At Issue: Why We Should Remember

The 50th anniversary of the desegregation of GSU

By David Smith Jr.

Georgia State University now graduates more African-American students than any other nonprofit college or university in America. We have come a long way in reaching this milestone. On the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of GSU, we should remember those first black students who attended Georgia State.

While Annette Lucille Hall was the first African-American to integrate Georgia State College in June of 1962 at the age of 53, the fight for desegregation started in 1956 when Barbara Pace Hunt filed the lawsuit (Hunt v. Arnold) that eventually led to the desegregation of higher education institutions in Georgia. It was then that an editorial in The Signal noted that, “the fight over segregation has thus come to Georgia State.”

“We have carefully considered the stand we are about to take,” the editorial continued. “We have listened to statements and sentiments expressed by student body and administration alike. … With this in mind, The Signal gives unqualified support to segregation in the long battle ahead. Let us say now: we believe in segregation. We can see nothing in integration but racial strife. We realize no reason for mixing the races in schools and colleges now or in the years ahead.”

Hunt was recently recognized by the Atlanta City Council for her lifetime work in the area of civil rights. Despite her efforts, she never had the opportunity to attend a traditional college or university in Georgia. She had to leave the state because of the death threats. She eventually earned several degrees, including two graduate degrees from the University of Texas.

Hall on the other hand was admitted to the school on June 12, almost 50 years after the institution was founded. Hall, a history and social studies teacher at J.P. Carr High School in Rockdale County, was the person chosen by history to lead the way into this institution. She took continuing education courses after already earning her master’s degree in education from Atlanta University in 1953 and her bachelor’s degree in history from Spelman College in 1939. Hall was one of 16 social studies teachers from the Atlanta area who were enrolled in 1962 in the Institute on Americanism and Communism at the college. School officials stated that she was the first African-American to “qualify for admissions” to the college. She received 10 hours of graduate credit from the institute.

“Annette Lucille Hall loved reading, history, social studies, current events and politics. She was a very proud woman that enjoyed teaching in rural areas,” according to her niece Carolyn Lucille Long Banks.

Two months after Hall was admitted to Georgia State College in 1962, Marybelle Reynolds Warner was enrolled as the first regular full-time African-American student; she was a music education major. Warner received her bachelor of science degree from St. Louis University and her master’s in social work from Washington University in St. Louis.

As we look back after 50 years since the desegregation of this great university, let’s celebrate the achievement and successes of our institutional pioneers — they led the way.

David Smith Jr. is assistant director for African-American Student Services and author of “Georgia State University: An Institutional History, 1913 – 2002.”