This week I had the honor of taking part in a very special moment on the House Floor. Each legislative day during February, a morning order is dedicated to a moment in black history. Last Tuesday, Representatives Earnest Smith and Ronnie Mabra came to the well of the House to speak about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball and a native of Cairo, Georgia. Representative Mabra told the story of a game Robinson played in Cincinnati, Ohio where the fans treated Robinson brutally calling him names and racial slurs. During this particularly cruel moment, Robinson’s teammate Pee Wee Reese came to Robinson’s side and placed his arm around Robinson’s shoulder to show his support for Robinson before all of the fans. As Representative Mabra told the story, he invited me up and put his arm around my shoulder in the same way that Robinson later put his arm around Reese’s shoulder at Jackie Robinson’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. (You can check out the video from this moment on the House floor here: the morning order starts at minute 56:00)
This story got me thinking about the impact of the Civil Rights movement and other prominent African-Americans in our state and nation’s history. From the Selma March to the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C., the Civil Rights Movement holds the stories of many brave African-Americans who fought for freedom and equal rights in the 1950s and 1960s. One of the most important series of events with heroes much lesser-known in history is the integration of schools and Universities across the South. Each black student who set foot in a white school to begin an era of more equal access to education did so courageously. Two such students integrated the University of Georgia in Athens in 1961: Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter. On January 6, 1961, federal district court Judge W. A. Bootle ordered the immediate desegregation of the University of Georgia. This ruling raised the possibility that the University of Georgia might be shut down because the General Assembly passed laws two years prior that disallowed any state funds for schools who accepted black students. Despite this law, Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter enrolled in the University and endured protests outside their dorms. Both Hunter and Holmes would graduate from Georgia’s Flagship University and the laws restricting funding would be repealed. While history does not prominently recognize Hunter and Holmes, their bravery and the bravery of all students who integrated schools in the south played an important role in the Civil Rights movement.
Being a part of the General Assembly has reminded me to appreciate and learn from our history; both the good times and the difficult times. I am honored to serve each of my constituents no matter the color of their skin, and I strive daily to raise the issues that affect all members of our community. I can never thank you enough for the honor of serving Athens in the General Assembly. Thank you and have a great week!