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Ida Mae Hiram
*The birth of Dr. Ida Mae Hiram is celebrated on this date in 1896. She was a Black dentist, activist, and administrator.
Ida Mae Johnson was born to Fayette and Short Johnson in Athens, Georgia. Her father was a former slave who fled his bondage at a young age and established himself in Athens. At age six, Ida lost her mother, leading to her father raising her by himself. Her relatives told her stories of her grandfather and great great grandmother. Her grandfather was brought from Africa as part of the slave trade and was described as “a tall, broad-shouldered man” who frequently ran away from the plantation. Her great-great-grandmother was Native American, but much about her Native American ancestry is unknown.
Her father greatly emphasized education during Ida’s childhood, having her attend the Knox Institute, a segregated Black school in downtown Athens. Upon graduating from the Knox Institute, Ida looked to become a teacher. However, she fell in love and married Lam Hiram, a dentist in Athens. The couple had a child Alice, but Ida never forgot her dream of secondary education and wanted to pursue dentistry “to help [her husband] in his profession.” After her two-year hiatus from education, Ida decided to attend Meharry College in Nashville, Tennessee.
Ida spent four years acquiring her bachelor's and dentistry degrees, visiting her family during the holidays. While at the university, Ida met many other black female doctors but no dentists. When she graduated from dental school in 1910, she was one of two women who passed the State Board Dental Examination. After receiving her dental license, she returned home to Athens and joined her husband’s practice on the second floor of an office building. According to the 1930 US census, there were 10,110 Black professionals in Georgia, mostly clergymen and teachers, accounting for just under one percent of the population.
This led to the Great Migration, in which a large portion of the black population in the South moved north to try to get factory jobs. During the economic decline, her husband decided to open a second practice up north. This led to Ida running the practice in Athens with the help of her daughter, Alice, who had taken dentistry classes as an assistant. Her daughter Alice married Z T Hubert Jr in 1935 and formed her own insurance business. Ida and Lam were able to buy a house in a suburb just north of the University of Georgia. There was no racial justice progress for most of Ida’s life in Athens. The commercial-civic elite in Athens and other southern cities abided by Jim Crow segregation.
Black businesses and individuals struggled to get loans and compete with white-owned businesses. The first large step towards the 20th century American Civil Rights Movement came after the return of black troops from World War 2. The dissatisfaction with racial injustice led to many landmark movements and decisions. Still, the one that affected Athens the most was Brown v Board which made segregation of educational institutions illegal.
Then Governor Talmadge made a public statement after the decision's release that “as long as he was Governor, Negros will not be admitted to white schools.'' After a long legal battle, the University of Georgia desegregated in 1961. As such, she lived through the period relatively unscathed, eventually buying a house soon after. Ida Mae Hiram resided at 635 W. Hancock until she died in 1979 at 83.