black students to attend classes at the university, about that historic event and its legacy.
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.
Today marks a pivotal day in civil rights history. Fifty years ago, January 6th, 1951, U.S. District Court Judge William Bootle ruled that the University of Georgia had to admit two African-American students, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes. It took two years of legal wrangling, but the judge found that but for their race and color, the two met every qualification. And the university was required to admit them.
Three days later, on January 9th, the students walked into the admissions office of the University of Georgia, accompanied by Vernon Jordan, a member of the legal team that had fought to win admission for them. The move led to the desegregation of other academic institutions throughout Georgia and the Deep South. To talk more about this, we are pleased to have with us a name and voice you have heard many times on NPR and on this program, Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She's an NPR correspondent based in South Africa.
Also with us, attorney Vernon Jordan, a name and voice familiar from his decades of work as a civil rights leader, attorney in private practice and adviser to presidents.
MARTIN: Vernon Jordan, may I ask you: What did it take to win this case?
Mr. JORDAN: Well, what it took was the extraordinary legal ability and understanding of the law of Constance Baker Motley, Donald L. Hollowell, Horace T. Ward, and I guess I helped a little bit. We had the backing of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund throughout the trial preparation, and during the trial we had the benefit of Thurgood Marshall's counsel. We had the benefit of Jack Greenberg's counsel. And we had the benefit of all of the experience of civil rights lawyers across the country. So, we were prepared.