When integration at the University of Georgia turned violent, Kenneth Dious was ready to defend Black students

On the “Seven Days of 1961” podcast, activists, many of whom were teenagers, share how they risked everything to challenge white supremacy.

In episode one, Kenneth Dious shares his story of the night he stood guard for a Black student who had just attended her first day of classes at the University of Georgia. He was only 15 years old when word spread in his hometown of Athens, Georgia, that a violent white mob had gathered outside the dorm room of Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Kenneth and three other Black men rushed to the crowd, ready to fight if needed.

The “Seven Days of 1961” podcast features stories of resistance, told by the people who lived it. Learn more about the heroic civil rights activists and the danger they faced at 7daysof1961.Usatoday.Com.

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Hit play on the podcast player above and read along with the transcript below.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

We were going to put our lives at risk. The crowd seemed really real. It wasn’t just a jest as to what they were doing, and they were throwing bottles and so forth. So I was afraid for myself and her.

Nathalie Boyd:……

This is Kenneth Dious, a freedom fighter. Every episode, of this seven podcast series, brings you to the center of a major civil rights’ event through the voice of an activist who lived it. Each had no clue what would happen next, all while facing the very real threat of death and violence. Their courageous actions helped to end segregation in America. I’m Natalie Boyd, a podcast producer with USA Today. This is the ‘Seven Days of 1961’ podcast. Hear history from the people who made it.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

I am a long-life resident of Athens, Georgia. I grew up in the civil rights movement here. I was a community activist. And when I was a child, a young man, I marched against the klan, and participated in the sit-ins, and the activities of the cities in regard to the integration of Athens, Georgia.

Nathalie Boyd:……

On January 11, 1961, the first two black students of the University of Georgia, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes, began their first day of class. At nightfall, a riot targeting Charlayne Hunter-Gault erupted outside her dormitory. When news spread in the small college town of Athens that a mob had formed, Kenneth Dious and three fellow high school classmates, bravely rushed to the scene, ready to fight if needed.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

Somehow we got the word that this crowd had appeared in front of Center Myers Hall in front of Charlayne Hunter’s dorm room. I’m, at this time, about 15 years of age. So some of the other guys that were with me in the civil rights movement, activists, we decided to go to see what was going on. When we arrived, it was dark, probably 9, 9:30 may have been 10:00. We see this huge crowd standing outside of Center Myers Hall jeering and throwing things and so forth.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

The minute Charlayne Hunter comes out of the dormitory and leaves. It was four of us, young black guys. So we decided we better hang around. We don’t know this crowd is going to try to charge that dormitory or not or whether she’s going to need some of our assistance, are we going to be brave enough to go in with that huge crowd to try to help her out if something occurred? There was no police at the time and they just stood out there and they cheered and they cheered and they jeered and they cheered. We were very afraid for Charlayne that night. The crowd seemed real, real. It wasn’t just a jest as to what they would, and they were throwing bottles and so forth. Yes. I was afraid for myself and her. We was going to put our lives at risk and try to make sure that she was going to be safe.

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Kenneth Dious:…………..

We were to the side of the crowd. They saw us, in a sense. If we had to run and do something, we would’ve had to get there pretty quickly, because we still was a good little distance away. We would have not gotten there before they reached the front door by any means. We have to run through the crowd. We could have easily got injured. Somebody could have hit me with a brick, bottle or five people could have jumped on me or whatever, but we were going. If it came to that, yes, yes. Give me the power to do that. But if we are going to be successful, we don’t know, we was going to go and do what we had to do.

Nathalie Boyd:……

The violent white mob threw rocks and a Coke bottle shattered a window in Charlene’s dorm room. A group of men in crew cuts, held up a bed sheet with the N-word written across it and underneath it, the words, “Go home.”.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

We had some prior experience in regard to this, we had been marching for a little while before this occurred. We had fought against the Klan before we had had some rise with the Klan. The police had to come in and arrest some people before this so we knew what to expect. We weren’t going to back down. That was a huge crowd. I think this is the biggest moment ever for Athens. Matter of fact, they had blocked the street. They had backed up from the dump and they had blocked the street. Then there was a crowd upon the hill up to the next building. There was some on the sidewalk and then there were some on the street. So it is a good size crowd. Yeah. Make their feelings being known about Charlayne Hunter coming to school in the integration of the University of Georgia.

Nathalie Boyd:……

The crowd was a mix of KKK members, fellow students, and bystanders, about 2000 people in total.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

It went on from quite a while until Dean Tate started coming up through there. The minute they broke it up, they started taking IDs, then the police showed up kind of gently and so forth. Then it kind of slowly dissipate some, there was some struggle, took a while. It was almost… It could have easily turned into a riot. I think the thing that probably prompt the crowd to dissipate the most was that when Dean Tate said he was going to start taking IDs and if they were out here he was going to start putting them out of school and that sort backed the crowd out. I did not know that the Klan was out there till maybe a couple days later or something like that. They were not dressed out in their robes at that time, but we later learned that they were there.

