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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Grace Towns Hamilton, July 19, 1974. Interview G-0026. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Interracial interactions at Atlanta University

Hamilton talks about what it was like to grow up in Atlanta, Georgia, on the campus of Atlanta University, where her father taught during the early twentieth century. Hamilton recalls that there was little evidence of racial segregation at Atlanta University and that there was easy interaction between students and the faculty, which was comprised of both white and African American professors. Later in the interview, Hamilton explains that it was not until she moved to Columbus, Ohio, during the late 1920s that she first personally experienced racial discrimination.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Grace Towns Hamilton, July 19, 1974. Interview G-0026. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

What was it like growing up in Atlanta University?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
Oh, we'd need longer than this to tell you. It was like growing up in a little piece of society that was very unlike anything around it. You know, you find this out later. It was a very happy life, because… The thing that was unique about Atlanta University, even as contrasted with other schools for Negros at that time, was that there were no class differences between faculty and students, or between black and white faculty, or between black and white children. So that when my brothers - see, I had two brothers and a sister who was much younger, she was fourteen years younger than I - when my brothers and I were growing up, on the A.U. campus, almost our only playmates were children of faculty who were mainly white.
JACQUELYN HALL:
The faculty was mainly white?
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
No. But the children who were in the neighborhood, who were our regular playmates, were campus children. The children of faculty. Not all, but there were as many white as black, is the point.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was the difference in A.U. and other black colleges…
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
In this regard?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yeah.
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
Well, one thing that always comes to mind is that there was no difference in the dining room, there was no faculty dining room. The faculty ate with the students. And there was no difference between… And then, another instance which is recorded in history, is that the state of Georgia used to give Atlanta University some little bit of money back in those early days. Bacon's got a lot about that in his book. But there was some question raised about the children of faculty attending the Overfalls School, which was the elementary - and became the practice school for teacher training. And the children of faculty went to Atlanta University just like the white children of faculty went there. And when there was some state visitor, this was discovered, and that became the basis for the state demanding that the charter of the University be changed, or they would sacrifice their money. Unless the charter clearly said for the education of black youth. And the trustees of Atlanta University did not wish to do that, and did not do it. And they lost the state money. So… That is the main difference, in the tradition of Atlanta University versus…
JACQUELYN HALL:
You know, I think a lot of black colleges were rather authoritarian and hierarchical, particulary where they were run by… had started with white missionaries.
GRACE TOWNS HAMILTON:
I guess in some ways the ways of education were more authoritarian than they are now, but I think this business that I'm talking about is the difference in the human relations and class relationships, which was just never present as a part of Atlanta University's tradition. And I'm sure it was due to the kind of people that were in the, you know, in the early… the early presidents and the early faculty.