Black-Diallo-Miller Hall

Black-Diallo-Miller Residence Hall

On August 4, 2022, my alma mater the University of Georgia held ceremonies naming its newest residence hall, Black-Diallo-Miller Hall honoring the first blacks to enroll as freshmen and graduate from the university. It was an emotional day. In 1962, the university was in its second year of forced desegregation, having been ordered by the courts to admit Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter in January 1961. Holmes and Hunter had their applications rejected as being not qualified when they applied their senior year out of Turner High School in Atlanta. They sued and when the court ordered them admitted, they were college seniors: Holmes at Morehouse and Hunter at Wayne State in Detroit. Given that Georgia had a two year residency requirement, we all thought that they would simply graduate from their schools the next semester. We were surprised when they decided to enroll at Georgia. That September the university did not admit any black undergraduates but admitted Mary Frances Early in a one year’s master’s program in education. She became its first black graduate. Holmes and Hunter were indeed qualified. Hunter was Phi Beta Kappa in pre-med while Hunter became a well-known PBS correspondent.

Admitting Hunter and Holmes changed my life. My brother Charles was a junior at Purdue. Since he wanted to be an engineer and no black state university offered that major, the state paid his tuition to go to leave the state. Over 600 black students at that time were also gifted tuition. I loved Purdue and was set on joining my brother there. However, desegregating the University of Georgia prompted the state legislature to stop the tuition grants. My father broke my heart when he told me that he could not afford to pay out of state tuition for both of us. “Harold, you are going to have to find another place to go.” I knew I was going to receive scholarships from black schools – I had gotten an early admission scholarship to Morehouse out of the 10th and 11th grades. Dad graduated from Savannah State and Mother was the first four year graduate of Fort Valley State. But I wanted to go to a school that was integrated. So I got a catalog from Georgia. Tuition was $98 a quarter. Dad said that he could afford it but “They will never accept you.”

I applied and was told that I had to come to Athens for an interview. It was with the registrar who was an unrepentant racist. He did not shake our hands. He did not ask us to sit. His first words were “Why do you want to come there because we don’t want you here.” I relied. “That’s why I want to come.” That did not sit well and soon he casually used the N-word. Dad was furious and pulled me out of my seat and we left going back to Atlanta. Dad said “That didn’t go well. What’s Plan B?” There was no Plan B. However, to our shock, two weeks later a letter arrived with a red and black banner proclaiming “Official Acceptance: The University of Georgia.” 

I was 16 when I graduated high school and turned 17 the month before I enrolled at Georgia. When we got to campus and went into the freshman men’s dormitory, Reed Hall, it was like Moses parting the Red Sea. Everyone moved out of our way as we went to the desk to check in. The house mother then took us to my room. It had one bed in it. Mother said, “Is he going to be the only colored boy here.?” “Yes” was the answer. When we went back to the car, Mother was crying and said “Get in. You are not going back in there.” I had never seen my mother cry. I looked at Dad who said, “I’ll borrow the money to send you to Purdue.” I said that my stuff was already in the room and Mother countered “We can get you new stuff – get in.” I shook my head and said that I would try it for one quarter and watched them drive away.

Dad had warned me that I wasn’t going to have any friends. He said that they would have to give up their friends to be mine. They would be harassed, called all sorts of names and would be ostracized. He was wrong. There was a dorm meeting that evening and being back of the bus days, when I walked into the auditorium and walked down the aisle until I found a seat close to the front. Everyone on that row got up and left. The three boys directly in front turned around and said, “Can we sit with you?” They did and leaving two of their friends joined us. We went back to my room and talked all night. I had never talked to a white person before going to Athens and they had never talked to a black person on a peer level. They became my close friends that year.

My windows were broken so often that a window crew came by every morning to see if I needed a replacement. Obscenities were scratched on my door. Firecrackers were put on the door slats so a solid board was installed. The room was set on fire three times. I carried a gunk extraction kit in case my keyhole was stuffed with chewing gum. I had a large bathroom all to myself. One morning, all the knobs had been removed from the face bowls. Toilet paper was crammed into the toilets. The shower heads were gone and obscenities were scrawled in soap on the mirrors. I walked down to their bathroom which was full of kids getting ready to go to class. I sat on every toilet, washed my hands in every face bowl, tried to urinate in every urinal and ran through every shower. I announced that if they messed with my bathroom again then I would use theirs. That ended that. My bath was never bothered again.

My friends in the dorm were constantly badgered and harassed. The ringleader was a big boy called “Smoke”. He projected a tough guy image with a duck-tailed haircut, leather jacket and tight jeans. He told one friend that he was going to beat him up. This had to stop so one day when I was in the cafeteria, I saw him at a table with all his friends. I went over, sat down and said “Hi Smoke.” His buddies all left causing him to plead with them to stay because he was not my friend, No avail. I told him that if he kept threatening my friends then I would be his best friend, so leave them alone. He did. I think that I shocked everyone in not being scared and not taking any grief. I often wonder if he, and others like him, ever regretted how they behaved.

The three freshmen women who were admitted had completely different experiences. Marly Blackwell (Diallo) was from Athens and lived at home. Kerry Rushin (Miller) and Alice Henderson shared a suite of rooms in a women’s dorm with Charlayne Hunter. Charlayne was a senior and resented having been invaded by two young 18 year old freshmen. She was no mother hen, leaving Kerry and Alice to fend for themselves. Alice did not come back after our freshman year. When I called her to find out why her mother answered and said “Never call back. I don’t want anything associated with the University of Georgia near my daughter.” Mary had an awful set of experiences and Kerry had buried many of her memories deep within her.

When the University decided to name its newest residence hall after us, I was shocked.  When the vice provost called me, I could not believe my ears and had her repeat it three times. What I was most proud of was that I was told that the naming was not just because we were the first but that we all had made the university proud. Mary was a professor of French at Florida A&M university with a PhD from Emory. Kerry was a math major and had a distinguished business career. 

The naming ceremony was emotional. Family and friends gathered together. We all gave brief remarks. Mine can be seen at We had come full circle. It was almost 60 years to the day that I walked into Reed Hall as a 17 year old freshman that students would walk into the new Black-Diallo-Miller Hall. We have all come a long way and I, for one, have enjoyed every day of that journey. Go Dawgs!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: