In this WSB newsfilm clip from a press conference held in Atlanta, Georgia on September 18, 1961 Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) president Dr. Ed Harrison speaks to reporters about the school's integration, and the school's first African American students, Ford Greene, Ralph Long, Jr. and Lawrence Williams, arrive on campus for freshman orientation.
The first segment, which is about ten minutes long, begins with the school's president, Dr. Ed Harrison, speaking to reporters at a YMCA near campus about the logistics of freshmen arriving on campus, especially the first three African American students at the Institute. Harrison thanks the press for their support of Georgia Tech, crediting them in part with the school's success. He notes that he was unavailable at a press conference held September 15 because of a previous commitment to the YMCA. When asked if Georgia Tech expects problems with the school's integration, Harrison says he is not sure what to expect, but he is working to be prepared and to take precautions. He indicates that one of his precautions, a result of recently acquired "additional information," is to limit the access of reporters and photographers to students on campus. Although asked several times to elaborate on the additional information shaping his decisions, Harrison refuses to comment further or to reveal his source. Harrison takes responsibility for the decision to integrate Georgia Tech, indicating that he conferred informally with members of the Board of Regents, state citizens, and Georgia governor Ernest Vandiver, but was not influenced by outsiders. He reports that governor Vandiver agreed to provide protection to state property and to those on campus, including providing plainclothes troopers to observe the situation and to assist in maintaining order. While the reporters are unhappy with Harrison's decision to limit press access to the campus and to the students, Harrison refuses to disclose all of the reasons shaping his decisions.
Speaking further about his September 15 commitment, Harrison, a private pilot, describes flying to Toccoa, Georgia, but then choosing not to land based on the possibility of a closed airport. Continuing the press conference, Harrison indicates on a chart beside him the physical areas of potential growth for the Atlanta-based school. When questioned further about the scheduled arrival of the three African American students, Harrison refuses to give any details but does acknowledge that the students will be living off-campus. Further images of Harrison speaking to reporters are interspersed in the rest of the clip.
The second segment of the clip, a silent portion, is about six minutes long. Each of the three African American students integrating Georgia Tech are seen in turn, beginning with Lawrence Williams, an eighteen-year-old graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta and a communications and electronics student. Williams, who wears a letterman jacket, is filmed outdoors speaking to an older man, possibly his father. Ford Greene, a seventeen-year-old graduate of Henry McNeal Turner High School in Atlanta, is seen sitting on a living room couch; Green arrived on campus as a chemical engineering student. Finally, Ralph A. Long Jr., standing in a room with many trophies, speaks to an unidentified man, possibly his father. Long, also a seventeen-year-old Turner High School graduate, majored in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech.
The three young men are also seen on the campus of Georgia Institute of Technology wearing the traditional "rat caps," which were worn by freshmen until the annual football game against the University of Georgia. At one point, one of the young men, probably Lawrence Williams, appears to wait for registration information while standing in front of a sign which reads "W - Z." Photographers take pictures and notes of the students on campus, and white students, possibly from the Sigma Chi fraternity, carry couches into a campus building. The clip ends with an unidentified older white gentleman apparently speaking from his office; the man's comments are not recorded.
After the court-ordered integration of the University of Georgia in January 1961, Georgia Tech president Dr. Ed Harrison began preparing students for the school's probable integration, establishing guidelines against "student involvement in riots, demonstrations, or disturbances." Although he sought guidance from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, state leaders left Harrison to make the integration decision on his own. On May 11, 1961, Harrison announced the school had accepted three African American students from the thirteen who had applied for admission in the fall. On Friday, September 15, Harrison barred the press from campus for the registration of students on Monday, September 18 and the beginning of classes on Wednesday, September 20. Georgia Institute of Technology became the first academic institution in the Deep South to integrate without a court order and did not experience any rioting with the integration. Although none of the first three African American students graduated from Georgia Tech, other African American students continued to enroll at the school; Ronald L. Yancey, an electrical engineering student who transferred from Atlanta's Morehouse College in 1962, became the first African American to graduate from the school in 1965.
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The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.
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Cite as: WSB-TV newsfilm clip of Georgia Institute of Technology president Dr. Ed Harrison speaking to reporters about the school's integration and Ford Greene, Ralph Long, Jr., and Lawrence Williams, the school's first African American students, arriving on the campus in Atlanta, Georgia, 1961 September 18, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 1043, 27:48/37:48, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.