Charlayne Hunter-Gault had one thing in mind when she got to the University of Georgia: being a reporter.
But in 1961, in Jim Crow South — and virtually anywhere in America — achieving that dream proved difficult.
“(One) time I went to see if I could work on the school newspaper (The Red & Black) and was welcomed by the editor, but never got an assignment,” Hunter-Gault recounted in an essay for The New Yorker in 2015 — which she wrote in response to protests at the University of Missouri following a series of racial incidents at that campus.
The mistreatment reminded Hunter-Gault of the harassment she and classmate Hamilton E. Holmes experienced when they became the first black students to enroll at UGA.
In the same New Yorker essay, she recounted some of the horrors that happened to her in Athens, like going a whole semester and never being addressed by professors.
She remembers one night when a group of people, including students, gathered outside her dorm and shouting racial slurs.
"The town police threw around tear gas, ostensibly to disperse an already-thinning crowd. By the time the state troopers arrived, the protesters were long gone," she wrote, adding that the school briefly suspended her "for, they said, my own safety."
But the intimidation — including the threats, epithets and spit spewed at her on campus — only fueled the now renowned journalist, who would go on to win two Emmys and a Peabody award for her work on Apartheid’s People, a PBS NewsHour series focusing on life in South Africa.
Hunter-Gault established a decades-long career most writers and journalists would envy.
Immediately after graduating, Hunter-Gault worked as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker, quickly rising to staff writer. Shortly after, she joined Washington, D.C., news station WRC-TV’s investigative team, occasionally anchoring the evening news.
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Hunter-Gault returned to print reporting, working as a metropolitan reporter for The New York Times. She would go on to hold national reporting positions with PBS NewsHour and CNN. In 1986, The National Association of Black Journalists chose the decorated reporter as its Journalist of The Year.
Hunter-Gault detailed her life’s experiences in her book, “In My Place.” On Jan. 9, 2001, UGA established the Hunter-Holmes Academic building, marking 40 years since she and Holmes made history.
While she was denied opportunities at The Red & Black, Hunter-Gault kept pressing toward great success, inspiring dozens of black students who came through the UGA program.
Raisa Habersham, a graduate of UGA, was an editor at The Red & Black. She is now a reporter for The AJC.
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