The University of Georgia had stalled for nearly one and a half years before admitting its first African-American students, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes. By the time federal judge William Bootle’s ruling allowing their admission arrived on Jan. 6, 1961, they were halfway through their sophomore years at other colleges. But after that, things moved quickly.
On Jan. 9, the two made their way to the registrar’s office, escorted by their parents and a member of their defense — the fresh-out-of-law-school Vernon Jordan. Reporters mobbed the party and jeering students shouted, “Two-four-six-eight! We don’t want to integrate!” But Jan. 11, the first day of class, went relatively well. According to the Hargrett Library, Hunter’s father said that the scene reflected well on the state, and NBC personality Chet Huntley commented that “there are places in the North now which might note and emulate the example of adult behavior set by the University of Georgia.”
But the violence started that night when students and outsiders, agitated over a basketball loss to Georgia Tech, started a riot outside of Myers Hall, Hunter’s dorm. A brick came through her window, firecrackers went off and the crowd grew to 1,000 people. Dean Joe Williams stalled on calling in help, and when he did, Georgia state troopers refused to come unless ordered directly by the governor. The overwhelmed Athens police eventually got help from reinforcements with tear gas and the Dean of Men William Tate, who took up student IDs.
Hunter and Holmes were sent back to Atlanta, and Dean Williams, who had decided that the situation had become too dangerous, drafted letters, suspending them “until […] I determine that it is safe and practical for you to return to school and further that your attendance at the University would not adversely affect the educational program of the institution.”