Georgia State University recently honored three women who sued for their right to attend the university in the 1950s in a groundbreaking court case that eventually led to the integration of Georgia State and other universities in the South.
The university honored Myra Payne Elliott, Barbara Pace Hunt, and Iris Mae Welch, who with the help of the NAACP sued in 1956 for their right to attend Georgia State. Elliott, Hunt and Welch were the plaintiffs in the case Hunt v. Arnold, filed by the NAACP. Because of their challenge to segregation, the women faced hatred, vile statements from state legislators, and threats from white supremacists, including members of the Ku Klux Klan.
The three women won the case in a 1959 court decision but were still prevented from enrolling at the institution through laws enacted by the state legislature and policies set forth by the board of regents. The case was the NAACP’s first federal court victory against segregated education in Georgia. Georgia State would not integrate until 1962.
At the recent ceremony at Georgia State, the three women’s story was presented in a new mini-documentary from the university’s School of Film, Media & Theatre. The story is also told in the new book Ground Crew: The Fight to End Segregation at Georgia State (University of Georgia Press, 2019) authored by Maurice C. Daniels, dean emeritus and professor emeritus at the School of Social Work at the University of Georgia.