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Fri, 02.27.1942

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Journalist born

Charlayne Hunter-Gault

*Charlayne Hunter-Gault was born on this date in 1942.  She is a Black journalist and civil rights activist. 

Alberta Charlayne Hunter was born in Due West, South Carolina, the daughter of Col. Charles Shepherd Henry Hunter, Jr., U.S. Army, a regimental chaplain, and his wife, the former Althea Ruth Brown.  She became interested in journalism at age 12 after reading the comic strip “Brenda Starr, Reporter.”   

In 1955, one year after the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, Hunter was in eighth grade and was the only black student at an Army school in Alaska, where her father was stationed. Her parents divorced after spending the year in Alaska, and Hunter moved to Atlanta with her mother, two brothers, and maternal grandmother.  After moving to Atlanta, she attended Henry McNeal Turner High School, where she became editor-in-chief of The Green Light, the school’s newspaper, assistant yearbook editor, and Miss Turner High. While in high school, at age 16, she and two friends converted to Catholicism after being raised as a follower of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  

In 1958, members of the Atlanta Committee for Cooperative Action (ACCA) began to search for high-achieving Black seniors who attended high schools in Atlanta. They were interested in jump-starting the integration of white universities in Georgia. They were searching for the best students so that universities would have no reason to reject them other than race. Hunter and Hamilton Holmes were the two students selected by the committee to integrate Georgia State College (later Georgia State University) in Atlanta. However, Hunter and Holmes were more interested in attending the University of Georgia.  

The university initially rejected the two because there was no more room in the dorms for incoming freshmen who were required to live there. That fall, Hunter enrolled at Wayne University (later Wayne State University), where she received assistance from the Georgia tuition program because no Black universities in the state offered a journalism program.  Despite meeting the qualifications to transfer to the University of Georgia, she and Holmes were rejected every quarter because there was no room for them in the dorms. Still, transfer students in similar situations were admitted.

This led to the court case Holmes v. Danner, in which the registrar of the university, Walter Danner, was the defendant. After winning the case, Holmes and Hunter became the first Black students to enroll at the University of Georgia on January 9, 1961.  Hunter graduated in 1963 with a B.A. in journalism. Shortly before she graduated from the University of Georgia, Hunter married a classmate, Walter L. Stovall, the writer, and son of a chicken feed manufacturer.

The couple was first married in March 1963 and then remarried in Detroit, Michigan, on June 8, 1963, because they believed that, since he was white, the first ceremony might be considered invalid as well as criminal, based on laws about interracial marriages in the unidentified state in which they had been married. Once the marriage was revealed, the governor of Georgia called it "a shame and a disgrace." At the same time, Georgia's attorney general made public statements about prosecuting the mixed-race couple under Georgia law. News reports quoted the parents of both bride and groom as being against the marriage for reasons of race. 

Years later, after the couple's 1972 divorce, Hunter-Gault gave a speech at the university in which she praised Stovall, who said, "unhesitatingly jumped into my boat with me. He gave up going to movies because he knew I couldn't get a seat in the segregated theaters. He gave up going to the Varsity because he knew they would not serve me ... We married, despite the uproar we knew it would cause because we loved each other." Shortly after their marriage, Stovall quoted saying, "We are two young people who found ourselves in love and did what we feel is required of people when they are in love and want to spend the rest of their lives together. We got married." The couple had one daughter, Susan Stovall.   Following her divorce, Hunter married Ronald T. Gault, a Black businessman who was then a program officer for the Ford Foundation. Later, he became an investment banker and consultant. They have one son, Chuma Gault.  

Hunter-Gault is and former foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, CNN, and the Public Broadcasting Service. The couple lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, where they also produced wine for a label called Passages. After moving back to the United States, the couple maintained a home in Massachusetts, where they remained active supporters of the arts. 

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