EDITOR’S NOTE: Special thanks to Crystal Nickens Freeman of Atlanta, Ga., daughter of Barbara Pace Hunt for this submission.
Barbara Pace Hunt was the lead plaintiff in a 1959 landmark case against the state of Georgia to fight school segregation. Though it was illegal after the 1954 ruling in Brown Vs. Board of Education, many southern states did not follow the Supreme Court ruling until years later. In 1956, two years after the desegregation ruling, Hunt along with Iris Mae Welch, Myra Elliott Dinsmore and Russell Roberts were denied entry to Georgia State College. The school said they failed to meet a “morality standard” and that they failed to get college alumni letters in with their application.
Hunt teamed with the NAACP to file the class action suit against the State of Georgia and the Board of Regents in January 1959. Their complaint stated that the requirements for admission to Georgia State were “unreasonable, arbitrary discrimination under the 14th Amendment.” Among the plaintiffs legal counsel was Civil Rights attorney Thurgood Marshall. At the time of the case, Hunt, a 23-year-old mother of two children, was working at the Pittsburgh Courier and serving as the secretary for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
During the case, Hunt and her family were subjected to personal and media attacks. She and her family had to be moved to safe houses weekly while fighting the Ku Klux Klan. Simultaneously, major newspapers and publications like JET magazine publicized the fight of Hunt and the other students.
That same year, Judge Boyd Sloan ruled the admissions policy of Georgia State College unconstitutional, stating that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for black applicants to submit recommendations from white alumni, per the school’s requirements for admission. Ironically, the judge’s ruling was made only one day after Judge Frank Hooper had outlawed segregated seating on Atlanta buses and trolleys.