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Remembering Dr. Hamilton Holmes

November 1, 1995 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, some words about Dr. Hamilton Holmes, who died last week at his home in Atlanta, at the age of 54. His funeral was yesterday in Atlanta. The words about him will be those of our own Charlayne Hunter-Gault. In 1961, she and Hamilton Holmes made history together as the first blacks to attend the University of Georgia. Charlayne, were the two of you conscious of the fact, hey, we’re making history?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: I think we were and we weren’t. Hamilton may have been more conscious than me, because I wanted to be a journalist, so I was busy watching the journalists cover the story. So I was kind of removed from it. But he was always deep into it, because he was a real deep thinker. He was quiet. He didn’t talk a lot. But he was a deep thinker. And I think that because of his own family’s history of challenging segregation in the golf courses and things like that, I think he might have had a sense of the history of it. Of course, none of us had the sense that this would be the entry–Georgia’s entry into the Civil Rights Revolution.

JIM LEHRER: You all were both in the same school, high school, black high school.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We went to high school together. He was the captain of the football team, and I was the queen. And he presented me the football pigskin when we won the homecoming game, so we were real close.

JIM LEHRER: Did you volunteer to do this thing at the University of Georgia?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In a way we did, in a way we didn’t. I mean, the black citizens of Atlanta thought it was time to follow the Brown decision and desegregate. But they picked the local college in Atlanta, and when Hamp and I went down and looked–

JIM LEHRER: That’s what you called him, “Hamp,” right?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Hamp, yeah. We went down and looked and said, it’s not good enough. And that was amazing, because here was a white school and white was supposed to be right. But Hamp wanted to be a doctor. He knew as a senior in high school what it took to be a good doctor. And he wanted to go to Morehouse College, the all-black school, but because of the limited resources there, they had the best education, and Hamp always said he couldn’t get a better education anywhere than Morehouse, but the University of Georgia, which was supported by our parents’ taxes ironically had the best facilities, lab facilities, and you know, a doctor needs labs, and that’s why he wanted to go. So they chose us to go there but Hamp was the one who when we walked out of there said, “This won’t do; I want to go there.” And he pointed North. And the adults almost died because they had no security there, no networks of support. But they said, if that’s what you want to do, we’ll support you, so we chose Georgia.

JIM LEHRER: He was–I take it, he was a guy when he decided he was going to do something, he was going to do it too, right?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: That’s right. He was the quarterback of the football team, and he was an excellent athlete, and, and his life was like quarterbacking. I mean, he made a decision. He made a call, and then he just took the ball and ran with it.

JIM LEHRER: And he went on to become an orthopedic surgeon.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, first of all, he was a gifted student. He was the scholar athlete. And when he graduated from Georgia even under all the pressure that we were under, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and then went on to become the first black student at Emery Medical School, where he had–

JIM LEHRER: Which is also in Atlanta?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Yes. But he had a lot less trouble there.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Was he–did he stay involved in politics or public issues, or did he just–was he just a doctor?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah. He was singularly dedicated to being the best he could be of anything he set out to do and medicine was what he chose to be and a family man who produced two fine children, and a good, a good husband and a good father. But he wasn’t really political, maybe political within the medical establishment, and things like that, but not in politics, per se.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Did–one of his children also went to the University of Georgia, right?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: “Chip” Hamilton Holmes, Jr., went to Georgia, you know, fifteen, twenty years after we did, and he was concerned about not following in his father’s footsteps in a way, but I think he maintained his own identity. And let me just say, you asked if he was political. Hamilton Holmes in another era would have been called a race man, because I said he–

JIM LEHRER: Race man?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah. He wasn’t political in the sense that he didn’t run for office or anything, but he was–he was very conscious of the image of black men, especially in America and especially in the South, i.e., that you know segregation and Jim Crowe and said that he was second class, inferior mentally as well as he was a citizen in society, and he was determined to prove that black men were as good as any men, and that they were not inferior, and he was so determined that there were many times, especially at Georgia, where he became superior as the president, Charles Knapp, of the university said, “He knocked the curve off the curve,” because he was always setting the curve at 100, whereas before he got there, the curve might have been set at sixty or seventy, and that would have been the “A.” Hamilton came, and they hated him on two levels, because he was black and–

JIM LEHRER: He was smarter than they were.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And he was smarter than everybody else!

JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Fifty-four. He had a heart problem, is that right?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: He had a heart problem. He was a little heavy, and all of us used to tell him about that. But, again, I think it was his single-mindedness, you know. He was so single-minded about saving other souls. I mean, Marvin Arrington, who’s the president of the city council, was a classmate of ours, told a story about being sick and going to Hamp with his knee and Hamp told him, he said, you know, if you lose a couple of pounds, your knew wouldn’t hurt you so bad.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, thanks, huh.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And he said, well, you know, you should talk, you’re so heavy, and Hamp said, yeah, but I’m not sick.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, great. Okay. Charlayne, thank you very much.