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Nathalie Boyd:……

That night, the Dean of students, Joe Williams, suspended Charlene and told her to immediately leave campus. Five days later, she and Hamilton Holmes returned to UGA emboldened by a federal judge’s order that they be allowed to continue their education. Charlayne Hunter-Gault, graduated from UGA with a degree in journalism. All of this occurred a full seven years after the Supreme court’s Brown versus Board of Education ruling, which banned segregation. UGA eventually led integration in the state of Georgia, but it was one of the last segregation strongholds to be broken in the country.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

So I transferred to UGA, who did not want to accept me at the time, even though I had excellent grades and so forth to get a UGA. I had to almost threaten the… I don’t want to call him an auditor or whatever. The mission person, let me use that term. He did not want to let me in. Even though I had the test scores and the grades. It took a while for me to convince him that he had to let me into UGA. It was going to be another balance or something. I got the letter saying, “You are admitted to UGA,” but at that time there was also other black students already at UGA. I never went to class with another black student. There were some professors that… Things have changed. These are the sixties. If you were in that class, anyone in that class, they didn’t say anything. Maybe not encourage it, we didn’t say anything, but that would question with us, as students, if we were going to get a fair grade.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

I would say most of the time I got a fair grade. Yeah. Yeah. I got to give them credit for that. When I first got to UGA, going to class, they say you have to take what they call Stem material to class. And I asked my high school classmate, “What was that?” He said, “That’s something for you to read before the professor hold the class to order while they stared at you,” That’s what is called Stem.It got better over the years, I would UGA students credit. They kind of settle down with it. Just before I left, it was settling in and a lot of things changed. I had this friend of mine that had this great idea that we should go out for the University of Georgia football team.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

So we went over to see the coach and told him we would like to try out for the football team. At that time, there was nobody playing, any black people playing, sports. But unfortunately when it came in the spring of 1966 to go out for the football team, my buddy was not in school. My father told me that I had made that commitment, told somebody something. So I had to go for the University of Georgia football team all by myself. So I, as result, I was first black player in the entire South that went out to integrate the University of Georgia football team. Again, I got my life threaten by the Klan, and so forth. Still, I was living at home that helped some and so forth during my years there. This had made his mind that he was not going to play me or whatever and was coming along. So I did not go back into the fall at all. I had hurt my knee. So I decided not to go back. That’s my experience at the University of Georgia football team.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

Strange thing about athletics, the players accepted me because I could play. Some encouraged me because I could play, but you have to remember at the same time, when I was at UGA, if you were… We had one or two members in the band and you could not go to Mississippi, if you was in the band. We were fighting about this thing about every time we went to the stadium, they were playing Dixie and all this stuff was going on. We used to have quite a bit of debates, unfortunate fights, because you had a student that either was interested in you or they were disinterested in you. Some thought you should be there and some thought that you should not be there.

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Kenneth Dious:…………..

There were certain organizations we could not join. Fraternities still had the Confederate flag. I think that we were fighting against that all the way through UGA, when I was student there. So I’ll say this and a lot of people think I’m going crazy. I say, thank God for UGA. I say in that regard, if I went to HBCU, I would just have had an average college experience. This one was very unique in that regard. I feel like I really contributed to things as the University of Georgia developed.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

So where we are today, compared to then, I am a little disappointed in the sense of the enrollment of black students have gone down tremendously. If you turn on the television and you look at the University of Georgia football team, you was say, “Oh, that’s a great school”. It is well integrated. I’ll make the statement that a friend of mine made one day. I told her that and she says, “Ken, the only thing that we have down here is football and basketball players, because you understand, when you see all these football players and basketball players, they get special admittance from the President. If you’re a great football player and you got a two frame five, they want you in the school. The President can specially admit you, provided that you meet the minimum, what we call the SEC Southeast Conference Standards to play ball. That’s how we got all these players here, but we don’t have enough students.

Kenneth Dious:…………..

You almost got less black students there then you got when I left my senior year. It’s rapidly falling and nobody’s saying it, but here’s what they are doing. They named the education department after Francis Early. In my law school, University of Georgia, they have pictures of Justice Benham. They have pictures of Chester Davenport for the first black graduate. They have pictures of the first black female graduate, but do we have students? That’s what’s important. So is it all a show or does it have any meaning? That’s where we are.

Nathalie Boyd:……

The Seven Days of 1961 podcast is produced and edited by me, Natalie Boyd. Stephanie Allen reported this episode and Jasper Colt produced the interview. You can see images of Kenneth and read Stephanie’s full story about the first black student at the University of Georgia at SevenDaysof1961.Usatoday.Com. Thank you for listening. Tell your friends about the podcast. We want more people to hear these personal stories about acts of resistance that changed our nation. Please write us a review on apple podcast. It helps more people find the show and you can tweet us at USA today. On the next episode, you’ll hear from an activist who was arrested after a sit-in at a lunch counter. He and eight others chose to go to jail, working 30 days of hard labor on a chain gang, instead of paying the $100 fine. This was a strategic choice that propelled the civil rights movement forward. That’s in the next episode. See you then.

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