Honoring the “Ground Crew”
The Inaugural Groundbreaker Lecture
Georgia State University hosted the Inaugural Groundbreaker Lecture on Thursday, Feb. 20, at Student Center East in the State Ballroom, honoring three women who sued to desegregate the university in the 1950s — Myra Payne Elliott, Barbara Pace Hunt, and Iris Mae Welch. Ms. Elliott, her family, and the family of the late Ms. Hunt received special recognition by the university and the Georgia House of Representatives. Dr. Maurice C. Daniels, dean emeritus and professor emeritus of the School of Social Work at the University of Georgia, delivered a talk about the history of their fight as outlined in his new book, “Ground Crew: The Fight to End Segregation at Georgia State.”
In 1956, the three women along with other Black applicants were denied entry into Georgia State’s predecessor institution, the Georgia State College of Business Administration. In 1959, a federal court ruled in their favor in Hunt v. Arnold — the NAACP’s first court victory against segregated education in Georgia. Despite winning the case, the Board of Regents at the time set forth arbitrary rules and regulations that prevented the women from enrolling at Georgia State. The women also faced vile, hate-filled denunciations by state politicians, as well as personal threats from members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists. Georgia State would not desegregate until 1962 — the same year that Ms. Welch died.
But ultimately, their case was a victory that laid the groundwork as legal precedent used to desegregate the University of Georgia and the University of Mississippi. As true groundbreakers, their courage to fight for their right for an education helped to lead fundamental change in American society.
Sponsored by the Georgia State Office of the Provost, the Groundbreaker Lecture has been established to recognize those who have made a major impact in the advancement of our society. Through the series, the university honors those whose actions have created and continue to create significant change in the world, while fostering conversations to address ongoing issues and potential ways to meet these challenges.
The university was unfortunately unable to locate members of Ms. Welch’s family for the event.
You can view a livestream of the event below, and access a transcript here.
Cosponsors of the event included:
- Department of African-American Studies
- Black Law Student Association
- Spotlight Programs Board
- Student Government Association
Read the text of House Resolution 1113, honoring Ms. Elliott, Ms. Hunt and Ms. Welch here (PDF opens in new window).
Watch the mini-documentary that was presented at the lecture here.