On Feb. 16, the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication released a documentary honoring the 60th anniversary of desegregation at the University of Georgia.
In 1961, Hamilton Holmes, a science major, and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a journalism major, were the first African American students admitted to UGA, beginning the integration of campus. The documentary features interviews with Holmes and Hunter, as well as Mary Frances Early, the first African American to graduate at UGA.
Headed by journalism senior lecturer Dodie Cantrell-Bickley, a team of students started working on the documentary in September 2020. The documentary takes viewers on a six-decade journey leading up to the current status of diversity on campus.
Using archived historical footage, the film intertwines the past and present to include coverage of the suspension of Holmes and Hunter-Gault shortly after their arrival to UGA. This decision was brought on by backlash from segregationists on campus.
In examining campus life today, the film analyzes how UGA’s demographics of BIPOC students compare to other SEC schools, how diversity has increased and ways the community can continue to improve.
Kelsey Coffey, who graduated from UGA in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, served as the host of the documentary to research, report and anchor the project.
“On Grady’s [presidential] election night coverage, I was working without a teleprompter,” Coffey said. “Dodie [Cantrell-Bickley] said that when she saw I could handle that type of moment, she asked me to host the documentary.”
For Coffey, the ultimate goal of producing the film was for viewers to learn from the documentary and take action in support of BIPOC and other marginalized identities.
“We want to inspire people to do something to make the university a better place for the generations coming after us,” Coffey said. “That could mean donating to the Black Alumni Scholarship Fund, joining an organization that recruits minority students or just simply starting a conversation with someone who doesn’t look like you.”
Molly English, a senior journalism and political science double major, was also asked to join the team as a producer after Grady’s election night coverage show.
“I’ve always wanted to do documentaries,” English said. “This was a new opportunity because normally I work strictly on news. It was really cool to do something on a different platform and a new medium.”
While working on the project, English emphasized the importance of continuing to educate UGA’s campus on the topic of diversity, as some remain steadfast in their support of segregation, she said.
“While we were interviewing people on North Campus, there was a student who said they would be a segregationist until they die,” English said. “That conversation made the documentary hit home. We’ve come so far, but we can do so much better.”
The documentary looks to the future as a place for UGA and society as a whole to continue to grow in their understanding and acceptance of others.
“We want this to serve as a piece we can look back on in the years to come,” English said. “We say we’re going to enact all this change, but did we actually do it? I think this documentary will hold us and our school accountable to enact the changes we promise.”
While the producers hope that the documentary leaves a long lasting impact across all parts of the UGA community, the film has already sparked positive conversation among the film’s production team and throughout Grady. Journalism professor Amanda Bright shared her reaction via Twitter.
“This documentary changed my life,” Coffey said. “This documentary reminded me of why I love telling stories. It reminded me of why I wanted to be a journalist in the first place, and I’m so grateful to have been included on this project. You just don’t dream this big.”