ON THIS DATE in 1961, Hamilton Holmes, nineteen, and Charlayne Hunter, eighteen, registered for classes at the University of Georgia en route to becoming the first African Americans to attend the college.
Attorney Vernon Jordan told National Public Radio in 2011 that University of Georgia officials “did everything conceivable and possible — legal and illegal” to keep the two out of the school. Holmes and Hunter “were against the big wall,” Jordan said. “And they won.”
It was a victory with no parade. Hunter (Hunter-Gault after marriage) recalled being greeted on campus “by a screaming, howling mob of students,” with the rabble “yelling and screaming all kinds of epithets, and telling us to go home — in some cases saying, ‘Kill the you-know-what.’” Outside her dorm, racists hurled bottles, bricks, and more profanities. Yet on her first morning of classes, she was greeted by a contingent of 15 white females who said they would “make her welcome” and escorted her to class.
Holmes would graduate Phi Beta Kappa, receive his medical degree from Emory University, and become an orthopedic surgeon. Hunter-Gault reported for The New York Times and became the first black woman writer at The New Yorker.
Also on this date …
DEC. 11, 1922: LEONARD THOMPSON, fourteen, became the first person treated with insulin. Thompson was a diabetic who weighed just 65 pounds when he received an injection of bovine insulin, which had been recently isolated by a group of Canadian scientists led by Frederick Banting and J.J.R. McLeod. Banting and McLeod would share the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Thompson would live another 13 years before dying at 27 from diabetes complications.
JAN. 11, 2009: HANNAH MIGHALL, thirteen, was bitten by a Great White shark while surfing at Bailey’s Rock on Tasmania’s East coast. She needed 200 stitches after the attack but insisted the shark be spared. “I was in its territory,” she said. “It’s not its fault.” Grateful to be alive, Mighall said, “I’m just glad the shark didn’t like me and spat me back out.”