She was one of the first two Black students to integrate the all-white University of Georgia in 1961. She was the first Black woman writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter for The Times, for “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” on PBS and for National Public Radio. She is an icon of the Civil Rights Movement when Black students took on the challenge to racial segregation.
Her name is Charlayne Hunter Gault.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault (born 27 February 1942) is not well-known to many people, but, her contributions to America are tremendous.
The following New York Times article discusses her new book, “To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement”. Ms. Hunter-Gault, who currently lives in Massachusetts, is also the author of In My Place(1992), a memoir about her experiences at the University of Georgia.
To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement (New York Times) by Charlayne Hunter-Gault (Hardcover – Jan 3, 2012)
Children’s Books: A Civil Rights Journey
‘To the Mountaintop,’ by Charlayne Hunter-Gault
Alfred Holmes, left, escorts his son Hamilton Holmes, right, and Charlayne Hunter, center, to the registrar’s office at the University of Georgia, on Jan. 9, 1961.
By PAMELA PAUL
Published: February 22, 2012
It is unsettling to think that for today’s high school students, the civil rights movement is as dated a historical moment as the sinking of the Titanic was for their parents. This makes a work of narrative nonfiction like “To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement” all the more crucial in helping make this ancient history palpably real. Especially when the issues involved remain so relevant today.
TO THE MOUNTAINTOP
My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement
By Charlayne Hunter-Gault.
Illustrated. 198 pp. A New York Times Book/Flash Point/Roaring Brook Press. $22.99. (Young adult; ages 12 to 18)
“To the Mountaintop” is the latest in a continuing collaboration between Roaring Brook Press and The New York Times. That partnership is very much in evidence in the book, in which each chapter is preceded by a visual reproduction of archival New York Times pages, with the text of the relevant articles reproduced in full in a kind of appendix at the back. Tellingly, the introduction begins with the front-page headline heralding the election of Barack Obama, whose inauguration the author describes attending.
And that author, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, is an excellent guide to the momentous changes decades earlier that led up to Obama’s election. The first black woman writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter for The Times, for “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” on PBS and for National Public Radio, Hunter-Gault was also one of the first students to integrate the all-white University of Georgia in 1961, an occasion likewise documented on the front page of The Times.
Reminding herself that she was one of many young African-Americans who demonstrated in the South, Hunter-Gault ignored the jeers of white demonstrators as she entered the administrative offices to register. And when she heard the hateful epithets from the crowd, she found herself looking around for the one they might be aimed at, “since I knew it wasn’t me,” she writes. “I knew who I was. I was a queen.”
As a child growing up in fiercely segregated Atlanta, Hunter-Gault bought pig-ear sandwiches and fried pork skins from a food stand at her school while white children enjoyed meals in their own schools’ cafeterias. The effects of segregation defined daily existence for Hunter-Gault, as it also did for several generations of black Americans in the South, a point highlighted by the book’s extensive use of archival photographs along with those newspaper clippings.
But the story told here is largely personal, and Hunter-Gault’s experience elevates the book from the informational to the inspirational. “To the Mountaintop” is decidedly more historical memoir than straight history.
Hunter-Gault’s accessible first-person narrative makes the events covered in the book (in the years 1959-65) engaging and moving. A current photograph of the author — who is clearly far from being an old lady — and her dynamic prose will help readers realize that the great questions she confronted, though they date back to a particular moment in history, are very much alive in 2012.